There's no getting around it – Christmas is expensive. Kids eagerly anticipate the present-opening frenzy but, for parents, creating that pile of presents under the tree can hit the hip pocket hard.
One way to lessen the financial pain is to make gifts out of items that need to be bought anyway. There is obviously a limit here - no kid will react well to unwrapping a voucher for their school fees - but there are a surprising number of items that can masquerade as gifts that will be genuinely welcomed.
Summer fun: We are fortunate in Australia that Christmas comes in summer and in the early days of school holidays. This means that summer items can be wrapped up as gifts rather than simply bought. Think bathers, board shorts, pool toys, beach bags, boogie boards and sunglasses.
Back-to-school: Sure, it is a bit of a stretch to give back-to-school items as gifts in December but because stationary items are currently considered cool; new pens, textas and pencil cases will be given a thumbs up by most kids.
Drink and food containers: These days it's rare for a kid to leave the house without a drink bottle and, even though they are designed to be washed and reused, they still need replacing over time. Likewise, lunchboxes get pretty grotty over a school year, so consider giving a new one for Christmas rather than shopping for one in late January. Buying these as gifts enables you to choose something different (and maybe more expensive) than you would otherwise. One idea is to order ahead to get a personalised lunchbox (one with your child's name on it) – this will be a hit especially with younger kids.
Clothes: School uniforms have been ditched only a week or so before Christmas, so it's a great time for new clothes. Admittedly, though some kids love receiving clothes as gifts, others simply groan and toss them aside. If your kid is in the latter category, try introducing having a clothing present as a tradition. For example, in my childhood house, everyone got socks as part of their Christmas stocking gift haul.
Bikes and sporting gear: It's great how bikes and sporting gear are made in so many sizes for kids these days - no longer do little kids have to ride bikes too big for them or try to hit a tennis ball with an adult-sized racquet. The downside is that, as kids grow, you need to keep updating their equipment. Use Christmas as a chance to up-size bats, balls, bikes, or whatever other equipment is needed.
Outing: January tends to be a time for outings, so consider using this as part of a present. Think about an activity that you are secretly planning to do anyway. It's best if it's something that you might not usually do, maybe due to cost or distance but that the kids would love (hopefully it will be one you will enjoy too!). Contact the place to get an official voucher or, even better, make one yourself as this allows you to get creative with adding options like snacks or souvenirs. For extra guaranteed excitement, plan ahead to include a friend in the activity.
Memberships: This is an 'upsized' version of the activity gift idea. Many attractions - like zoos and theme parks, but also smaller places like the local pool - offer cost-efficient annual membership. This then becomes the gift that keeps on giving all year – your kids can enjoy multiple visits and you can enjoy not having to pay entrance fees each time.
Activities: Has your child been asking to learn the guitar, or is desperate to do ballet, but you are reluctant either because of cost of lessons or the amount of gear you'd need to buy to get them started? Giving the lessons and/or the outfits/equipment that they need is a great Christmas present. Hint: this one will only work if it's something your child is super keen to do. Giving them a term of lessons for an activity that you know they'll hate (but you secretly want them to do) is not going to bring much Christmas cheer!
Cash: Kids love to have their own money. Even if your kids get pocket money during the year, a Christmas bonus will be appreciated! You can give it conditionally – for example, $10 to use at the swimming pool snack shop, or $25 for the zoo souvenir shop. Doing this can help deal with the pester-power that is inevitable when you're at the pool/zoo and, if they are things you would likely buy anyway, giving it as a gift makes good financial sense and adds to the excited anticipation of the spending.
So, as you start to write your Christmas lists, consider everyday items that can cut it as gifts. Hopefully this will allow some room in your end-of-year budget to splurge on a present for yourself too!