Is Santa Claus Still Coming To Town?

In this installment of Tough Love, Cecily Kellogg from Uppercase Woman offers her advice on how to deal with the effects of a family financial crisis during the holiday season. She's living it herself, so she knows how it feels.

tough love

Little girl with no Christmas gifts

tough love with Cecily Kellogg

The question

The bad economy has been hard on our family. My husband was laid off and we are struggling. As a result, Christmas isn't going to be what my kids are accustomed to. Even though I know we overdid it in the past and that's not the point of the holidays, I'm still bummed. What do I tell my kids? Do I tell them anything? They are in first and fourth grade.

Signed, Laid Off For Christmas

Cecily answers:

Kids know

Yesterday my daughter's preschool teacher told us that we needed to have a parent-teacher conference (our first, but likely to be far from the last). Apparently, my daughter has been defiant, and has made her time-outs a joke. Why is my daughter acting out? Likely, it's because of the massive stress in our house related to our current financial struggles. We're heading into our second Christmas of no gifts for the grown ups, and it sucks.

While we try not to talk about the money struggles in front of our daughter, guess what? She knows – and she's only four. Your kids must know what is going on, right? They are undoubtedly smart and sensitive young folks, so they already have a sense of your financial reality.

Tell them the truth

My notice from the teacher reminded me that I needed to spend some time discussing things with my daughter – even if it's just in general terms – and remind her that things will be okay, and she doesn't need to worry. I think you can have a similar conversation with your kids, and I think you can also use the global financial issues as a framework for the discussing. It's highly likely that many of their friends will also be experiencing a Christmas with fewer gifts this year. Maybe you could structure the conversation around the overall economic issues rather then centering on the ones in your house.

I don't know if you have kids who believe in Santa, but you could also talk about the fact that because so many mommies and daddies are struggling this year, Santa has to spread the presents farther than ever, so there may be a few less under the tree for them. We're planning on taking my daughter to the store and having her pick out a toy to give to Toys for Tots to help Santa out; after all, there are plenty of children that will get no gifts at all this year. This way we can shift the focus away from our struggles and help my daughter see the big picture. I hope. She is only four, after all.

I'm so sorry you're struggling this year too. I, personally, cannot wait to see 2010 go away and I hope quite fervently that the door hits its ass on the way out. Good things for everyone in 2011, I hope. Good luck to you.


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Related video: DIY Christmas gift

Make your own homemade board game for 99 cents!

This video will show you the steps to make a simple board game featuring your child's name -- and it will cost you just 99 cents! All the stuff you need you'll find around your house. Just buy some Bristol board and you are ready to go.

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Tags: cecily kellog frugal lay off recession unemployed

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Comments on "How do I tell my kids we're too broke for Christmas?"

Lynn December 20, 2010 | 7:26 PM

Beautifully put Cecily and that is a wonderful lesson for everyone to learn and discuss with their children. I think it is fantsatic that you are donating to toys for tots! 2011 will surely be a better year.

Caitlin Knight December 20, 2010 | 7:15 PM

I am right there with you, with a belt so tight I can't breathe! But I am tickled to death at how much JOY my girls get from GIVING. I worried that they might feel a little disappointed this year, but seeing how excited they're getting about the gifts they're making for others makes me realize that all it takes is a little creativity and love to make Christmas truly special, even without much of a budget.

Christine Cavalier December 20, 2010 | 6:08 PM

Good job, Cecily! Love the idea about the bigger financial picture!

JavaMom December 20, 2010 | 12:03 PM

We make a conscious effort to make the focus of the Christmas season less about the presents and more about other things, which for us includes religious observance (advent candles, advent calendar) and family time (going out and looking at Christmas lights, going to free Christmas concerts, staying home and playing games together, watching Christmas movies on tv). Christmas presents themselves have become less and less the focus of the season. Our kids, 4 and 6, typically only come up with one thing they really want for Christmas and we try to be sure to secure that one thing and anything else they get is considered icing on the cake to them. Additionally, we point out that other families don't have even what we have and demonstrate how we can help others through Operation Christmas Child, Giving Trees or similar programs. The years we have given our children less seem to be the years they have enjoyed their presents MORE.

