Every year, we are faced with the same challenge: Find gifts that meet all (or at least most) of our expectations as parents. Of course, we want to make our children happy and seeing them get what they want fills us with joy. However, we also want our gifts to be meaningful or at least useful. And if some of them can be clutter-free too – great!
For a few years, we have been hearing about the Four Gift Rule, but is this method a realistic approach to simplify gift-giving?
What is the Four Gift Rule?
The Four Gift Rule is very simple: You buy each child only one gift of each of the categories below:
- Something they want
- Something they need
- Something to wear
- Something to read
- Less clutter
- More meaningful gifts
- Less materialistic approach
- Teaches values: e.g., thankfulness
- Simplifies gift shopping
- Children are not overwhelmed with gifts
- Children value their presents more
- Prevents you from overspending or going overboard with gifts
- Parental guilt
- Disappointed children
- Relatives and other gift givers
- Lack of flexibility
The Flexible Four Gift Method
I have been wondering for years how we could reduce the number of gifts or at least make sure they are more meaningful. In this sense, I think the Four Gift Rule is an interesting approach. However, if we look at it honestly, it’s also unrealistic. It’s already challenging to try and limit the number of gifts as parents, but if you count in the presents given by relatives and/or friends, it becomes very difficult – especially if they don’t share your values or understand your approach.
In my eyes, the Four Gift Rule should be considered as a guideline (rather than a rule) that we can keep in mind when buying presents for our children. That’s why I’ve renamed it the Flexible Four Gift Method.
Here are my personal tips to use the Four Gift Rule in a more flexible way:
Be flexible about the number of gifts
I think we shouldn’t be too strict about the number 4. If your child wants different toys that correspond to your values and are not too expensive, there’s nothing against buying them for Christmas. I believe we can be more flexible here and have more than one gift in one or more categories depending on the combination as well as our values and budget.
Set a budget
More than having a fixed number of gifts, I think it makes sense to set a maximum amount you are ready to spend. And even here, I make differences: To me, it’s not the same to spend 300$ on a bike or on a video game console.
Keep your values in mind
In my eyes, the purpose of giving something to our children is not only to buy them something they want but also to communicate values that are important to us. E.g., you might want to give non-material gifts such as experiences and time together. I like to verbalize this with the boys and emphasize that spending time together at an event or during a holiday is much more important and meaningful. It can also be a good opportunity to discuss the value of money with your kids.
Keep your long-term parenting goals in mind
It’s also helpful to keep your long-term goals in mind when choosing the presents for your children.
Ask yourself what you are teaching them when you buy them everything they want. It’s important for them to learn to wait, buy something with their own money or even not getting something.
Maybe you would like to show them the importance of sharing or living experiences as a family. Apart from individual gifts, I like to buy one or more presents that are for both boys (last year it was a board game and a Hot Wheels track set). Not only does this encourage them to share the toy but they are also more prone to play together.
I also like to share the joy of making a present with my sons. Picking something special for someone and see their reaction when they get it. Or even prompt them to give one of their toys to charity.
Think about why you want to buy those presents
Do you want to cover your kids in gifts because you want them to have what you didn’t as a child? Are you unconsciously trying to compensate the time you couldn’t spend with them or something else you feel guilty about? Or maybe you fear they might feel left out if they don’t own what everybody else has?
Try to figure out why you are buying presents and determine if you think it’s a healthy reason. If not, you might want to re-think your gift list.
Several times, I caught myself buying more than I wanted because of the fear my boys wouldn’t get enough. Also, I didn’t want them to feel they were getting less than others. When I understood that, I realized that what other kids get from their parents shouldn’t be important to me. What is crucial is that I stick to my values and keep in mind what I want for my sons.
Let go of guilt and learn to say no
It’s so easy to feel guilty when we think we are not giving enough or when our kids argue with the well-known: “But everyone else has it!”. Try to let go of these feelings – you’re doing the best you can!
Realize that children don’t need to get everything their heart desires and that there will always be others who have more than they have. Also, if they ask for something that doesn’t correspond to your values, say no. It will be an opportunity to teach them your values and show them that you make choices accordingly.
Here are a few gift ideas that can be applied to the Flexible Four Gift Method.
- No need to restrict yourself to one gift per category if you think it makes more sense to combine a few smaller items instead
- Prefer quality over quantity
- Think about how your children will use the gift: Is it something they are going to put aside after a few days? Or will they enjoy the item for a long time?
Something they want
- A board game
- A video/computer game
- A console
- A camera
- An experience: concert ticket, subscription to the zoo or a museum
Something they need
- A bike to ride to school
- A laptop for school
- A helmet
- Sports equipment
- Furniture or accessories for their room
- A backpack
- A swimsuit, swimmers, goggles
- Art supply
Something to wear
- A pair of cool sneakers
- A coat
- Dress-up clothes
- A gift card to their favorite clothing store
Something to read
- Books or a book series
- A Kindle gift card
- An ebook reader
- A gift card to a bookshop
- A magazine subscription
- An Audible subscription
Examples of combinations
For a toddler: a balance bike, building blocks/ a helmet/ a funny hat and gloves/ a picture book
School-age: a Lego set/ a desk lamp/ a ninja costume, funny pajamas/ one or more Harry Potter book(s)
Pre-teen: a skateboard/ a backpack/ a cap and a cool sweater/ one or more book(s) from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
Teenager: a cell phone/ a school bag/ a gift card to a clothes shop/ a magazine subscription
In my opinion, the Four Gift Rule is a great opportunity to be more thoughtful when buying presents. With a bit more flexibility, such as with the Flexible Four Gift Method, it can help you choose your kids’ presents according to your values and to re-focus on more meaningful things.
How do you manage your gift list? I’d love to hear about your approach and gift ideas.