How many gifts should kids get? {A four gift rule alternative}

Christmas shopping demystified

Let’s face it, it can be easy for kids to get way too many gifts for Christmas! You keep getting ideas for things your kids will love and forget about all the other people that will be providing gifts as well. Before you know it kids are buried in too many presents and they hardly know what they’ve gotten.

Let’s talk about how many gifts they should get (including that 4 gift rule), how much to spend, how to limit gifts from others, and who else you should include on your shopping list without going totally broke. I’ll also throw in some tips for saving money and getting the best deals!

too many Christmas presents

Am I some sort of Christmas present expert, no. So let’s just say right now that these are simply my opinions and ideas. Take them or leave them. Everyone has to create their own rules around gift-giving but I hope this post gives you some great ideas!

How many gifts should each child get?

Recently the 4 gift rule has become quite popular. Basically you get each child something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I see a lot of moms proclaiming their plans to do this with their kids.

I am not a fan of the four gift rule. I loved getting gifts as a kid and as an adult, I love giving gifts. I could never limit myself to just 4. But I love the idea of using these as 4 basic categories. So mine might look more like a triangle:

four gift rule alternative
4 gift rule alternative


Why is read the smallest portion? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love books…but even at 3 my daughter already has a ton of books. Plus, books tend to be shared items and last for a while. If I got my kids more than 1-2 books we would quickly be buried under a mountain of reading material!

So while I love reading books with my daughter I limit my Christmas gift giving to just 1 or 2 new ones.


I think wants should definitely be the next smallest. Most kids already have way too many toys! Plus, there’s just no way they can get excited and interested in a bunch of toys at one time. What happens if you get them a bunch of toys is that something, usually several somethings, get completely forgotten about.

By the time they get to some of those toys they may not be interested in that anymore, let’s face it, kids tend to have fleeting interests, especially young kids. So keep the wants or toys section to a few items you know they’ll be excited about.

Don’t forget to clean house before the holidays as well! For young kids, send them off to grandma’s house or a friends and get rid of the small toys and stuffed animals that have accumulated. You know, the ones from kids meals and random stuffies they picked up or were gifted.

It’s also a great time to rotate out toys your kids have gotten bored with. For older children have them do this themself. You can list unwanted items on buy nothing or donate them somewhere to make room for new things.

You can even use this fun toy donation letter from Santa. Just grab your copy and fill it in for your child!

toy donation letter from santa


Needs are going to make up a good amount of the Christmas presents. They’re things you’d probably be buying anyway. And my favorite part of “need” gifts is that they are often things that get used up. That means they won’t be taking up space in my house all year round.

While some basic items are fine it’s fun to make them more giftish by getting a fun version of the need. Get the body wash that has their favorite character, gift things in special packages. Just do something to jazz up the need into a fun gift.

Need gift ideas:

  • Body wash/shampoo
  • Favorite Snacks
  • Chapstick
  • New sheets/blankets
  • Room decor
  • New items for school/sports

Stockings are a great spot to fill with small need items. I love to load stockings with lots of small items so it’s a bit of a fun hunt to see what’s in there all the way down to the toe. Don’t be afraid to open packages that have multiple items inside and stuff them down in there.


Need and wear could easily be flip flopped or just combined into one big base of the pyramid!

Christmas is a great time to get kids new must have items like socks and underwear (these also make great stocking stuffers). But also get them those new shoes they’ve had their eye on or shirts with their favorite characters.

how many gifts should a child get for Christmas
How many gifts should a child get for Christmas?

How many gifts in total?

In total I’d say 10-15 is a fair number of items to get, maybe more depending on how many little items are stuffed in that stocking. I’d expect to have 4-5 wrapped gifts, perhaps one large unwrapped gift from you or from “Santa” if you do Santa with your kids. The rest are small items that will reside in their stocking.

Any more than that and you’re probably wasting money on gifts that will never see the light of day! Don’t forget that other people will be buying gifts for your kids too. Grandparents, friends, even friends of grandparents have purchased Christmas presents for my kids.

These are people who I don’t know but hear stories about my kids from Grandma and Grandpa. People just love kids and buying gifts.

Encourage grandparents to limit gifts to 1 toy/want item and then focus on needs and clothing. They can also gets toys to be kept at the grandparents home for when the kids visit there so that you don’t have to lug half your house with you for each visit!

