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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Parents: What creative solutions have you come up with or used for years when money was very tight around Christmas?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (23298 points ) December 18th, 2011

Financially, this has been a rough year for my family. We have spent nothing short of a small fortune on attorney fees and court costs. Two separate errors in paperwork have cost us a large amount of money, which was in no way our fault, but it always seems that the same people who are quick to take your money are extremely slow to give it back when they’ve made a mistake. Money is very tight this holiday season.
I just spread the kids gifts out in the kitchen to start wrapping, and I realized how little we actually got for them. The stockings are stuffed, but the gifts to go under the tree combined don’t even add up to what we would normally get them. They are also small, so I have a feeling it’s going to look especially disappointing once they are laid out.

The big problem is that the kids still believe in Santa, and I know that their biological mom got a huge bonus from my husband through child support very recently. So, I know that Christmas is going to be a massive toy-a-palooza at that house, and I can’t very well make up an excuse about Santa, since the two households won’t add up. I know that it isn’t a competition, but I think that the vast difference between their two homes is going to raise their suspicions. At the same time, I can’t just tell them the truth about times being tough right now, because.. well, they still think that these gifts are from Santa.

I need quick, cheap, creative solutions… and fast. Help? :(

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43 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

How old are the kids? My mom one year when I was around seven pretty much said “We are broke, you get one gift this year.” I still manage to find it in my heart to love her.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@johnpowell they’re 11. I, personally, don’t have the right to squash their belief in Santa, since I am their stepmother. I don’t have a right to step in like that.
I’m sure their father could, but I suspect the fight that would happen between him and his ex girlfriend would be horrendous if he just let the cat out of the bag.

jrpowell's avatar

They know the santa thing is bullshit and humor you.

gailcalled's avatar

Remind them of how lucky they are to receive gifts from Santa at both their homes; other little boys and girls who live in only one house have only the big gifts. Your kids get the little gifts as well, and as we know, good things come in small packages.

11? I thought you were talking about 6 year-olds. Remind them of what the holiday is supposed to be about; tell them the truth. I promise you that they already know about the myth of santa.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@johnpowell no, I don’t think so. This is the first year they’ve ever seemed even the slightest bit skeptical about Santa. We never really talk about Santa in this house, because we aren’t especially big on the whole story to begin with. It’s more of a smile and nod kind of thing, because neither of us would have chosen to encourage a belief in Santa in the first place. Legally, their mother has the right to make decisions like this.

Personally, I think it is insane that she hasn’t just told them already. 11 is too old, imho, to believe in Santa. But, they really do.

jrpowell's avatar

Do they go to a public school? The odds are pretty good they already know that Santa is fake and what a blowjob is. My sister has 12 year old twins. You learn a lot on the playground.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@johnpowell yep. I don’t doubt either of those things, but I also know them, and they wouldn’t pretend to believe in Santa just to make us happy. I am positive that their belief is shaky, at best, and that this will be the last year for “Santa,” but I am sure that they are still up in the air about it…. and I’m not going to be the one to blow it up.

Raising kids with 3 other parents is not quite the same as raising them with one other parent, or no other parents. The attempt to keep both households in a balance, to keep harmony between both families and around the kids, can be tricky. We usually try to reserve really pissing their mother off for more serious issues than Santa.

So. Even if they do know that Santa isn’t real, we aren’t going to be the ones to verify those suspicions. Period.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, one year I didn’t have the $15.00 for a tree, so I strung lights on one of my big tree house plant. Kids LOVED it. Plant hated it. He wouldn’t talk to me again for months!

Gosh….could you make something by hand? Do you get food stamps? My kids used to get, from me, a box of the sugary cereal that they weren’t allowed to have the rest of the year, because food was the one thing we had more than enough of, via food stamps. Could Santa Bring them some special kind of food?

About how much do you really have to spend?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Dutchess_III no, we don’t qualify for any type of assistance or food stamps. I laughed about the plant, but that is a cute solution. :)
We have no money right now. I think there is $5 in my bank account, but that is literally all that is left at this point, the last few months have been mean to us. We are on a mission to make a bit of extra cash this week, of course. Luckily, we are expecting some things to be fixed soon and for everything to be alright, but definitely not in time for Christmas. I am pretty crafty, I wonder if I could find some type of project online to make something fun.

