Gift Giving Guide for Kids who Need Nothing

Tis the season for giving, but let’s not go overboard, especially for kids (like mine) who have more than enough. 

You wouldn’t know it if you visited my house, but I consider myself to be a minimalist. I believe everything has a place and countertops are meant to be free of clutter. I’m also a lover of experiences and memories rather than things. However, I’m outnumbered 5 to 1 in my house and they all like things. And while I don’t like all the things, I LOVE the look on my kids’ faces when they open a gift that they really wanted…..even if it’s a thing. 

I catch myself in a store, every once in awhile gushing, “Mikey would love this” or “Scarlett would flip her lid if she saw this”. And then I rationalize. For every new thing that comes in the house, one or more things needs to leave the house. My husband is really great about this. He sneaks bags and bags of toys out of the house to be donated.

I will confess, 19 year-old me really did say, “My child will not need toys. He will have fun with pots and pans and cardboard boxes and wooden spoons.” And then a year later, I remember going from toy store to toy store to get an Elmo he’d love. 

So how do you balance gift giving during the holidays when your kids get whatever they want throughout the year AND still keep it an exciting time for them to wonder what’s wrapped up in the big bags and colorful boxes? For as long as my littles have been around, my husband and I have done the following for each person in the family. 

  • Something you want
  • Something you need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read
  • …..and an experience (this last part doesn’t rhyme but it’s critical to me)
  • …..and Santa brings something for everyone

So that’s it; each person has no more than six things to open. That’s one way we stop ourselves from overspending or going overboard buying all the things “they’ll love”. Plus it’s very formulaic and ordered and I like that. The grid system makes it easy for me to “plug” in an idea whenever I get one and it also helps me say “no, we already filled the ‘something she wants’ box”. Of course, I keep track of everything in Google Sheets and manage it on my phone. I have a color coded guide to help me keep track of what I have bought/have yet to buy and then I try my best to keep track of what’s been delivered and what I’ve wrapped. The hardest part then becomes remembering where I’ve hidden everything in the house. 

A final best practice to using this gift giving guide in Google Sheets, is that it’s stored year after year on my Google Drive. It helps me remember how much to spend/not spend compared to the prior year and also gives me inspiration for gift ideas when I can’t figure out what to put in the box. I mean, really, how do we know what a one or two year old wants?

I’ve included a screenshot of my little kids this year, but I do this for my husband and Oscar as well. I chose not to include them in the image because they are on Facebook and there is a tiny possibility they’d glance through at my blog. 



The mostly blue image here is from last year and includes rows in between each kid to check the balance of how much we’re spending on each kid total. In case you’re wondering, we don’t stick to a dollar amount per box; we just make sure it’s relatively even when we sum everything up on the far right. And by even, I mean, practical/fair. Isabella is a baby and doesn’t understand Christmas or have a list of “I wants” as long as the other kids. She doesn’t need to know, nor do I feel like I need to spend as much on her as I do on the other kids to make it even. As well, Oscar’s tastes gravitate toward more expensive things and that has to be balanced; between Jordans, Play Stations, etc. this kid gets more than enough from other family members. It’s quite often that I say “tell your grandma” or “tell your dad” when he starts coming up with wishlist items when I’ve already finished shopping. 

Final Tip

A final tip I want to share with you all is this — Maintain a wishlist for yourself, your children, and/or any of your family members year round!. I use Amazon lists or Pinterest throughout the year to store ideas. Nothing overwhelms me more than when relatives start asking me for ‘gift ideas’ for my kids. It’s hard enough for me to figure out how to the optimal use of our grid system and try to keep the budget balanced but when you factor in grab bags and other relatives wanting to know what they can get your kid, it’s hard to keep up with coming up with $15-$25 gift ideas and not giving the same ideas out to the same people. Nothing is worse than when you have a single list for your child and you share it with multiple grandmas and aunts and cousins and then you get repeats of the same gift. You risk your kid having a meltdown for getting a duplicate gift AND you have to go to the store to exchange it. Keep ideas in your Amazon list, for instance, throughout the year so whenever you run into anything $15-$40ish that fits the range of what someone else is looking to spend, you have a place to store the idea. This comes in handy for birthdays, valentine’s day, graduation etc. 

Wrapping it all up (LOL)

My favorite part of the grid system (besides being able to maintain it on my phone without a pen and paper) is the experience. In years past, we’ve done the following, Blackhawks game, Bulls game, Disney On Ice, Water park, massage, Monster Truck show, and this year we’ve taken it up a notch. Baby Isabella gets to go to the zoo, Mikey and Letty are going to go to a bull riding show with Todd, and I took Oscar on a road trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York. 

 What best practices, suggestions or tips do you have for me on this topic? 

Photo by from Pexels


Katie Helgesen

Katie Helgesen is the Senior Director of Business Intelligence at Dealer Inspire, a fast-growing and award winning technology company near Chicago. Katie and her husband, Todd, have 4 awesome kids and love living in a small community centered on a lake in northwest Indiana. Baseball, t-ball, and soccer schedules are just a few pieces of Katie’s Mom Hustle. Her daydreams revolve around finding more “me time” and traveling. In real life, Katie keeps herself sane with naps, Netflix and eating out as often as she can.