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Scaling back kids’ holiday gift expectations a sensitive subject, IFAS experts say

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To say this year’s economy has been less than robust would be an understatement.

But with the forces of peer pressure and marketing as strong as ever, many parents find themselves trying to trim children’s lengthy wish lists without dampening their enthusiasm — or putting the family finances in jeopardy, and University of Florida experts have plenty of helpful tips.

First and foremost, says Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension agent Alicia Betancourt: It’s not about the presents.

“What kids really want, in all honesty, what they remember from year to year, is the time that’s spent together,” said Betancourt, based in Monroe County. “Focus more on family traditions, or creating new ones — whether it’s making cookies, going caroling or taking in a play.”

Betancourt suggests taking children to browse the toy store, so that they see for themselves that toys are often much smaller and less exciting than TV ads make them seem.

Kids of all ages can be asked, if not to shorten a wish list, to point to the two or three gifts they’re most excited about, she said.

When it comes to electronic gifts, such as cell phones, parents should think realistically about whether their child is responsible enough to keep up with one, as well as the ongoing cost for phone or texting service.

“I can remember being in fourth grade when one kid got glasses and all of a sudden, everybody wanted glasses,” Betancourt said. “There are always going to be people who don’t have the newest gadgets, and that’s OK.”

If the child is mature enough, buying gently used electronics can be a good idea, and often come with a warranty, the IFAS family finance experts said. A toy swap among friends or neighbors is another money-saving idea. Another: practical gifts like martial arts or gymnastics lessons.

If a parent is out of work and finances are especially tight, communicating that to children is vital, said Laura Royer, an IFAS extension agent in Osceola County. Local organizations are often able to help those families.

For the youngest children, she suggests parents get on the child’s level and use building blocks or other toys to illustrate why money is tight.

“This block goes to pay for the house we live in, this one goes for the car we ride in, and the last one is for the food we have to buy,” Royer said. “The most important thing is to have a conversation about it.”

Family, youth and community sciences assistant professor Michael Gutter adds that parents should ensure children don’t blame themselves for the family’s financial worries.

After the holidays, when children shop with gift cards, parents should help them choose a toy that fits the gift card amount, including tax.

“If every time you get a gift card, you allow yourself to go over the limit, you’ll still go broke,” Gutter said.

The most important thing to remember, he said, is that parents shouldn’t dig the financial hole deeper just to create a postcard-type holiday.

“The child is not going to remember the toy they didn’t get,” he said. “But they will remember that there wasn’t money for them to play soccer with their friends.”

More tips for navigating in a troubled economy can be found here: http://fycs.ifas.ufl.edu/toughtimes/index.htm

Contacts

Writer: Mickie Anderson, 352-273-3566, mickiea@ufl.edu

Sources: Alicia Betancourt, 305-453-8747, abb@ufl.edu
Michael Gutter, 352-273-3529, msgutter@ufl.edu
Laura Royer, 321-697-3000, lero@ufl.edu