The holidays are fantastic but, let’s be honest, they also usher in a boatload of financial stress. Pressure to buy great presents, update the decorations, bring something to that next party and, of course, mail out some fantastic cards- complete with a family photo, make it very hard to stay afloat. Considering that financial stress is by far the greatest marriage buster there is, I find it ironic that a date reserved to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ has turned into a marketing massacre. It is my goal with this holiday series to relay some helpful tips to help keep you sane during an insane time.

You can basically compound the pressure of the holiday season if you have kids. I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want to make his or her child smile on Christmas morning. No parent wants a child to be that kid who thinks back to a Christmas filled with a “whole lotta nothing”. Whether there is money in the budget or not, parents will opt for the credit card and more debt before they leave their child wanting on Christmas morning.

I’m not sure where my wife picked it up, but a few years ago when faced with the dual dilemma of limited funds and the real desire not to turn our kids into spoiled brats, she introduced a system by which each child gets four items that follow a simple and easy to remember rhyme. If you still have Santa believers, you may want to inform the kids that it isn’t your method but the Big Santa Himself who imposed this rule of thumb. Of course, as they grow older, they’ll learn that it is not Santa, but rather mere mortals who have imposed this idea, but it still applies all the same.

Want – Each child of ours starts making his list of wants around July. In fact, this year I think I heard someone mentioning a Christmas want around March or April. Nonetheless, letting the children know that Santa only abides by one want, forces them to prioritize. Sure enough, over time the latest commercial that is playing, ad nauseam, goes by the wayside and the multiple items are narrowed down. The single item that is the most desired rises to the top and by Thanksgiving it’s pretty clear what we’ll be getting for that category. Of course, you may run into the “realistic arena” where you simply have to squash it pretty quickly. This also applies to a budget constraint as well, which we’ll touch on in a bit. If something is unrealistic due to the item itself or its price, simply squash it from the very beginning. Honesty is better than dragging it out, and you will be amazed at how quickly your kid shifts gears.

Need – This item doesn’t have to be boring or mundane. In fact, I believe this year our oldest child’s need is a pretty cool looking- something to display swim medals. Unlike the want, the other categories don’t allow for kid input; unless, of course, they start catching on to the theme and recommend unique ideas. The point here is to be purchasing something that is needed for the child. Historically, this has been something that helps organize our children’s “stuff”.  Some past ideas have included:  a new backpack, a reading light, a baseball glove, etc. Odds have favored that we would be purchasing this item at some point in the near future; so, why not wrap it up and give it as a gift?

Wear – Not many kids enjoy getting clothes for Christmas. I am certain this is one area that my kids aren’t too excited about, but it’s a must in our household.  Because odds favor a purchase in this area in the near future, getting it out of the way and including some holiday cheer is a bonus. A nice pair of pants, a cool looking shirt or maybe a jacket are items that have been under our tree. This isn’t rocket science, so there really isn’t much more to explain here.

Read – Despite a gadget infested youth, and we’re definitely not perfect in this area, we still believe strongly that each child should learn to find adventure and joy through literature. Sure, this may take some work and we’ve personally experienced both sides of the coin here, it is something that we believe can be reinforced as much as possible. If your kiddo is not yet a reader, consider starting this tradition by picking up something you can read with that child. Sure Dr. Seuss is a legend, but consider something a bit less overwhelming if you’re just getting started in this area. Room on the Broom is our youngest’s personal favorite and of course The Gruffalois a must. If you aren’t in a regular habit of reading with your children, it’s something you could consider starting today. For the new reader (6-7), consider starting The Magic Treehouse series. Of course, the content is critical but the most important thing is reinforcing the importance of reading.

The rhyme: Want, Need, Wear, Read,  is a great guideline, but keeping the financial wheels on the bus is the key. Before you ever set out to purchase a single gift, make a budget of what you’re looking to spend on each child. Once you have that, you can ration how much you can spend on each category. Again, the last thing you want to do is to arrive at the store with no plan. Furthermore, it is 100% acceptable to say, “No.” to your child when it comes to unrealistic or ridiculous expectations. “But Johnny is getting the new XBox” can be answered by saying, “That’s great, you can go over to Johnny’s and play it!” Kids need to be taught boundaries and limitations and the last thing your family needs is to have you stressed about your holiday purchases by the time tax season rolls around.

So there you have it.  If you ever sat back on Christmas day and wondered what just happened to your living room floor, consider this simple, yet effective, rhyme to help keep you sane. Stick to the categories and stick to a budget. This is the tip #1 in the 10 tips for Christmas. I hope it helps your sanity.