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A Holiday Challenge: The Four Gifts Rule

The holidays are upon us and with them come endless shopping lists and blown budgets, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Growing in popularity is the "Four-Gift Rule," which states that you should give your children just four gifts, one in each of the following four categories: 
  • Something they want;
  • Something they need;
  • Something to wear; and
  • Something to read.

Parents who have used the four-gift rule claim it saves them money, forces them to choose their gifts more thoughtfully, and sets realistic expectations for Christmas morning. Children still get a big gift from Santa and gifts to fill their stocking.

We've broken down each of the four categories below, and have suggested some ways to think outside the box for each, in hopes of helping you simplify your Christmas giving without leaving your children wanting for more.

Something they want:

If your child makes a Christmas wish list, most likely that list is filled with items they want, so it shouldn't be difficult to come up with ideas for this category. The real challenge will more likely involve paring down that extensive list to just one item. 

To help with this process, we suggest that you ask yourself these questions:

  • How does my child choose to use his/her free time? This is a great way to judge their favorite things. When looking at their long list, try to think which item they would be most likely to reach for first thing when they get home from school, or when they wake up on a weekend or holiday morning. For example, if your child spends his weekends building forts in your dining room, he might enjoy a fort making kit.

  • Will this toy/gift grow with my child? Toys that encourage creativity and/or can engage them in a variety of different ways give you more bang for your buck. As an example, some train tables convert to art desks for when the child gets older.

  • Will their eyes light up when they open this gift on Christmas morning? Visualize what their response will be to each item. What will make his or her eyes light up in pure delight? 

  • Compare items by reading reviews. You can find customer reviews of many toys on Amazon or other shopping sites. Once you've narrowed down your list, compare the reviews for the items you are considering to see how they stack up.

Something they need:

Educational gifts or sporting gear fit nicely in this category. Ideas include a posh desk lamp for doing homework, a special marker set for your budding artist, or a sporty new backpack. 

For your little athlete, Christmas might be the opportune time to splurge on a new pair of soccer cleats or batting gloves.

Something to wear:

In addition to the usual shoes, coats, or gloves, you might consider a sporty watch for your son or a baseball cap from his favorite team. Accessories make a fun gift for girls, such as jewelry, scarves, tutus, and hair accessories.

Something to read:

If your family already owns lots of books, consider getting your child a subscription to a kids magazine. Alternatively, try a new book genre, such as a nonfiction book on a topic your child enjoys, if he typically gravitates toward science fiction.

For encouraging daily reading, our token board makes a great gift or stocking stuffer. Learn how to use the token board for this purpose here.


With a little bit of thoughtful planning, you can deliver a simpler Christmas on a budget that will delight your children AND your wallet. Sign up for our newsletter for a big deal coming to your email inbox just in time for Black Friday. And be sure to stay tuned to our blog for ways to help your children tackle their big goals in the new year! 


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