Linda’s daughter Heather, 18, wanted to get her boyfriend a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye for the holidays. Scouting online, she found the book would cost $275.
When Heather told her mom that she was going to use more than half of her savings for the present, Linda balked, and an argument ensued.
“It was so sweet of her, but honestly, spending that much money is insane,” Linda said.
As a parent, you want your kids to embrace the age-old lesson that it’s better to give than to receive.
But with tweens spending a reported $43 billion* of their own money this year—averaging an insane $2,000 per kid—we need to teach our kids how to fend off aggressive marketing tactics and remind them that it is the thought, after all, that counts.
Here are 10 points to help children of all ages gift wisely—while ensuring that they don’t get scrooged.
Don’t buy Grandma a gift—give her your time instead.
Get your kids off the hook by telling them that they don’t have to buy gifts for you or Grandma and Grandpa.
Then explain what parents and grandparents usually want is time—so propose that they make a gift certificate for a walk, a homemade lunch, or a computer-training session instead.
Homemade trumps Hallmark. Always.
I never believed my parents when they told me they preferred a homemade card to Hallmark—until I became a parent myself. Encourage your kids to draw a picture, write a poem, sing a song, whatever.
If they’re artistic, Pinterest is chock-full of crafts kids can make as gifts—from no-sew aprons to personalized potholders.
By far, my best present ever: My three kids contributed two “coupons” to a book, promising a neck rub, breakfast in bed, my choice of movie rental, and, the very best: 50 kisses (need not be used at one time).
Tech-savvy kids can help their digitally-challenged grandparents organize photos on their computer or download Spotify to listen to music for free.
A charitable donation in a friend’s name = few bucks & bountiful sentiment.
A child can donate a small amount of money in honor of a friend or loved one to just about any charity, and that organization will send a note or email to alert the person.
(Usually, they don’t mention the dollar amount, which can be good for anyone on a budget.)
Heifer International, charity: water, or DonorsChoose.org allow you to donate animals, wells, or school supplies for as little as $1 to $10.
For tips on how kids can give back—with or without money—take a look at my blog on raising giving children.
Make a list, check it twice—and cross off your own name.
Remind your kid that he can only buy what’s on the list—and though it’s tempting to buy something for himself, too, skip it.
Presents will be coming his way soon enough!
Try the Rule of 3—the key to a personal present.
We’ve all gotten gifts that seem so out of sync with who we are and our own personal tastes.
The dangly skull earrings? The giant box of cookies from the friend who knows you’re trying to shed five pounds? The pink princess tea party set for your daughter when she’s clearly an engineer-minded gal?
Before kids hit the mall (or shop online), tell them to make a list of the people they’re buying for and think about three things unique to each person.
Is your sister at the age when sidewalk chalk is cool? Is your friend getting into fitness and would love a jump rope or a trendy workout headband?
Taking time to think about who the person is can make a big difference in the kind of gift you get—and save you money.
Don’t get suckered by tricky new sales tactics.
For older kids who may be shopping alone or with friends, it’s easy to get duped.
Before they hit the mall, tell your kids that it’s the employee’s job to make people spend more than they planned, but it’s the customer’s job to stand his ground and stick to his budget.
Also explain that most salespeople work on commission, so when they ooh and aah over your item, they are simply trying to make the sale.
One friend’s teenage son went to buy a vanilla-lavender scented lotion for his mom for Chanukah, when the cashier asked, “Is that ALL you’re going to get her? It will look very small in our gift box.”
Embarrassed, he let the woman talk him into adding a special soap and bath salts—way beyond his budget. Although his mom praised his great taste, she made a mental note to talk to him about sales pressure tactics.
Set a per-person budget equal to your age.
A friend’s six-year-old son wanted to buy a necklace for his granny and a tie for his granddad that were way beyond the $6 he had in his piggy bank.
Together, he and his mom brainstormed, and he came up with flowers and red licorice instead. At the store, he proudly announced to the cashier that he was spending his own money.
Kids need context, too. When Linda and her daughter cooled off after the argument about the pricey book for the boyfriend, Linda explained calmly that giving such an expensive present could make the guy feel like his gift was inadequate.
Teen alert: Avoid store credit cards, regardless of “discounts.”
One thing to warn kids 18 or older: Don’t sign up for store credit cards! The extra 15 percent off your purchase isn’t worth the card’s high interest rate, which is often 20 percent or more.
Plus, if kids can’t show that they have sufficient income, they’ll need a parent to co-sign, which means you’ll be on the hook for their debt.
(If you think your kids won’t be tempted to swipe, Urban Outfitters is now selling a credit card necklace. Enough said.)
Shop smarter with a smartphone.
With 72 percent of kids using a smartphone by age eight (and half of them using one by age two!), it should be no sweat for them to find deals, coupons, and comparison shopping apps.
If you’re schlepping your daughter around the mall, consider letting her keep part of the savings if she helps you find a deal.
Or if kids are shopping without you, teach them how to compare prices at the store vs. online using apps like RedLaser or PriceGrabber, or to find coupons through apps like RetailMeNot or apps for specific stores like Target.
If the item is cheaper online, encourage kids to ask an employee if they’ll match the price, or if they have any sales or coupons.
Do online math: Shipping fees can add up to $25.
If kids are shopping in-store and find the item cheaper online, remind them that a few dollars difference probably won’t pay off, since they’ll likely have to pay for shipping—which can tack on as much as 25 bucks.
But if it’s a big price difference, or shipping is free, it may be worthwhile to buy online.
Kids can also take advantage of Free Shipping Day on December 18, when nearly 650 stores guarantee free shipping by Christmas Eve.
What’s your kids’ best/worst holiday gifting story? Please share below. Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season!
* SOURCE: American Express, as cited in “Tween Sensibility, Spending and Influence” (EPM Communications, 2013)
© 2013 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved
Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability who spearheaded Money as You Grow. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.