How Much to Spend per Child at Christmas – NO GUILT GUIDE

kids in front of christmas tree with gifts

Christmas is around the corner, but hopefully you are planning in plenty of time to make this fun! If you are looking at your overall budget, check out this guide on budgeting for Christmas in YNAB.

The national average on Christmas gift spending per child is between $200-$300 for the last 5 years.

This year is no different, but choosing the amount to spend on Christmas per child is a personal decision with your budget as the main factor. That said, don’t forget to take into account your family traditions, desires, and ages of the kiddos!

Christmas Spending Trends

I was stunned when I saw the following:

17% of American parents spare no expense when it comes to Christmas gifts.

Jovana Kentic for Capital Counselor

I discovered a survey through RetailMeNot that 66% of households plan to spend the same amount or more. I keep hearing about a struggling economy, so as long as the spending isn’t debt-fueled, this is a relief!

Notice in infographic they share that Christmas spending is up per child by $40 over last year’s spending per kid.

Graphic of survey results from retailmenot on 2020 Christmas gift budget spending

This falls in line with what I’ve seen for national polls over the last 5 years, but to make sure these surveys include real people, I reached out to a financial Facebook moms group and a local Facebook moms group for an unscientific ask. Very unscientific, but I’m finding the same thoughts this way, as well.

In both groups, 70% of moms plan to spend under $400 per child with a pretty even split between the $0-$200 and $200-400 camps.

Consider this against the average expected spend to be $942 according to

Find the Right Gift Budget per Child

1. Determine Your Overall Budget FIRST

It is helpful if you start by looking at what you are able to spend for the holiday season. When you start putting pen to paper, make sure you include all of the parties and expectations that tend to crop up.

That’s why you have to start with knowing what you’re willing to spend, and then you can dive into how that money gets spent. Planning will keep your finances in a good place.

I credit a lot of my planning & keeping debt out of my life by moving over to the budgeting software, YNAB, and you can read more about budgeting for Christmas using YNAB here.

Step #1: List out your holiday expense expectations.

Our family knows the ebbs and flows for the most part. For example, in my husband’s friend circle, we buy 1 gift for the party under $100, 1 gift for the host, and we bring a dish. For my friend circle, I buy 1 gift under $50 and pay for an evening at a wine bar.

We literally list all of these events plus things like work functions, holiday decorations, or any other pieces of the season that are important to you and your family.

Here’s a full list to help you get a comprehensive list to plan well, but you certainly can trim to what your family prioritizes!

  • Gifts for those in your home
  • Family Gifts
  • Friend Gifts
  • Coworker Events or Gifts
  • Special dinners
  • Potlucks
  • Parties
  • Christmas tree
  • Ornaments
  • Outside decorations
  • Inside decorations
  • Don’t forget the stocking stuffers!
  • Charities
  • Goodies for neighbors
  • Christmas Cards
  • Bonus or gifts for your service providers (house-cleaning, daycare, & such)

Notice that as you start listing out what the expectations are, they almost line up with your priorities.

Step #2: Prioritize each item in your list

I find this helpful because once I start putting each thing in order, it helps me start to question whether I want to sign up for that item again this year.

Just because it’s what you’ve done in the past, that doesn’t mean that it’s a requirement every year. I’m not saying ditch your traditions!

Just think through the priorities, and if you got all full of angst thinking I’m asking you to knix your traditions – you can clearly see that the tradition in your mind is top in your list of priorities!

I’ve been caught needing to buy a nice pie for a get together I didn’t account for when I go through this exercise! I generally know what is expected of me each year. Certain friends and family members have certain get-togethers.

It’s so easy to overlook those things, though!

Step 3: Allocate your budget to each of the priorities – in order

The final step is to allocate what you have to spend to each of the buckets. That’s it. You’ve got a list of traditions, parties, and people you’d like to spend money on this holiday season. You ordered them. Now assign dollar values to each!

Now the whole point was to uncover how much YOU have to spend on your children in relation to what you hoped to spend for the whole holiday. Are you happy with the number?

If you have money leftover to allocate, you can be more generous with the kids, or you could always just leave a buffer. Those toys need batteries that are easy to overlook!

If you hoped to spend a bit more on the kids, feel free to make the cuts you need to make. Is there an opportunity for a new tradition here? Like making something you’d buy in the past for a party with friends or your decorations?

Can you cut overall items for the list of expectations of you and your family?

Can you shave 5% off each item?

