Just Use The Smileometer

How much do you spend on Christmas presents? How much is foolishly excessive and how much is just meagre? I don’t know! And does it vary depending on how many children you have and how old they are?


My children are quite small – 4 and 1. This has it’s advantages. At this age, gifts generally come in big packages (note, this is an advantage for the appearance of a mountainous present pile, not for actually housing said gift), and the children don’t present you with much of a wish list either. I’ve picked up things for them over the past few months, as and when I’ve spotted deals, safe in the knowledge that they won’t change their minds and hate it come December 25th. So for my present pile, I’ve grabbed bargains, often repeated with the 4 year-old what she wants from Santa so that that’s what she always asks for (it feels like I’ve reached brainwashing capacity on this now – I’m not sure she even knows why she wants it any more…) and searched relentlessly for an eminently cuddly Makka Pakka. All wrapped up now, and their piles look quite respectable. There are more than enough toys and books to keep them happy, and I know they’ll get a whole stack more from family and friends. Job done.

But what’s this? My friend has spent twice the amount that I have, on her son. That’s a lot of cash. ‘But, it’s Christmas, isn’t it?’ Well, yes, it is. Now she’s got me thinking, do we need to get more?

The thing is, I have two kids. At their ages, every gift they have is interchangeable. My son will play with his sister’s new ball track and Lego, and my daughter will play with his new trains and puzzles. They do have twice the presents on their pile in that way, and fortunately for me, they share. One new book has them excitable, so surely a pile of gifts will send them into a frenzy?! And I can’t help but feel that any more and it’ll just be too much, and some presents will be left forgotten. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been one for ‘keeping up with the Jones”, though I do want to do the best I can for my family, so how much is the right amount?

I guess what it comes down to, at least this is how I’ve settled it for me, is will the gifts make them smile on Christmas morning and will I still be smiling when my credit card bill comes through? The smileometer is my guide through this season…

What’s yours?

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41 thoughts on “Just Use The Smileometer”

  1. It’s really easy to fall into the habit of thinking that if you spend more money, somehow that will increase the happiness. I don’t believe that. Gifts are valued for many reasons, not simply monetary. I do find myself counting up how many presents are from Father Christmas and how many from us and making sure both have the same because I want it to be equal, but as they get older it will be easier to explain if a larger gift means less other presents etc. I try to think of what the children want or might like-but often these are little things. It’s a fine balance though, but I like your smileometer 🙂

    1. Yes, I think it’ll be the little things that excite more than big, too. You’re absolutely right in saying more money does not equate to more happiness, and I know if I use my smileometer, it’ll help me get the balance right 😉

  2. I suppose it’s up to an individual how much they want to spend on a child but personally I think you can buy too much. The more you buy the less significant the gifts are to the child. Instead of spending time appreciating each item they just want the next present. I know someone who seriously spoils they’re child on both birthdays and Christmas, they always say he appreciates everything he gets and yes his manners are great but when I asked him what he got for his birthday he actually couldn’t remember! The less is more quote comes to mind.

    I do think it’s tempting to buy extra presents when they’re young but this only sets their expectations high for years to come. All my son’s presents are ready and the other day he asked for something else and I was so tempted to get it but instead I chose to say ‘Santa won’t be able to get you everything you want because there are lots of other children who he needs to give presents to and you wouldn’t want them not to get anything would you?’

    I’m happy to stick to my guns and not overspend, safe in the knowledge that I will not get a disappointed child on Christmas Day.

    Merry Christmas and may your credit card bill be low and afford you a very happy and stress free New Year 🙂

    1. I think you’re quite right, and that’s a nice way of explaining it to your son. They can get too much, and then a lovingly chosen gift can be left forgotten, which is very sad. I think, hope, I’ve got the right balance this year, and I think the credit card will cope 😉
      Merry Christmas to you, too x

  3. I buy things during the year for Monkey whenever I see a bargain and then split the pile between birthday and Christmas. I don’t spend hundreds of pounds but I do probably spoil him. Always feel that he’s missing out with only having one set of grandparents.

    1. I imagine that is a real factor, as mine are lucky enough to have all of their grandparents, and 2 sets of loving aunts & uncles, so as well as the treats we give them, they’ll get things from them, too. Hard not to indulge your kids, and with a birthday so close to Christmas, you’ve nearly a year between gift-giving occasions – easy to let it build & get carried away!

  4. I’ve got my son what he really wants and a couple of smaller bits to pad the pile out. I’ve only spent about £60 and I think that is enough as he is far from short of toys.

  5. I was wrapping last night and had a panic about how little they had. My son asked me why is friend was allowed to ask for more from santa than him – I let them ask for one thing although he will get more than that but not loads. I don’t think they need tons of stuff, just fills the house with crap. I am a bit more anxious about him noticing the difference now though, that worries me. Good post.

    1. I get like that when I wrap! I stand back and try to assess the piles! I’m sure your son will be very happy on Christmas Day.

  6. it is always a tricky one. I think you have to go with what you feel. I know lots of people who make sure they spend a certain amount on each child. I don’t, I go with what I feel at the time and yes, sometimes it means one child gets more spent on them than another, but I feel, they all play with each others toys at the moment anyway and it will all pan out right in the long run, so I am not being fussy about measuring it.
    Have a good christmas 🙂
    #PoCoLo x

    1. Exactly – my kids will both play with all of the toys, so that’s plenty of fun to be had. I’m picturing their smiles and I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right 🙂

  7. I use £100 per child as a rule of thumb. As they get older, the presents get smaller and more expensive, so it looks less, but my boys are aware of how much things cost. I think this year I have gone slightly over budget with the boys’ presents and have spent less on my daughter, but it looks like she has more as she has cheaper things.
    I was shocked when a friend at work, who doesn’t earn much, told me she spends £300 on her son and her step-son. That seems OTT. Kids don’t need that much stuff and like you say it’s just overwhelming and they don’t value and appreciate things as much if they have too many.

