A New Way to Do the Holidays

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On Dec. 25 I watched a young relative open a massive pile of presents. He was a little stressed and cranky by the time he was through. In fact, he had to be coaxed into opening the last few packages.

A few Christmases back, another young relative was so buried in loot he was nearly in tears, saying “No more!”

No more. From the mouths of babes, huh?

When a little kid has to be nagged into opening presents, or is so Santawhelmed he’s ready to cry, that’s a clear indication that we’re overdoing it.

That’s why I recently came up with an alternate plan, one that will help my family in two ways.

The first way is to redirect the meaning of the holiday. The second is to redirect the spending toward a more positive future outcome.

In my online bank account I’m creating sub-accounts named for the kids. Next Christmas I’ll buy one carefully chosen gift for each child, rather than my usual two or three. Then I’ll put the rest of the money I would have spent into those sub-accounts.

But this isn’t just a Christmas action plan.

Thinking about the big picture

This is actually a year-round, long-term tactic. Any time I’m tempted to buy them unnecessary stuff I’ll transfer a few bucks into each account. We’ll still have treats and outings in 2013 – just not as many, or rather not as many that cost a lot of money.

Those sub-accounts might be enough to pay for a few textbooks by the time they’re ready for college or trade school. Or maybe they’ll turn into startling amounts of money, amounts that will make me wonder how much I spent in past years, even when individual items were cheap at the time.

It adds up. So does the detritus in our kids’ rooms, and in our own.

Yes, it’s fun to watch kids open gifts. That’s why we buy: We want our children to have everything we didn’t have. But we don’t stop to think whether having so much is what’s best for them.

Just about every kid I know already lives inside a toy store. Dolls, games, action figures, Legos, radio-controlled cars, books, DVDs, and puzzles are already jamming closets and tumbling off shelves. I’ve seen beds so covered with stuffed animals there’s barely room for their young owners.

When is enough enough?

Do we really want our kids to grow up equating “Christmas” with “more piles of stuff that ultimately won’t mean much”?

Put another way: A woman I know goes through her kids’ rooms a couple of times a year and removes enough playthings to fill a 40-gallon trash bag.

She donates these items to charity. The kids don’t seem to notice they’re gone.

More isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s just too much.

Re-think not just the holidays but also birthdays and all the everydays that somehow wind up with new toys in them. Yes, I know they’re young for such a short time – which is all the more reason to salt away some of the money you hemorrhage all year long on teddy bears, video games, and collectible dolls.

Sooner than you care to admit your kids will be ready for higher education, a stint in trade school, or maybe even starting their own businesses. They’ll have long since forgotten most of the gewgaws under the tree. But they’ll never forget your handing them a chunk of cash to pay for more lasting dreams.

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