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The Christmas Gift Every parent in the late 20th century who can has done too much financially for their children. Ours is an affluent society in which we cannot seem to separate love from financial provision. Never is this trait more noticeable as at Christmas. Since we were almost as guilty as the other parents we know (and no, we did not want to change our ways), we did seek a way to deflect our children’s attention for a few moments away from themselves. It is amazing, utterly amazing, what one can buy at Wal-Mart for $10-$12 by way of a child’s toy. So, when our children were about ten and eight years old, we began a tradition which we have all greatly enjoyed. Out of our Christmas budget for family spending, we set aside $130 and all four of us went to Wal-Mart, grabbed a cart or two and headed out to buy toys for other children. When my wife and I were young, the Christmas gifts to “less fortunate” children were used items and toys. We thought it would be a thrill if those same children were instead given brand new items wrapped in the original packaging. I hoped that gift would be meaningful to the recipients, as it showed the effort and intention to go shopping especially for them! Our children would cruise through aisles looking for items to give. To promote quantity, our criterion was “no gift above $15.” To our pleasant surprise, any number of gifts was just $3.98 to $7.98: a set of dishes for a little girl; a miniature football for a little boy (that was always my purchase). I was always amazed at the number of items we would end up with: usually 13 or 14 items for our $130 budget. Some of the gifts were quite large, such as the plastic trucks that were 1’x8” tall for just $12. I confess, as the years went on, we increased the budget and when plush Christmas bears in different colored outfits appeared, we found ourselves spending $175. Imagine an 18” tall, soft, adorable, huggable teddy bear for $12. Just think—it might become a little child’s companion and comfort, maybe for years to come. It seemed an exceptional buy. After all, it is fun to shop, isn’t it? We never wrapped the items because I found a business associate who actually collected toys, food, and other items to distribute to several families at Christmas. That made it nice, as his families would have many ages of children and our work at Wal-Mart was not systematic; it was simply fun for all ages. We would try to make this shopping trip early in December because we would take the toys home and there was one certain spot in the family room where we would pile them in a colorful display to remind our girls and ourselves what a joy it was to help others first. I’ve always believed that this is the best $130-$175 a year we ever spent “on our children.” In December of 1998 when our children were 28 and 25 years old, with one coming home for a medical school break and the other from her teaching career in town, we went to Wal-Mart and K-Mart. The display didn’t get to stay long in our house that year, but it was just as meaningful. Consider doing this for your children and for the children of others. Of course, the gifts given to my friend were not deductible. However, if you make this purchase, donate the gifts to the Salvation Army, a local rescue mission, or other listed charity, and you can actually deduct your purchase if you itemize deductions. The only reason I mention that fact is that if you do report your charitable giving, you can buy $200 worth of gifts for needy children and your after-tax outlay will be approximately $130-140. Why not let Uncle Sam buy a few gifts, too!
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