You can decide which options feel right, but by going through this exercise, you get to choose your financial priorities while also spending wisely yet keeping the spirit alive for the family!

This covers the overall financial budget, but you may not quite split your children’s allocations 50/50. Next, we’ll dive into some other considerations on a per-child budget plan.

Don't forget to budget Christmas festivities!
Don’t forget to budget for Christmas dinners and gifts associated with the get-togethers!

2. Consider the Age of Your Children

When deciding what to spend on each kid, the age of your children is important. For example, teen gifts tend to be fewer but more expensive, but smaller children are quite happy with 30 tiny gifts instead.

My sister and I have a 10 year age gap. As a young adult, I worked at a drugstore. One year I bought beauty items that were marked down for the months leading up to Christmas. I put all of the goodies I collected in a simple basket to store them and wrapped that with crazy glittery bows.

We are now 20 years out from that, and she still talks about that as being the best present she ever got as a child. I’m sure I spent less than $20, but I also had fun finding the goodies and playing with her. It’s the simple things, right?!

There is no hard and fast rule here, but be sure to take the age and how they perceive gifts into account. While you want to make things even, sometimes even is in the eye of the beholder and completely mental!

The age of your children is a big factor in how your children perceive the gifts under the tree. Especially in comparison to their siblings!

Consider Your Children’s Needs

If you have a child in need of a bigger ticket item, it may warrant a split in your overall budget that isn’t balanced, too.

I recall a year where one of our teens wanted a laptop, and it made sense for schoolwork at the time. Yup. Before they were a norm at at school.

At the time, even inexpensive laptops could make a budget get out of hand. Normally, we spend $200 per child, but that year we spent around $400 on the laptop. We did not feel good about cutting the budget on the other kids that year, so we just bumped our overall Christmas up that $200 to make up the difference.

Over the next year or 2, the other kids ended up in a similar boat where we ended up going over to meet a need like a bicycle that doubled for commuting and another laptop down the road for another kid.

Eventually the amount you spend will average out if you make conscious efforts.

Of course, the unbalanced spending is easier if your kids are old enough. Old enough to set expectations and old enough to buy-in to your thought process here!

Consider Your Family’s Traditions

Part of what makes the holidays special are the traditions that go along with them. Baking together, the parties, the crafts your kids will make in school. All of these things make up what will be your children’s nostalgia years from now.

Why does this matter to how much to spend per child? Bake those things into your budget as a priority!

For example, I buy 1 set of pajamas EVERY year for all of our kids. Even the grown ones get a pair of pajamas still.

They know it, and the surprise comes through what design they will get. They also get the LifeSavers StoryBook candy plus other random candy. I got them every year growing up, and I like carrying that tradition on.

So as soon as I set the budget for each kid, a pair of pajamas and candy is baked into the budget. Generally this means $20-$30 for each kid, but I have bought more expensive pajamas for my step daughter from time to time. She enjoys the pajamas more than the boys, so her preferences are accounted for.

They generally roll their eyes at this tradition as teens and young adults, but they DO like them. They like the tradition, so going back to that priority conversation – it’s a priority for our family.

Christmas Budget Mantra: Give WITHOUT Debt and Stress

Rest assured that your kids do NOT want you to go into debt.

Be a different kind of statistic and come out of the other side of the holiday season with no additional debt! The inverse of what the financial gurus will be talking about in January.

-Renee McKinney

Emphasis the togetherness of the season, and be sure to look for places for lessons to help them understand that your love for them is not wrapped up in the number of toys under the tree or how much you spend.

An example here is that my 14 year old recently mentioned how his step-mother was “high maintenance” because of expectations he perceives that she places on his dad for her Christmas gift.

This was a lesson about Gary Chapman’s book on The 5 Love Languages available on Amazon or your local library if you haven’t heard of it.

Essentially, we all have ways that we intake love more than others, and the book walks you through identifying your love language, as well as, the language of those in your circle. There is even a kid’s specific version. I’ve read both, and the overall one is fine if you’re on the fence as we’re talking about budgeting for your children’s Christmas gifts. 🙂

If someone feels love through gifts versus how you may be more receptive to love through quality time with a loved one, it doesn’t make their way ‘bad’.

In my example, my son’s father just has to budget and have conversations around expectations, but it isn’t bad. It was a good conversation to have with my son.

You’ll likely find these types of lessons throughout the season and beyond as you are raising your little humans.

Just remember…. No debt, minimize stress!