Judi's avatar

Best Christmas ever. My first husband and I separated less than a week before Christmas. we spent all the money we had to ship me and the kids home to mom’s house. No one was expecting us and no one had any money. I went in my mom’s attic and found my old barbies for my daughters. (my son was a baby so I wasn’t worried about him.) Someone had told me about a local charity, but when I called they said they were all done with their Christmas giving. They took my info anyway. I told them that I didn’t need anything new, but if anyone had any used barbie accessories, my daughters would be thrilled. The baby was to young to know the difference anyway. They basically told me not to hold my breath.
At about 10:30 Christmas eve night there is a knock on my moms door. People were bringing in whole boxes of all sorts of barbie accessories and even toys for my son. I was in tears. I had prepared my children for an extremely meager Christmas and it turned out to be the best Christmas ever!

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Judi that’s a great story!!

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

You know, maybe we don’t have to destroy the Santa story, but can just tell them that the gifts at our house are from their father and I. And, if they ask about Santa, we can just say that he took all of their presents to their mom’s house. And if they don’t ask, then, no issue.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No…don’t destroy the Santa story! I’ll never forget the year, the night before Easter, when my kids told me I couldn’t watch them hide the eggs for the bunny to find. However, they never said anything specific to me. Earlier this year I asked my now 26-year-old daughter why they never said anything when they realized the Bunny wasn’t real. She said, “Because that would end the game and the magic and we didn’t want it to end!”

I just thought of something…you can get some pretty cool stuff at Good Will…

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Dutchess_III yeah, I checked Goodwill, but their selection was not very good, and it was remarkably pricey. We had another thrift-type store in the area that we often shop for clothes and other items, but they spontaneously closed last week with no warning to anyone (not even the employees.)
My husband just called and said that he made $20 and is on his way to the store, so I guess I’m not the only one fretting about this today. lol.

I am looking forward to 2012, that’s all I can say.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think the world is supposed to end then @ANef_is_Enuf! There are times when I’d almost look forward to THAT!

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Dutchess_III haha! I have those moments.

jaytkay's avatar

Maybe an activity or event could help make Christmas seem like a big deal?

I do not have kids, this is off the top of my head, so I cannot vouch for it’s validity. Feel free to ignore or deplore.

Maybe there’s a giant “Do-It-Yourself Handel’s Messiah” sing-along in your area. Or delivering gifts or serving Christmas dinner with a charity or church? Sledding not sure if you are in the North?

MissAusten's avatar

Is there a future event they’d like to go to? You could make a card or something about it and plan on taking them once your finances improve.

I also think 11 is old enough to understand the situation. You don’t want to worry or stress them about money, but you can be honest. If you have to bring Santa into it, remind the kids they get presents from Santa at the other house. Then be honest with them and explain that life has ups and downs and right now is a down time as far as the ability to buy presents. It’s a great opportunity to remind them of what really matters.

Seriously, be honest. Kids can be surprisingly accepting and forgiving of parental mistakes. I once had the date wrong for a party my son was very excited to attend. He missed it, and I had to tell him why. I felt horrible, but he patted me on the knee and said, “It’s OK, everyone makes mistakes. Don’t feel bad!” He was 7. I’m sure your 11 year olds are also capable of understanding.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ah @MissAusten! Don’t you just hate it when you make mistakes like that and it lets your kids down? :( It happened to me a few times, and it just makes me want to cry, to this day.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’m guessing they know things are tough with the economy, maybe give them the gift of volunteering somewhere for Christmas?

JLeslie's avatar

Why would santa go to two houses for the same kid? But, I guess that is what you have been doing all along? Will you have them Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? If you have them Christmas Eve, let them open all their gifts from you Christmas Eve, and tell them Santa is leaving everything at their mom’s because he only does two stops for children up until the age of 10. Just double check their mom is doing santa.

Does your family know you are struggling. If it is very important to you to give them a lot of gifts, ask your relatives who buy you gifts, if there is time, to please not, and help you buy gifts for the children. That’s what we did for my SIL when she first separated from her husband, we gave her cash so she could buy xmas gifts for her kids.

Honestly, it sounds like they are going to have plenty if you add everything up. Have you ever given them money? Give them some cash. At that age they will appreciate getting some cash they can spend how they want. Nice crisp $20 each if you can afford it, or if someone who gifts you will give you the cash instead.

keobooks's avatar

When I was a kid, my dad tried to banish Christmas from the house when I was eleven. Up until then, the only reason he tolerated Christmas was that he thought it was nice for little kids. When I turned 11 or 12, he decided that Christmas at our house was over. So while we had money, my dad was a control freak and didn’t let my mom do ANYTHING for Christmas that year.