Jeannine December 20, 2010 | 11:02 AM

Well said. We're trying to get away from the consumerism and focus on the things that matter. Easier said than done. I took the kids to a candle light carol singing yesterday at an old church in my hometown and it was beautiful. The kids got into the spirit of things. You are so right, kids know and it is important to be honest with them. This is a good time to be creative and get the kids involved. Here's to a very happy 2011. xoxo

Beth December 20, 2010 | 9:49 AM

I've heard and done several variations on a budget holiday. Some are: Want, Need, Wear, Read - You take care of some necessary items as gifts and still have something "fun". Jesus received three gifts from the wise men... and so do you. Cut down on the massive amounts usually given to three, carefully chosen (not necessarily expensive) gifts. Give the gift of your time. I worked with a girlfriend last year to put together wallets for each of her children. The wallet contained what was needed for a "date" with each of them. One child got a gift card to the local skating rink, a little cash for lunch at the diner and Mommy & Me manicure certificates. Another got movie passes, a gift card for the ultra-taboo fast food joint and a book he'd been looking to buy. The rest were similar. I watched her other children while she had her "dates" with the others. They loved the personal mommy time and it kept costs to a minimum. Yeah, you should mention it to the kids so they don't feel that they did something "wrong" to create the lower quantity of gifts. If they know "the truth" they may enjoy the creative gifts more than you expect.

Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig December 20, 2010 | 9:43 AM

When we were first married, we would spend every Christmas morning with my husband's family. He has siblings who were - and still are - much better off financially than us. One year when our oldest (and only, at the time) daughter was 4, she looked at her cousins' huge pile of presents, then at her little one, and asked, "Why does Santa love them more than he loves me?" HEARTBREAKING! We decided then to always be honest about "Santa" with our kids, and to explain at Christmastime that the few gifts they received were bought with much care and thought by us, who loves them no matter what. Even now with 5 kids and 17 years of marriage, our Christmases are still small and simple, and my kids have shown respect and appreciation for what they are given.

mamikaze December 20, 2010 | 9:42 AM

We've been teaching our kids that Christmas is not about gifts since they were little(er). We give them new pajamas on Christmas Eve, something small from Santa in their stocking, one gift from Mom & Dad, and they give each other a gift. They also give each of their cousins a gift. Three years ago when we were almost bankrupt from medical bills, we changed tack on gift giving. We talk about how in these modern times, kids get cool stuff all year and the holidays are for spending extra time with family. It dampens the rampant consumerism that pervades our society at Christmas time. Sometimes I wish I could buy my girls whatever they wanted and have a wrapping paper blizzard of gift opening on Christmas morning. I remind myself that my kids are fine as long as we are all together.

The Domestic Goddess December 20, 2010 | 9:39 AM

I grew up in a house where we were lucky to have food and heat in the winter, Christmas gifts were an unlikely event and with seven kids we shared most of our gifts. Board games? For three of us. Bike? Shared between two. But it was okay, because my parents never, ever went overboard, even if they could. they always kept it simple. If they had extra money it went to the poor. Poorer than us, that is. It sucks so bad not having much, especially at Christmas. It sucks to struggle! This is why we get our sons 3 simple things for Christmas, no more.And they go through their things to give away to charity or those less fortunate than we are. They are young but they get it.

Connie December 20, 2010 | 9:35 AM

You are right. The kids DO know. I love the idea of helping the kids pick out a gift for someone in need. My mother did that every year, even if she could barely afford it.

Sami December 20, 2010 | 9:32 AM

I think that this is a great way to address it. Maybe from all of this we'll all become a less is more Christmas kind of thing. Hang in there Cecily!

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