How to keep your spending in check when buying Christmas gifts for children

Parents must involve their children in the process and set a budget to avoid over-indulging their wish lists

Buying Christmas gifts for children is influenced by budget, fads, expectations and product availability. Getty
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Many parents will agree buying Christmas gifts for children is an evolving equation influenced by budget, fads, expectations and availability.

Each family has its own approach, taking into account factors such as practicality, fun and surprises, versus supporting existing hobbies – all nuanced by social media and peer pressure.

Then there can be sourcing issues as pandemic recovery demand disrupts global supply chains.

“I’m fortunate they don’t have expectations, but I do like to get them what is popular,” Chelsea Beeke says of her daughters, Sofia, 16, and Arabella, 14.

It is absolutely important for my children to realise how blessed they are
Chelsea Beeke, entrepreneur and mother of two

“Whether it’s perfume, clothing or gift cards … now they are teenagers, they have very specific tastes and like to shop on their own.

“I also like to give experiences such as movie tickets or Starbucks cards.”

With UAE malls presenting so much temptation, children can compile substantial and costly festive wish lists.

Ms Beeke, an Australian who runs Tiny Bean Events, says it is “absolutely important” for her children to realise “how blessed they are”.

Chelsea Beeke with her daughters Arabella (left) and Sofia (right) prepare for Christmas. Pawan Singh / The National

Generally, her Christmas shopping list has featured “a bit of everything”, with something wanted, something to wear, something to read and something needed “plus lots of stocking fillers for the fun of it”.

“When they were younger, it was easier to shop throughout the year and pick up smaller inexpensive gifts to put away for Christmas,” she adds.

Ms Beeke has, however, always faced an unusual challenge with her youngest daughter, who celebrates her birthday on Christmas Eve.

“It’s a difficult time to do back-to-back presents and not let her be over-indulged,” she says.

“But she has a very kind nature and we did charity donations in the past where friends and family gave money for her birthday and she donated it to [UAE charity] Operation Smile.

“She felt happier knowing she had paid for three cleft palate operations on children rather than adding another toy ... she remembers this feeling more than any gift she has received.”

Ms Beeke, who lives in Dubai Hills, has also seen her family dynamic change in recent times.

“Last year, we added three more people to our family when I remarried and became a bonus mum to two amazing boys, so now Christmas is about four children and we have set a budget for each of them.”

Of course, different household incomes can determine festive expenditure, be that flights home, decorating the house or sourcing gifts.

Kelly Hodgkin finds buying Christmas presents quite tough as she likes her children to appreciate what they receive and not just open and discard things. Photo: Supplied

Dubai entrepreneur Kelly Hodgkin was adopted as a child and is now mum to Harry, 8, Teddy, 5, and baby Tommy.

She likes to keep them grounded where possible, including at Christmas.

“We don’t go buying their gifts with a budget in mind, but we keep it in check as much as possible,” says the Briton.

“The boys are at an age when we buy a couple of big things like iPads, phones, gaming stations, so I think this year [will be] a few big gifts, then a few little things they can open throughout the day.”

Ms Hodgkin, who lives in Jumeirah Golf Estates, finds buying Christmas presents quite tough as she likes her children to “appreciate what we buy them and not just open and discard things”.

“My husband is more ‘buy them everything that we couldn’t receive as children’, but I tend to hide a lot, so they don’t get it all at once otherwise it’s chaos … let them open a few gifts over the course of the day so it gives them time to play with each one and appreciate it.”

We don’t go buying their gifts with a budget in mind, but we keep it in check as much as possible
Kelly Hodgkin, entrepreneur

The 36-year-old varies gift genres, depending on what her sons have requested, and ensures they wake to a Christmas Day stocking; one of her big childhood memories.

“I buy a mix of material and experiential gifts – my boys love Lego and this year we have surprised them with a trip to the Maldives just before Xmas … a great gift we can enjoy together as a family.”

“Christmas, once we were adopted, was always the most magical time growing up – we may not have had a lot of money but we always felt loved and happy, which is all you can ever want,” Ms Hodgkin adds.

“Now I always try to make the happiest of memories … as we’re fortunate to have a big house, everyone comes to us, which we love.”

As the founder of Conscious Finance Coaching and a Dubai parent, Carol Glynn watches her Christmas present spend.