You can also ask them to get non-toy alternatives such as experience type gifts.

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How much should you spend on each child?

Setting a spending limit is hard. Younger kids especially understand quantity more than cost. If they get 2 gifts because they cost more and their sibling gets 5 gifts they are probably going to feel slighted.

The real answer is to spend what’s within your budget. You can easily have a nice Christmas without spending more than $50-$100 per child if you shop smart. I’d say $150-$200 is probably a more reasonable expectation, perhaps more for older kids, especially if high priced electronics are coming into play.

Keep it to one more expensive gift per kid. If they have other expensive “wants” on their list some cash, presented in a fun way, can be a great gift without breaking the bank. It also encourages kids to save and work towards what they want instead of expecting to just be given these items.

If you’re giving cash a maze money trap is a fun idea (works great for gift cards too) or you can make this money notepad.

How to plan your gifts?

The list

To keep from ending up with a mountain of gifts for your kids make sure to have a plan. Make a list of potential gifts and discuss them with your spouse or other parents/caregivers. Decide which ones you’re going to get. For older kids, you can certainly have them make a Christmas list to give you some ideas.

Take your list and then check the Black Friday ads to see what you can get the best deal on! That will help determine which items make the cut for the “want” part of the pyramid.

I’ve been shopping Black Friday deals with my mom since I was about 12, back when you couldn’t shop online and you had to go wait at the stores at 3am. Now, you can access almost all the deals online from the comfort of your home, so there’s really no reason not to take advantage!

I also like planning early because then I can email all the grandparents the gifts that I already have dibs on as well as some potential gifts ideas for them (the items on my list that didn’t make the cut). It’s also a great time to remind them about any gift limits you’d like to suggest!

The money

It’s never a good idea to go into massive debt to buy gifts for other people! Get a special jug, envelope, or open a separate savings account (really easy to do with an online bank) to save money for Christmas shopping all year long.

Check out my list of 21 apps that will make or save you money. Squirrel away these extra bits you make with the apps and you can easily have enough money to pay for Christmas without wracking up credit card debt!

Who should you buy gifts for

Who should you buy gifts for?

Other Kids in your life

I was an aunt before I was a mom so kids are always my first priority. I buy for most of the other kids in my life. I limit it to 1-2 items and usually set a cap of $15-20 per kid. There’s usually one each year that costs more but it tends to rotate. Sometimes I can even snag their gifts for $10 if I find awesome deals.

Parents and In-laws?

In my mind, once you have kids, you can’t really expect to receive gifts anymore. The same goes with your parents and grandkids. Once you have kids that become the star of Christmas festivities you don’t really need to buy gifts for your parents and in-laws anymore.

If you have the room in your budget to do it great! I love giving thoughtful gifts to as many people as possible. But, I had to really limit my shopping list once I had kids and became a stay at home mom. The now grandparents do get gifts but they are generally photos of the grandkids ( is a great place to order nice calendars or collages) or keepsakes that I help the kids to make.

Try these popsicle stick picture frames or keepsake wreath ornaments for great grandparent gifts if you have young kids.

If you’re worried that someone will be offended by the lack of gift just make it clear ahead of time what the expectation is. If they still get upset then that’s on them, not you. It’s not your responsibility or obligation to buy gifts for grown-ups, or kids for that matter.

Gifts are supposed to be a nice gesture, not an obligation!


The same goes for friends. For most friends, once you all start having kids, you stop giving gifts to each other. Just make sure to have a discussion and decide if you’re doing gifts or not so no one is left feeling uncomfortable.

My best friend and I still exchange gifts on years that our budgets allow but we often set an agreed-upon budget ahead of time.


My husband and I do still give gifts to each other. It’s best to set an agreed-upon budget so that one person doesn’t go overboard.

Just don’t be like my dad and buy their gift on your shared credit card! He knew my step-mom always checks the account as she keeps track of their budget and bookkeeping so she knew exactly what he bought her for Christmas!

Phew, so there you have it, my guide to gift giving during the holiday season. Hopefully this gave you some great ideas about how to plan for your holiday gift giving, who to buy for, and how many gifts to get for your kiddos. Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Need gift ideas? Check out our gift guide page full of ideas for everyone on your list. You’ll find over 25 lists of gift ideas there so you’re sure to find something for everyone!

how many gifts should kids get for Christmas

Four gift rule alternative

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