    1. Yes, that’s about our budget, too, and it buys them plenty, especially as I do it over time so tend to get great offers and discounts that allows me to get more for the money. I can see it’d be easy to get carried away, and I wonder how it’ll be as they get older and want more expensive things – a bridge to cross when the time comes..!

  8. One of the things I really miss about living in the UK is second hand shops and NCT nearly new sales. We used to have our nearly new sale just before Xmas so it was great for buying presents. I don’t think kids, especially little ones need everything new (or adults for that matter but we don’t really do presents.) It’s a great way of recycling too. Sadly they don’t really have them here in Spain.

  9. The smileometer sounds like the perfect guide – we always try not to go overboard for birthdays and Christmas as it’s just too sad when they have more presents than they can play with.

  10. It is especially hard for us as well to appreciate as we live here without family and feel the need to compensate for their absence with Emma. But this year hubby told me I overdid it so I decided to take some of it to the less fortunate. She will not miss them but they will bless others in her name! So I suppose I use the hubbyometer :-). #PoCoLo

  11. We thought we’d finished with buying my son’s and daughter’s presents – even wrapped them – when two days ago they suddenly presented us with their letters to Santa listing everything they wanted. They were rather worried that Santa might not get them in time so we scanned them and told them we’d email them to the North Pole. So yesterday we ordered them each a new present to make sure that ‘Santa’ had granted one of their wishes on their lists. However, we did ignore my son’s request for a ruby and a diamond ( he loves rocks and gem stones)!

  12. I think you are absolutely right – I’ve just written a post along the same lines about presents versus the experience… Children get so much joy from the littlest things, and a smile is the best thank you xx

  13. I think the smile-o-metre is a great way of assessing how well you’ve done this Xmas 🙂 I also think that they’re so much easier to please when their little, and us parents should embrace these precious years where we can get away with not spending a complete fortune. After all if you raise the bar phenomenally high at this age where on earth can you go from there? Hope your kids have a fab Xmas and love all their pressies #PoCoLo

  14. I know Grace has too much – and what is even worse is that the week after is her birthday!! I find it overwhelming so I am certain she does. Especially when she has me and Ross, her father, my Mum and her 7 aunts and uncles – too much!! Thanks for supporting PoCoLo this year xx

  15. I actually think at times if they have slightly less, they enjoy it more. If its loads and loads and loads they can be overwhelmed, so best to keep it moderate. I have to stop myself buying more, because i think oh they would like that, and that etc etc.. but i dont think its good for children. i have alot of presents in the house, when i see a bargain i buy it and keep it, so when occasions come round i tend to have some extras for them anyway. it is easy to fall into the trap of overdoing it imo

    1. Exactly – there can be such a thing as too much, I think, though the trick is deciding what that is! I do the same thing as you, too, so it builds up to a nice amount over time.

  16. I find that I have got way more for my four year old than my one year old as one year old already has so much handed down (but my two are both boys). I haven’t actually counted the cost at all but I have bought one big gift for the youngest and lots of smaller ones for the eldest. I think they’ve done OK! (and is it just me or are stocking gifts for a one year old a bit tricky??!) #pocolo

    1. Yes, always the problem with the second child, as they’re already surrounded by so many toys! It is tricky to get stocking gifts, but I’ve gone for a book, a DVD, some gingerbread and PJs – enough in that stocking, ready for the main gifts then!

  17. Very true. Mine always get way too much and then never really play with it. My younger two play together really nicely (most of the time) and make up their own games without toys so I have only really brought them a couple of things each. As I also have an older one, his pile will be a lot smaller but actually costs a lot more. But at the end of the day as long as they are all happy, what we spend is irrelevant.

  18. Loving the smile-o-meter! Also think ALL of the comments are valid, I think it is different for every house hold, having one or more children, having relatives that add under the tree or not. I like one larger present as per box size and one higher value item. I also add things she really needs for birthdays and Christmas, such as clothes, shoes, socks etc. It makes it feel like a really large pile now. But like Anna I buy throughout the year (also clothes) when I like something and it gets tucked away till Christmas + I buy at discount and when the shop needed a little boost :O , but even having a toy shop, I do buy toys from the shop from our personal budget. 3 weeks ago I only had a main present and lot’s of books, and seeing the pile now I might have overdone it., but I an really trying to build our own family traditions and a festive feeling. Something which was lacking in my own childhood 🙂 — bottom line, personal story for everyone. But after all the most important for everyone is: smile-o-meter! #PoCoLo

    1. Yes, everyone has their own story and their own traditions-in-the-making, so it is a personal thing. Just need to do what you need to in your home to get those smiles 🙂

  19. I don’t give too many gifts. We’re giving our four-year-old two gifts this year, and our infant twins nothing. Our gifts also tend to be small. I know I’m fortunate because they receive so many gifts from their relatives already. Growing up, I received just one gift from my parents and that’s it. I don’t really like emphasizing material things in general and much prefer experience gifts.

    1. I think it does make a difference if you’ve family giving gifts, too. It is more about the enjoyment & happiness of the season, yes, and I hope you & yours have a lovely one x

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