“We are fortunate enough to be a little flexible,” the mother-of-three admits.

Carol Glynn - finance coach and founder of Conscious Finance Coaching.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)


“So while I try to keep to or below the budget, I may spend a little more in certain circumstances, but never more than I can afford or more than we have cash in our account to pay for.

“We limit gifts and buying toys to birthdays and Christmas, so we make sure we make it special when we purchase gifts for our children.”

Ms Glynn, who lives in The Springs in Dubai, insists on quality over quantity and focuses on ensuring her daughter, 9, and eight-year-old twin sons are getting “what they need, want and will actually use and appreciate”.

“We talk a lot about their wish lists and ensure what goes on it is actually what they are interested in, not just the latest fad or what their friends are talking about,” she says.

“We apply spending within your values to gift requests too, make sure they are choosing items they will enjoy because they genuinely want them and are interested.”

We talk a lot about their wish lists and ensure what goes on it is actually what they are interested in, not just the latest fad or what their friends are talking about
Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching and a Dubai parent

Ms Glynn, 40, believes it is important for parents to ensure children value what they receive and getting too much can be overwhelming.

She says her youngsters are more interested in relaxed family time during Christmas after the busy run up to the holiday.

“They are definitely excited about gifts and new toys, but as they get older are asking for less but want to do more together, like skiing in Ski Dubai, a staycation, camping or hiking in the mountains.”

Ms Glynn, from Ireland, cites the importance of parents setting a budget and buying consciously. It is unwise to put your family into debt by overspending, she says.

“In my experience, in the long run, children remember family time together and experiences much more than the toy they received.

“It’s important for children to understand there are limits to what they can get as it helps them appreciate more what they get, and already have.”

Anna Didcott says hobbies inspire useful gifts for her children, Zak and Summer. Photo: Supplied

For Zak Didcott, 13, and sister Summer, 11, the season build-up is when they give away items.

“The kids have a sort out of clothes, toys or books and things in good working order are given to someone that could make use of them,” mum Anna says.

“I am aware of the term ‘expat brat’ and didn’t want my kids to grow up like that, so little things like that, I hope, reinforce good qualities in them.”

Ms Didcott, from England, runs a small business called Anna D, selling ink drawings, cards and jewellery at community markets such as Arte.

She loves Christmas and is keen for her children to enjoy the same “magical” experience she did growing up – but gifting follows the rules of something needed, wanted, to wear, read or eat.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they only get one present for each – it depends on the prices,” Ms Didcott, who lives in Liwan, Dubai, says.

The kids have a sort out of clothes, toys or books and things in good working order are given to someone that could make use of them
Anna Didcott, entrepreneur and a Dubai parent

“I love a bargain, so pick up things during the year if I see something someone will want.”

With Zak into karting and Summer horse riding, Ms Didcott says hobbies inspire useful gifts rather than “for the sake of gifting something” – although she does seek out surprises.

“We don’t want to indulge the kids, but we do want them happy … anything to do with their hobbies brings a smile.

“We are lucky, they are pretty relaxed and happy not to have the latest device or trainers [although] our budget has probably increased as they have got older.”

The family takes advantage of opportunities available in Dubai, but doesn’t have any desire to “keep up with the Joneses”, Ms Didcott says.

She and husband James, a primary school teacher, have bought some gifts from Amazon for “convenience and better prices”, and visiting family are bringing items ordered at lower prices in the UK.

“We do speak about prices so the kids have some idea of how much things cost,” Ms Didcott adds.

As the organiser of pop-up markets such as Shopping Soiree, Ms Beeke is exposed to independent local vendors such as Desert Totes and K-Craft, providing alternative gift options.

“I’m fortunate to work with the most incredible small businesses and have purchased from them for this year,” she adds.

Meanwhile, for some parents, having their children involved in buying gifts and sharing is key.

It’s not healthy for it to be all receiving and no giving, explains Ms Glynn, who hands her trio an amount to spend and takes them shopping.

“They have to manage their budget and buy for their siblings and parents from the budget. They talk about it for weeks before and get really excited about finding things they think their siblings will like.

“They love being in charge of their own money and really work hard to get the best they can for the amount they have,” Ms Glynn adds.

Updated: December 14, 2021, 10:52 AM