When Santa Can’t Afford Your Child’s Wish List (Frugal Tips & Ideas)

by Reader Contributors

When Santa Can't Afford Your Child's Wish List photo

Is money tight this year? How do you explain to your kids that Santa won’t be bringing as much as in the past? These tips can help you give your kids a Merry Christmas even though Santa may not be able to fulfill all of their wishes.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Our family is on a pretty tight budget this year, and we’ve had to explain to our kids that the Christmas gifts will be fewer this year than what they may have received in the past. They all seem okay with this except for our five year old who has told us not to worry because Santa will bring him his expensive toys.

What clever explanations do frugal families use to get a child to understand Santa’s “financial” limitations without spoiling the magic of Santa?


What Can You Tell Small Children When Santa Can’t Afford Their Wish Lists?

Many of our readers have faced this very situation during tough times and they were more than happy to share some very clever advice. See if their experiences can help you and your family this holiday season.

Time for a Life Lesson

We tell our kids that Santa’s toymaker elves can’t build everything, and some items, such as electronics or big things like bikes, have to come from stores.

Instead of depending on Santa, take this opportunity to teach your child how to save money toward their goal. Get a big jar to keep the money in, let them decorate it, and make a chart that they can color in as they save up. It might take a while, but this makes it fun like a game. Let other family members know what they’re saving up for and encourage them to find odd jobs for the child to earn money themselves.

For example, my six-year-old daughter likes helping out our elderly neighbors by collecting all their windfall apples. This gives kids such a sense of pride, and you’d be surprised how quickly they can come up with it when they set their minds to it!

Start Teaching Your Children the Importance of Saving

Compare savings and money market account rates and open an account for them today.

Smart Shopping for Christmas

Years ago, I was a single woman living on a secretary’s wage and raising two girls by myself. During the year, mostly on weekends, I went to yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales, etc. for Christmas and birthday gifts. I would go into exclusive neighborhoods for yard sales, as most residents practically “gave away” items. I was always surprised at what I found at these sales. Some items were new, never used.

I selected times to go “shopping” when my children were involved in sports or at a friend’s house or some other event. That way, they did not realize the gifts they received were “recycled.” I would store the items in the trunk of my car, in the back of a closet, or at a friend’s house.

It just takes a little get up and go, some bargaining, and a $20 bill to come home with nice treasures! I hope this is useful. It worked for me and made my family happy.

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Santa Has a Budget

My daughter at a young age did not understand why some kids got lots of toys and some only got a few. I told her that because there are so many kids in the world, Santa has a “budget.” Some parents on occasion have a little extra money and they can send it to Santa to help with the cost of the more expensive items to ensure that all the children all over the world get something. But, sometimes the parents don’t have any extra. Santa still sends gifts but maybe not so many and not so expensive.

Santa Knows

My sister-in-law always told her children that even though Santa brought gifts, they as parents had to pay for part of them. And Santa always knew how much mom and dad had to spend.

One “Special” Santa Present

First, my children only got one present from Santa and the rest from everyone else. It was easy to downgrade the “special” Santa present when I told the boys that Santa had so many children to make toys for that year that he might not leave exactly what they wanted. However, what he left for them was made with love and care and it was something that he was sure that they would enjoy.
R. Steele

The Importance of Being Fair

I was a single mom of two who didn’t regularly receive child support. I generally tried to be vague before the holiday until I knew what I would be able to do for each. However, I did remind them that the elves had to make toys for all the children of the world and some years they just didn’t make as many as they had in years past. Therefore, they didn’t always get everything they asked for even if they had been as good as possible. Santa and the elves did everything they could, but they needed to be as fair as possible.

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A Letter from Santa

When I was a child, I put a note right by my stocking on Christmas Eve requesting a specific toy. “Santa” wrote me a nice note saying that he had given away the last one from his sack to another child and that he hoped I would like what he brought me. I was a little disappointed, but I was excited that he wrote a letter to me! Could “Santa” write an early note to your son telling him that there were so many requests that he can’t fill all of the wishes?

A Lesson Learned in Childhood

I told my kids fairly early on that although Santa brings gifts, mom and dad still have to pay Santa for them. Growing up poor, I never understood why Santa didn’t bring me nice things when he did all my friends. I didn’t want my kids to feel the same exclusion. That seemed to help my kids understand and appreciate what they got instead of feeling left out.

Santa Has Bills, Too!

Santa cannot afford it either. He needs to buy feed for the reindeer and the sled needs repairs.

It’s All About Time

After Christmas, when kids return back to school, they’ll compare what they received from Santa. It’s incredibly unfair for Santa to give one child an expensive electronic device and another child a simple book or something small. School teachers everywhere always have to run interference and mend hurt feelings the first day back after Christmas break.

We all need to level the playing field and have Santa deliver simple gifts because kids already understand (to some degree) that some families have more than others. As for Santa, he needs to be the same (and fair) for all children. Spread the word so everyone gets on board. Start this conversation in your circle of friends now, and they’ll probably all thank you for it. Then have this age-appropriate conversation with your children, too.

Besides, why should Santa get more credit for Christmas than parents? Give your children more experiences (like a family membership to the zoo, etc.) and less things/stuff. Play together on the floor with them, create things in the kitchen with them, laugh and have fun with them. Then celebrate Christmas all year long on outings and adventures, spending time enjoying each other.
Lisa in Utah

Reviewed November 2022

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