Many companies featured on Money advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and
in-depth research determine where and how companies may appear. Learn more about how we make money.

Published: Dec 09, 2016 11 min read
Black girl writing letter to Santa on digital tablet
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images/Blend Images

There’s something special about watching your children’s surprise and joy as they discover that Santa has left them gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. If you’re the sort of person who pays attention to small details, you’ve likely added to the magical moment by drinking some of the milk and nibbling on the cookies that were left out the night before to confirm that Jolly Old St. Nicholas really was there.

As parents, we go out of our way to make the holidays special for our children — because we remember how special our parents made it for us or because we want to give our kids more than we had, if our childhood memories aren’t so great. But many of us go overboard.

More than half of parents surveyed by T. Rowe Price said they try to get everything on their kids’ holiday wish lists no matter how much it costs. And nearly 60 percent said they never stick to their holiday spending budget.

Santa likely plays a big role in all this overspending. As any parent knows, even if you tell your kids that they can’t get everything they want for Christmas, they’ll likely respond with, “Well, then I’ll ask Santa.”

That line of reasoning doesn’t work in my house, though, because I don’t let Santa spoil my kids. Before you call me the Grinch or Scrooge, hear me out. Here’s why I don’t let Santa go overboard on Christmas — and how you can do the same.

I Don’t Want to Blow My Budget

I understand why parents want to spoil their kids at Christmas. But that joy you get watching them open their gifts will quickly be replaced with remorse for blowing your budget. The T. Rowe Price survey found that 64 percent of parents feel that they spend more over the holidays than they should. Some even tap their retirement accounts or emergency funds or take out payday loans to cover holiday spending.

Related: Key Signs You Cannot Afford Christmas This Year

So, I tell myself that, as fun as it would be to give my kids everything they want, I don’t want to jeopardize our family’s financial security to do so. If I overspend during the holidays, I’ll have less money to pay for activities they enjoy during the year. I might not have enough cash on hand to cover an emergency (and emergencies are bound to crop up when you have kids). I’ll have less to put in savings for their college educations and less to stash in my retirement account — and I certainly don’t want to have to rely on my kids some day to help me cover costs in retirement because I didn’t save enough.

I know you’re thinking that Christmas is just once a year, so blowing your budget won’t hurt your finances that much. But if you set the precedent when your kids are little that Santa gives them whatever they want, you’ll be blowing your budget every year. That certainly will impact your finances.

How I Keep Santa on a Budget

I avoid blowing my budget by keeping Santa on one. From the time my kids grasped the concept that they could ask Santa for gifts, I let them know that he wouldn’t buy them everything on their wish lists. In fact, I’ve always told them to expect just one or two items from the man in red.

Then they get only a couple more items from Mom and Dad — plus a few stocking stuffers — because we don’t go overboard, either. If your children are used to getting everything they want but you don’t want to overspend this year, tell them that you’re starting a new tradition. They can ask for four gifts: something they need, something they want, something to wear and something to read. This gift-giving strategy used by many parents can help limit the amount you spend by limiting the number of gifts kids receive.

Also, prevent your kids from feeling like they need to have all the latest toys and gadgets by tossing retailers’ catalogs and advertising circulars before your children see them and start asking for everything inside. They won’t ask for what they don’t know exists.

I Don’t Want My Kids to Feel Self-Entitled

A big reason that I don’t let Santa spoil my kids is that I don’t want them growing up thinking that they can always get everything they want. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a personal finance journalist who’s interviewed numerous money experts over the years, it’s that kids will not learn to be responsible with money if they feel entitled.

Related: Teach Your Kids to Be Smart With Their Money

If the sky is the limit during the holidays, that can easily become the norm year round, because your kids will quickly learn that they get what they ask for. Spoiling your kids in childhood could lead to them counting on you for handouts as adults.

So, I tell myself that it’s okay to say “no” to my kids — even during the holidays. And because they don’t get everything they ask for, they appreciate what they do get more.

How I Keep Santa From Letting My Kids Feel Self-Entitled

In addition to letting my kids know that Santa won’t get them everything they ask for, I have conversations with my kids about the items on their lists. I ask them whether they’re requesting certain items because they really want them or because their friends have them. Or maybe they’re asking for things they’re not really interested in because they feel like they have to add things to their lists.

The latter tends to be more common in my house — especially with my oldest daughter. When I’ve asked her what gifts she wanted, she has said she didn’t have anything in mind but would try to think of something. I’ve told her that if she didn’t really want anything, she should consider giving a gift to a child in need instead.

It’s important to point out to your children that the holidays are about giving and that they should think about what they can give to others — not just what they want Santa (or Mom and Dad) to give to them.

Related: 50 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save for the Holidays

I Want the Holidays to Be About Memories, Not Gifts

So, you spend a lot of money on gifts from Santa to create a magical moment on Christmas morning. But years from now, how many of those gifts will your kids actually remember receiving? I can count on one hand the number of Christmas gifts I remember Santa bringing when I was a child — and one of those wasn’t even a gift I received. It was a big, stuffed unicorn that I was jealous my little sister got, even though I didn’t even like unicorns (and somehow it was passed on to my kids and is collecting dust in a storage room in my garage).

My best holiday memories don’t revolve around the gifts I got — they’re about the time I spent with my family. I remember decorating Christmas cookies every year with my younger sister. I remember caroling with my aunts, uncles and cousins one Christmas — perhaps because the adults had a few too many cups of eggnog and thought that serenading the neighbors was a good idea. I remember my family hosting an annual brunch and inviting my dad’s bachelor brother over, so he wouldn’t have to spend Christmas morning alone.

I want my children to have the same sort of holiday memories. They’ll forget the gifts Santa brought, so there’s no need to put a lot of money into them. Instead, I’m better off investing time in having fun with my family.

How Santa Can Create Memories

To avoid overspending on stuff that will be forgotten in a few days, consider telling your kids to ask Santa for something fun they’d like to do as a family. Maybe they could ask for tickets to a sporting event, a day at the amusement park, an evening at the ice-skating rink or a coupon they could give to Mom and Dad to spend a day with them doing an activity of their choice.

You could forego gifts all together and use your holiday budget to take a family vacation instead. Give the kids some trip suggestions and then tell them to agree on the one they want and ask Santa for it. Santa could even leave a print-out of the hotel reservation or plane tickets under the tree. And you could print out and wrap a list of the fun things you’ll do on the trip — courtesy of Mom and Dad.

The key is to make Christmas less about the gifts and more about the memories. This will help you avoid blowing your budget, racking up debt and hurting your finances. It will help prevent the kids from becoming spoiled. And, hopefully, it will help your family create shared experiences that you’ll be talking about for years to come.

This article originally appeared GoBankingRates.