Thursday, December 15, 2011

Budgeting the Holiday Wish List with Older Kids and Teens

The holiday season is usually a fun and exciting time for kids, teens and families.  I can remember going through the Sears Wish book when I was a kid and circling the toys that I really wanted.  I have seen that same gleam of excitement in the eyes of my kids.  However, when kids are asked to make lists for Santa, grandparents, parents and other relatives, the focus on “what do I want” can sometimes turn into an attitude of “gimme, gimme, gimme.”   Introducing a budget limit for the wish list can help reduce the “gimmes”. 

Why put a budget limit on a wish list?
  • Requested items become more realistic.  No more endless lists that are consist of all high priced items.  
  • Older kids and teens become a little more thoughtful.  When they have a “sky is the limit” attitude, teens often put down anything that is cool.  They may not stop to consider how much they are asking for or if they will really use the items that they are asking for.
  • Grandparents and relatives will appreciate the limits.  Relatives may have a hard time saying “No” and feel compelled to get what is on the list, even if their own budget is tight.  If you have set the limit ahead of time, the list should be more appropriate and they can enjoy getting an item that your child or teen has requested.
  • It’s another opportunity to practice budgeting in an engaging, age appropriate way.  I am a big believer in using mini-budgeting techniques with kids and teens.  The best results occur when the budget category is something familiar and meaningful to them personally (like holiday wish lists, school lunch budgets and gift giving budgets). 

 Things to consider:

  • Age of your child:  This technique has worked well with my kids from the age of 8 and up for birthday lists.  Christmas was a little trickier because of Santa.  It’s a little more difficult to explain why Santa has a budget.  However, use your judgment and start when you think it is appropriate for your family.
  • Have a discussion with your kids & teens.  Don’t just say, “You’ve got 50 bucks, kid.  Whadda you want?”  Talk to them about what a budget is and how it can be useful.  Help them come up with ideas.  Maybe take them to the store to look around.  Take notes (or pictures with your phone) of the things they like.  MoneyTrail has a Market tab where kids can do filtered searches through and add items to a wish list.  Help them add the total of the items so they can see the big picture.  Once they have gone through this process a few times, they may be able to do it independently. 
  • Extra items:  Consider letting them add a few, reasonable, extra items so that the gift giver can have choices and options.  It will also keep the element of surprise going for opening the gifts.
  • Multiple lists:  Older kids and teens may find it helpful to make separate lists --- one for parents, one for grandparents, one for Aunt Susie, etc.  If the relatives haven’t or won’t give you a specific dollar amount for the budget, use your best judgment and set the limit yourself. 
  • Big ticket items:  As kids get older, they often ask for more expensive things.  Help them be creative in finding a way to have these items on their list and still stick to a budget.  My 14 year old has often asked for expensive things in the past, like a new iTouch or a new set of baseball catcher’s gear.  Our solution was to ask grandparents and relatives if they would like to donate to the fund instead of buying a traditional gift.  Most of the time, they were happy to join in on the big gift and Dwight was thrilled to be able to get the item that he really wanted. 

Do your kids keep a budget in mind when creating a list?  What techniques have you found that are successful?


  1. I really like the idea of getting kids to think about the cost of the things they want. We do it for all the presents we buy at the moment and will definitely do it with our little girl when she is a bit older.

  2. Shaun @Money Cactus ---Thanks! I have seen a big difference in my two teens after doing this for a few years. My younger two kids are progressing but still need some help.

  3. My grandma was the one who spoiled us, but my parents always made sure we knew the value of what we were asking for. Even if we got something really pricey, we appreciated it a lot more.

  4. Marissa @ Thirty Six Months --- Grandmas are fabulous! I joke with my mom and tell her that my kids go through "Nanny withdrawals" after spending a few days with them. I wouldn't have it any other way though.

  5. I absolutely love this. It is such a great idea to get your kids involved in Christmas spending and saving. Christmas is not something that just happens.

  6. Thanks, Niki! Kids understand and can do a lot more that we sometimes give them credit for!

  7. I think that's a great idea. I think my Christmas lists would have been a lot shorter if I had to consider that I was only going to get so much money's worth of stuff and prioritized it for the things that had the most value to me. Instead I remember writing down anything that was even vaguely appealing in the hope that I would get everything. It was usually pretty disappointing because I didn't get the things I really wanted.

  8. @Penny - Kids definitely have to put more thought into it when there are limits. Thanks for reading!