Why Are Parents Spending So Much On Their Children's Christmas Presents?

According to a survey by a major supermarket chain earlier this autumn, the average parent splashes out no less than £312 on Christmas presents per child. Now, I have to say I'm not entirely sure I believe that figure but even if the amount coughed up per kid were half that (and browsing parenting forum discussions of the subject suggests it might well be), this still makes me want to call up Santa and tell him he needs to slow down on his spending.

If these children get showered with such riches now, what are they going to expect for their 18th birthdays? A Ferrari? How will they feel if their future partner doesn't indulge them with hundreds of pounds worth of expensive luxuries every December 25th?

And how are kids meant to appreciate saving and the waiting and eventual satisfaction of being able to afford something sought after, if everything they want is handed to them on a plate, or should I say in a stocking, on Christmas morning?

Shout 'bah humbug!' at me all you like but I have always stuck to well under £100 for my seven-year-old son. A present for around the £50 mark is surely more than adequate for a primary school age child, let alone for toddlers who wouldn't understand the difference in value between a fiver and suitcase of fifty pound notes. And as for spending hundreds on babies - well perhaps the adage that they'll probably prefer the wrapping paper and box needs to be kept in mind.

Most parents spending such riches presumably must be stretching themselves beyond what's financially sensible, especially given how under pressure families' funds tend to be at the moment. But why do so many feel they have to splash out quite so much?

Dr Amanda Gummer, a child psychologist who specialises in parenting and children's play, wonders whether it's the guilt factor: "Working parents may feel that buying lots of presents justifies the time spent working and away from their family, whereas stay at home parents meanwhile may feel the need to compete and not want their children to suffer in comparison to others.

"Both of these are poor reasons to overspend on presents. Parents should be confident in their own decisions and spend only what they want to and what they can afford at Christmas.


Kids will benefit from happy relaxed parents much more than from having the latest craze or armfuls of new things.


Commercial pressures also seem to come into this – when we see those endless ads on TV and gift guides from retailers brimming with expensive goodies.

As Rachel, mother of a two-year-old, puts it: "We are made to feel that the more we love someone, the more we spend on them (i.e. money is an expression of love), and also that the way to make a child happy is to give them stuff."

Rachel herself is resisting the pressures, spending the princely sum of around £15 on a frog umbrella for her daughter this Christmas. Last year, she bought her then baby a pull-along dog for a similar amount which got loads of use. She knows her daughter will enjoy these items just as much as something far more expensive.

Of course, it's easier to keep to low cost items with little ones - things get more challenging as you head towards the teenage years, with all that peer pressure to have the latest gadgets and or hot new trainers, but even then, it's not impossible to say 'no'.

Zoje, mum of a 17-year-old son, daughter of 16, and son of 10, gives her older two around £50 each. If they question why it's not more, she tells them "you have to be happy whatever you get." She does roll out that cliche about them still being more fortunate than others and usually this does work: "I remind them that some people don't even enough food which usually makes them stop complaining!"

Interestingly, there isn't always a correlation apparent between family wealth and Christmas spending.

Take mother of two primary-age kids, Lizzie, who has a string of buy-to-let properties and a thriving small hotel chain under her belt. "I normally spend less than £50 on each of their main presents. They get a few small things too but the total is way less than £100. It's enough."

Another well-off mother, whose husband works in the City, said "we can afford much more but I don't want to spoil my children and have them growing up not understanding the value of money. We stick with double, not treble figures per child.

"A few of the other parents at their school go crazy - lots received iPads last year - but I'm not going down that route. If they want something like that, they can pool their Christmas and birthday money from us and their grandparents and do extra jobs around the house. All good things come to those who wait!"

How many gifts they're going to get from other family and friends does seem to be a factor though.

Lisa's three children don't get much from elsewhere and this is why she says her Christmas present budget creeps up. "I feel bad that they don't have any grandparents around and don't have a big family, so that's why we tend to buy a little more than we would otherwise do. If I didn't, they wouldn't have much to open." Fair enough.

If you are feeling the pressure to max out your credit card and it's all getting a bit out of hand in your house, consider that it could be worse. Blogger and mother of 11, soon to be 12 (yes, you read that right!), Tania Sullivan can probably beat most of us with her present bill, even if she keeps spending per child to a reasonable level. Over the years, she's tried to stay on top of things with several strategies which those of us with smaller families could learn from:

"We keep an eye out for suitable things throughout the year which we can normally pick up in sales or with money off. I keep an Excel spreadsheet to stay organised and on top of who I've bought what for."

The latter prevents that creeping up where you get a few things here and there in the months before Christmas and then find you've ended up with a sleigh full. She also believes that a side effect of her kids not watching much TV is that they "aren't influenced by what they see in adverts."

Tania also focuses on things that the children need anyway "so a book or T-shirt or suchlike are inexpensive items yet always appreciated."

Call me Scrooge but you really don't need to buy out half of the toy shop to create a happy family Christmas.

How much will you be spending on your children this Christmas? Are we spoiling our children by buying too much or creating special childhood memories for them?