The Four Gift Rule: Navigating Holiday Spending and Gifting

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The four gift rule is not a new concept, it has been around for years and is a way to relieve some of the stress and spending around the holiday season. During yoga class and throughout the Montessori curriculum students learn about practicing moderation, to be content, and what it means to be generous. As tempting as it is to go over the top with gifting to our children at the holidays, parents need to also be mindful about the lessons we are teaching our children and the environment we are creating at home. Too many gifts can ultimately lead to clutter, and a lack of being clean and feeling content.  Store bought gifts don’t create holiday magic, spending quality time with family and friends, and building family traditions creates the lasting memories. 

Here’s how the 4 gift rule works:

  1. You buy something they want
  2. You buy something they need
  3. You buy them something to wear
  4. You buy them something to read

Rule #1, something they want. For infants and toddlers this might be as simple as a new wooden toy, a cuddle or a play kitchen. As kids get older toys give way to bicycles and smart phones. It is important to balance what they want with the family’s budget and house rules. What works for a neighbor may not work for you, and it is important as children age to share your values and budget. Experiences can also fall into this category. Younger children may be thrilled to be given the gift of skating at Riverscape MetroPark, while older kids may enjoy an Off Broadway show, weekend camping trip or Disney. 

Rule #2, you buy something they need. For younger children this could be as simple as putting money into a college or investment fund. As kids get older items might include a new coat and winter boots, a musical instrument for band or a laptop for school work. Also consider family hobbies, is it time to upgrade their golf clubs or snow skis, canoe paddle or backpack. What are some things you enjoy as a family, and what is an item that will help connect your child to the activity and increase their enjoyment?

Rule #3, you buy them something to wear. While underwear and socks will work and probably be needed with younger children, they do not make the cut with older ones. At some point in elementary school kids will start to care about what they wear. This may mean new sneakers or fashion boots, leggings, jeans or hoodies. Older children may prefer the freedom of a gift card or cash to express themselves and their changing style.

Rule #4, you buy them something to read. For parents of infants and toddlers this can be just as much a gift for you, as we have all grown tired at some point of reading our children’s favorite bedtime stories. As kids get older it is important to pick out age appropriate books that they can read out loud and eventually, independently.  Once they are reading chapter books, consider investing in an entire book series for them to read over break, or before bed for the winter nights ahead. 

The four gift rule is a great way to stay organized and focused on what your family actually needs during the holiday season. Just a few fun and useful gifts and lots of time together as a family. See Family Traditions Matter Blog from November. 


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