I was starting to get panicky as the days got closer to Christmas and we had no tree and no presents at all. I thought there had to be some mistake or that my parents were playing a joke. My mom couldn’t tell me what was going on because she didn’t want to tell me that she thought my dad was a major jackass for just deciding to end Christmas on his own at our house.

Anyway, so we had no money for Christmas. My mom rebelled and on Christmas Eve, got out our old decorations and made Christmas trees on the inside of closet doors made of lights and tinsel. When I woke up Christmas morning, there were little “trees” all over the house. She made spiced cider and the house smelled amazing. She turned on a tape player and blared Christmas music nonstop.

I assume that my grandparents gave me presents that year. They weren’t going to respect my dad’s wishes to ban Christmas. But to be honest, I have no memories of presents that year. Who cares what I got? I had a house full of mini Christmas trees, amazing music and smells..

I think if you focus more on giving them a good experience of Christmas and less on the gift stuff they will cherish that a lot more in the future. I think we focus too much on gifts and piling crap on kids anyway. Why not make the gift of awesome memories?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@keobooks good story, and good point. :)

snowberry's avatar

Nef, If you have enough cash to buy the ingredients for baking goodies, try that. Buy just the ingredients for from scratch roll out sugar cookies, because that would be cheaper than buying ingredients for lots of stuff. Get innovative, and have fun with it, decorating them with raisins and home made frosting, etc. I agree, tell them the other house is gifts from Santa. From you, you’re giving them memories. If you can, be sure to take lots of pictures, and when it’s over, spend your time making scrap books. You can bet it will be fun, and maybe, just maybe the best memories will be Christmas at your house this year.

If you’re not up for cookies, other ideas are home made ornaments, decorated thank you cards, or other crafts.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie we have them Christmas Day this year, usually we alternate. I have to admit that I was kind of relieved that we didn’t have Christmas morning at our house, because I kind of dreaded them coming down the stairs and being disappointed. They will go to their mom’s house the day before Xmas Eve and then we will pick them back up at noon on Christmas. I’m sort of hoping that we will run into a time crunch and have to bring the gifts with us to open at Grandma’s house or, somewhere else. It feels like it will be more impressive if there isn’t a lot of empty space under the tree. lol.
I feel so pitiful. I’m sure the kids will be fine, and everyone will be happy.. I am just disappointed that we didn’t get to do a big, exciting holiday this year.

@snowberry I bake a ton of cookies every year, though I usually get most of my supplies for free. Not by any illegal means or anything, I’m just very fortunate to have close connections to a family with a bakery. The cookies wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, or any more special than most years, and the kids usually help me decorate them when they are here on those days.

My husband actually called me earlier and we talked about it, and he also said that we should just say that these gifts are from us… and unless they ask about Santa, we just won’t discuss that aspect. I think that is the best route, because then we can be honest about why there are fewer gifts this year than they are accustomed to.

Since we are so strapped this year, I made gifts for everyone else. I found a box of plain glass ornaments and painted and personalized each of them for most of the family, and the kids were crazy about them when they saw. They also asked if I would make ornaments for them. I’m out of ornaments, but I know that it would be really cheap to pick up a few plain ones… so maybe I will do that, and just put them with their gifts under the tree, from me.

I also love the idea of making a scrapbook (or scrapbooks) together. I think we will definitely look into doing that. :) Thanks for the good ideas.

JLeslie's avatar

Crafts sound like a good idea @snowberry. Maybe make paper maché Christmas ornaments.

@ANef_is_Enuf I have to say I don’t really get giving kids 20 gifts at Christmas. I have no idea how many your kids are getting, I just threw in a round number. I understand how much joy it brings to parents to see their children excited about receiving gifts, but since I didn’t grow up with that type of holiday, it seems so over the top. Won’t the kids be just as happy with 4 gifts as they will 6? Isn’t it a lot no matter what? I am not being critical of your desire to give them gifts, I am only trying to say that I think you will notice that you did not get them everything you wanted to, but they will have no idea something is “missing.” This does not sound like children without a Christmas or without Christmas gift. Plus, I was thinking if you do the gifts from Santa, then it is not you giving the gifts if they feel like Santa left more at their mom’s. You can wonder along with them why santa left all the big boxes at her house? But, if the mom gives santa gifts and gifts from her, then you might prefer to give the gifts from you and their dad.

