Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
A Christmas tree near a painting of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is one of the decorations on display during a media tour of the holiday decorations at the White House in Washington in this 2011 file photo. According to Hamm, limiting your child's Christmas list to a few items can be an early lesson in budgeting and impulse control.

Christmas lists as budget lessons

When it comes to spending, A Christmas list can be a teachable moment for young children. 

Last year, as Christmastime was approaching, our two oldest children wrote letters to Santa listing all of the things they wanted. Our oldest child was mostly able to write the letter on his own, but our middle child needed someone to dictate for her.

In any case, both of our children ended up creating a list that was thirty or forty items long. They kept coming up with things that they wanted to add to their list.

Sarah and I struggled with how to handle the situation, but Christmas morning provided a great opportunity for it.

When they opened their gifts from their grandparents, their parents, and Santa, they found themselves gravitating toward just a few toys that they received, leaving most of the rest of the items in a pile.

I took our oldest child aside after a while and asked him why he wasn’t playing with those other toys. He thought about it for a minute and said that they weren’t fun.

“Then why did you ask for them?”

He thought about that question for a long time. We brought it up a few more times over the next few days, and it became a pretty valuable lesson for him.

* * *

So, now the holiday season approaches. Before too long, our children will be thinking about the holiday season and making their Christmas lists.

This year, we’re instituting a new rule: no more than four items on your Christmas list.

Why? This simple restriction will make them think about their impulses and desires. What items do they reallywant? Which ones are less important?

They’ll learn to separate their actual desires from their fleeting impulses, and that’s a valuable thing to learn.

* * *

This idea carries forward into our adult lives.

There are many things I see in a given day that I would enjoy having, but the feeling is fleeting. I’ll see an interesting book on a blog that I read. I’ll hear about an interesting new board game at Community Game Night. I’ll notice a pack of gum at the checkout aisle.

If I gave into all of those impulses, I would be broke. Not only that, I would quickly become numb to the pleasure of something new.

I’ve learned that it’s far better to occasionally enjoy a splurge than it is to constantly splurge.

For starters, being patient and slow with the splurges allows me to filter out the things I actually want versus the things that are short-term impulses. For example, going to a coffee shop is almost always a short-term impulse, so I very rarely do it (usually only in a social situation).

It also helps me appreciate the splurges. Instead of gorging on constant small impulses until I’m numb to the joy of a splurge, I spread them out a bit and enjoy the anticipation.

There’s also the factor of gaining a financial edge. The fewer splurges I have, the less I spend. The less I spend, the more money I have for the future.

Will all of this pay off for our children? I think, to some extent, one has to experience these things to really appreciate them, but we can certainly do our best to lead them down the right path. 

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