How Many Gifts Should a Child Get for Christmas?

How many gifts should you give your kids for Christmas? Is there a magic number of presents? The perfect amount that makes kids feel happy, satisfied, and grateful?

In most instances, I think four is enough. After choosing something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read, you’ve got your kids covered.

But not everyone agrees with this approach. After reading about my four-gift rule for Christmas, a long-time reader told me she didn’t like my gift-giving advice.

“Limiting the number of gifts takes the fun out of Christmas,” she said. “Christmas should be filled with stacks of presents and happy children ripping into wrapping paper.”

Will Limiting Gifts Ruin Christmas?

I love when readers voice their opinions, so I dove into the insightful list of thoughts and questions. 

  • Can Christmas be Christmas without lots of presents?
  • Can the holidays feel magical with fewer gifts?

And most importantly:

  • Won’t limiting gifts ruin Christmas?

Christmas Magic Doesn’t Exist in Boxes

I understand her misgivings because I once felt them myself.

For years, I convinced myself that Christmas lived in big boxes; the bigger the box, the better! But, in truth, it’s not the quantity or size of gifts that makes Christmas magical.

Thank back on your childhood. How many unique gifts do you remember? I bet most years are a blur. But do you remember decorating the house, searching for Christmas lights, eating Christmas dinner, or the warm feeling of sitting around the tree with your family?

Growing up, Christmas was the one day of the year when we woke up early and gathered together. My dad cooked pancakes while we watched from the kitchen table. We slathered those pancakes with butter and syrup and giggled at his Swedish Chef impersonation.

Magic didn’t come from the mountain of gifts I can no longer remember. It came from a stress-free morning, sitting in our pajamas and enjoying each other’s company. When I think back to the cozy holidays of my youth, it’s not the gifts I remember. It’s the sound of my dad’s laughter.

How Many Christmas Gifts Per Child?

How many gifts should a child get for Christmas? There are all sorts of rules for gift-giving. The three-gift rule, the four-gift rule, the seven-gift rule, and even the ten-gift rule, but for me, the ideal amount is the number of presents my children will use and appreciate. 

Every year, I plan to give a small number of meaningful gifts my children will use and love.

I didn’t always feel this way. For years I purchased mountains of presents for my kids, convinced that providing any less would ruin Christmas.

How Many Gifts Should I Buy My Kids for Christmas?

When my children were small, we gave them one present for Christmas. They were happy with that gift and a whole bunch of bubble wrap to stomp and squeeze.

After opening presents at our house, our kids went to their grandparents’ houses to receive gifts from extended family members. The same thing happens to many kids in America.

As my kids got older, their excitement for Christmas grew, and so did my compulsion to build tiny towers of gifts. On Christmas morning, my boys unwrapped their presents with big smiles and grins, and I ended the day happy to see them so joyful.

But that happiness didn’t last long. While a few gifts became long-time favorites, many toys moved to dark corners of closets and shelves. One day, I looked over the long-forgotten Christmas presents and realized the piles of gifts had all turned to clutter.

For every toy the kids loved, there were three or four abandoned ones sitting in their toy chests. Whether I wanted to accept it or not, I was overdoing Christmas and buying too many presents!

How Many Gifts Do You Give Your Children for Christmas?

I scoured the internet before writing this post. How many gifts do American parents give their kids? Informal polls suggest anywhere from 4 to 15. Of course, there were also outliers; a few Reddit posts included parents who buy thirty to fifty!

How many presents should a kid get on Christmas? The numbers vary by family. We use the four-gift rule for Christmas, which includes something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.

Do we buy exactly four items per child? No. I might buy a set of books that includes ten chapter books, a pair of new sneakers, and a stopwatch for racing in the front yard.

If I don’t buy my children the same number of items, I try to spend an equal amount on them. Luckily, my boys are old enough to understand that some presents are pricier than others.

Choosing the Number of Gifts to Give Based on Age

When deciding how many gifts to give, it helps to consider your children’s ages. Kids under four don’t need much. They aren’t old enough to chat with friends about Christmas wishlists and don’t compare after the holidays.

Kids in this age range won’t count their gifts or worry about equality. Worry less about the gift count and more about Christmas’s warm, cozy feelings. Very young kids won’t remember these holidays anyway.

Kids between five and eight love Christmas. Elementary school kids often believe in the magic of Santa Claus and his jolly elves. You may feel compelled to add to the wonder, but try to stay within your budget. Remember, each year, you set a new precedence. The amount you spend on gifts will determine what your kids expect every year from this point forward.

Between the ages of nine and twelve, most children stop believing in Santa Claus. If you have older kids, you can begin talking to them about your Christmas budget. Let them know how much you can afford to spend so they can prioritize their wish list.

Once your kids reach their teenage years, you can ask them to contribute a portion of their allowance or after-school income to big ticket items. You can give them a choice to help pay for a special gift or save their money and receive less expensive presents.