You certainly can create a time crunch to open the gifts at grandma’s, do that if you think it is best.

augustlan's avatar

When I’m short on cash, I often make special paintings for my kids. I know you’re very talented, and I bet they’d appreciate that. I like the idea of Santa leaving his gifts at their mom’s, and the presents at your house being from you and dad.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Um...@ANef_is_Enuf...I just came across 7 boxes of brand new ornaments, never been used. Don’t know WHERE they came from since we don’t do a Christmas tree! I’ll send ‘em to you! : )
Actually…I think I will finally use some of them. Paint names and dates of them and give them to ‘people’.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Dutchess_III yes! You’ll enjoy it, I know I did. They were fun to make, and I’m hoping they will be well received. :)

jca's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf and @Dutchess_III: How do you paint ornaments? What kind of paints do you use? I like that idea and might like to try it next year.

@ANef_is_Enuf: I was thinking to try the local Department of Social Services or the local Salvation Army and or other community group and see if they could spare a few things. They often have a lot and even in hard economies, can spare a few things to make a kid’s holiday extra special. I worked for the local Dept of Social Services and there were no families disappointed by Christmas Eve!

Here’s my little holiday story about making a child’s Christmas great: I used to ask the parents of the kids we had gifts for to come pick them up at the DSS office. One year I had this mom that I called every day, and she did not come get her daughter’s gifts. She was negligent in other aspects of the daughter’s life, like providing a note for the school bus driver with their new address so the school bus could pick the kid up, and as a result the kid used to walk in the cold and rain). The mother was so lazy that even though she would be getting free toys, she could not make the one mile walk or get a ride to Social SErvices. Anyway, so I had to work Christmas Eve, doing paperwork. All of my coworkers had left. I had access to the room where all the toys were, and I knew that by Christmas eve, all of the kids’ toys were given out, and anything leftover would be taken by staff the day after Christmas. So after I finished my project, I called the home and told them to have the daughter waiting on the front porch. I gathered up a whole garbage bag full of toys, and delivered it to the girl. She was waiting on the porch as I drove up, and I handed her the bag of toys. I’m sure it was the best Christmas she ever had as far as receiving toys goes!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Just a tiny brush and whatever paint. Not water color, but anything else would do. There are lots of things you can do with ornaments. Glue, glitter, etc.

@jca Very cool!!! Some parents just absolutely suck. That poor girl.

So how’s it going @ANef_is_Enuf? Money trickling in?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Oops, I didn’t see this.

Yes, my husband found two (easy) odd jobs and we were able to pick up a couple of items for “filler,” so I feel less disappointed in the presentation. Also, a good friend of ours purchased an incredibly generous and exciting gift for my husband and the boys, so, I think just knowing that they will have something big to look forward to makes me feel better about the whole thing.

I know one thing for sure, just asking this question reminded me of how lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life (offline and on.)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wonder, wonder, wonderful!!!!

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Thanks for telling us. Sounds great!

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Well, now I feel like a huge ass.

Apparently my husband should have pulled up in a sleigh wearing a red suit, because while I have been moping around about this, he has been sitting on a huge stash of gifts for me and the kids, wanting to surprise me.
I can’t decide if I’m mad at him for letting me worry, or moved that he went to so much trouble to make this Christmas special. (I’m leaning toward the latter.)

Anyhow, thanks to everyone who helped, you’re all great. This is turning out to be one of the best Christmases ever. Happy holidays!

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I tend to dislike surprises.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie me too. :)
I do appreciate, it, though. He really must have gone to great lengths to make this a very special Christmas for all of us.

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I’m glad. :)

Seems a lot of your worry lately has been for nought. Maybe give up the worry and go with the flow. I need to work on that myself.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie that’s the truth.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You know what “surprise” I hate the most? Having a “surprise” birthday party thrown for me, in my house, and nobody bothered to clean for company.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Dutchess_III oh my gosh, heads would roll. lol.

EverRose11's avatar

Christmas is so overrated , it is a holiday the store bump u and shove in our faces and our kids face to make us all run around like idiots to spend even what we do not have… I blacklisted Christmas off my life this year, in honor of all those who could not have one, I used the money i decided not to spend on friends and family and bought toiletries, food blankets what ever I could afford and or drum up from neighbors went to skid row downtown Los Angeles and spent the day with the homeless there. Giving in that way made for one of the most memorable Christmas I created for myself, My daughter and nehew, and for all the lives we touched that day .

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