How Much Should You Spend on Christmas Gifts Per Child?

How much do you spend on gifts? I aim to spend between $100 and $150 per child. Your family size and budget constraints will undoubtedly impact your holiday spending.

Some experts suggest figuring out how much you can afford and dividing that number by the number of kids in your family. That’s okay for some families, but it can still lead to excess for others. 

I can afford to spend a lot on gifts, but $100 to $150 is an appropriate amount for our family. Just because you can afford more doesn’t mean you should.

It’s best to decide on your holiday budget ahead of time and do your best to stay within your limits. Make a list of things your kids want in advance, and keep an eye out for sales and discounts. Once you hit the limit, stop shopping.

Gift Giving Guilt and Keeping Up with the Joneses

Some parents want to give their children rooms full of gifts because they feel guilty if they don’t. Some want to keep up with the Joneses. If you felt deprived in your youth, you’re more likely to go all out on holiday gift-giving, providing your children with the magical Christmas moments you missed in your childhood.

But overspending and going into holiday debt doesn’t do us any good. The joy we feel on Christmas Day won’t help us push through credit card debt that lingers well after the holidays.

What if you can afford to buy mounds of presents? Shouldn’t you go all out for that magical Christmas?

We can afford to spend much more than $150 per kid, but what lesson am I teaching my kid if we focus on excess? Do I want my kids to focus on material possessions or the warm feelings of a family-centered Christmas?

Giving gifts is fun and exciting, but buying too many doesn’t help our kids. Giving your kids a room full of presents on Christmas morning won’t help them grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. If anything, the excess might lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Excess also leads to a general lack of appreciation.

Should You Limit the Number of Gifts Your Children Receive at Christmas?

Should you limit the number of gifts your children receive at Christmas? We often think that more is better than less, but time and time again, I’ve seen the opposite is true. When my kids have fewer toys, they find more inventive ways to use them. They mix and match marbles with cars and use building blocks as raceways and railroad tracks.

When they have too much stuff, my kids can’t focus. They become distracted by the excess rather than enjoying the toys right under their noses.

Any time you wrestle with the number of toys to buy, choose quality over quantity. It’s better to have a few well-loved toys than a roomful of stuff no one wants to use. Setting limits is okay because two meaningful gifts mean more than fifteen meaningless ones.

Change the Focus from Getting Gifts to Giving Them

If you’ve read this far, you might be on board with my approach to limiting gifts, but wonder how you can switch to buying fewer presents. One way is to involve your kids with Christmas shopping for their siblings.

Take younger kids to the store and ask them to pick out presents for their brothers or sisters. Help your kids remove the self-centered component of Christmas and refocus their attention on the value of giving gifts to others.

If you can afford to help others, involve your kids in adopting a family or providing unwrapped gifts to toys for tots. Experiences like these will make them more appreciative of their Christmas gifts.

Find Joy in the Holidays

When thinking about Christmas, many parents picture their kids rushing to the tree to see what Santa brought for them. But opening presents doesn’t have to be the highlight of the holidays. We can add joyful traditions like baking cookies, watching holiday movies, stringing popcorn, making ornaments, and driving around in search of Christmas lights.

Opening gifts may be the main focus of the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be. You can decide to highlight other events that reflect your family’s values.

Your kids might not remember what you bought them for Christmas three years ago, but I bet they’ll remember the holiday traditions you share year after year.

What Do You Think?

Think about how many presents you plan to put under the tree. How many Christmas presents do you plan to buy your children?

Before you answer, take a second to reflect. Then ask yourself if it’s time to stop worrying about gifts. Rather than worrying about giving children everything they want, it might be time to focus on the moments you cherish together

Celebrating Christmas is about more than unwrapping presents. So don’t worry about ruining Christmas if you place fewer gifts under the tree.

4 thoughts on “How Many Gifts Should a Child Get for Christmas?”

  1. Since moving to a house with a bigger yard, we do a big gift for the outside. Swing set, trampoline, and this year, a very large playhouse built by a contractor that will convert to a storage shed when the kids are done with it. These are more expensive but usually other chip in and everything else is fairly minimal, like books and craft supplies. My 8 yr old son gets a jar of Nutella each Xmas and birthday and that is a highlight for him! This is a reflection of our values and having a no video games / limited screen time home.

    • Outside toys are my favorite gifts. Hover boards, bikes, scooters, play houses, and more. They tend to be more expensive but get the kids to run around and use up all their energy! I love this approach to gifting, especially if you can get others to pitch in. I prefer a few quality gifts bought as a group over a bunch of little things that won’t get used. Thank you for your comment and sharing what works in your household.

  2. One of the things I am looking forward to most this coming year is being able to make this choice for myself. My spouse has insisted on buying a large quantity of presents each year and we will typically be still paying for them in October. This year, it’s my choice. I subscribe to the 4 gift rule and throw in a huge dose of dad – typically the most popular “toy” at Christmas in years past anyway was spending time together.


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