Right now, there’s a chore list on our refrigerator with dollar values next to each one. “Wipe down lower kitchen cabinets: $1.” “Clean lower living room windows: $1.” And so on.

What does that have to do with holiday gift-giving? Our kids are earning extra money to buy gifts for each other, us, and a few friends and relatives. They’ll be small, simple gifts—but the kids will work to raise money for them. They feel good about it. We feel good about it. It’s an easy—but important—way to teach our girls that 1) Even kids can buy and give gifts and 2) They can pay for gifts, rather than asking us for a gift-giving subsidy.

Our kids are also learning about the joys of being generous, and how to do so without spending a ton of money. (Photo by jayneandd)

Some ideas on helping kids become thoughtful gift-givers:

1. Give a gift to a needy child. Even before our kids were old enough to earn their gift-giving money, we participated in a holiday charity program at our daughter’s school. We fondly refer to it as the “shoebox gift” because the rule is that you buy only items that will fit in a single shoebox, wrapped. We get the first name, gender and age of the child, and then decide what to buy.

We’ve found it easiest to take a small cash budget (like $20-$30) to a single store (usually Target) and let our kids help decide how to fill the box. They usually start by filling the box with $1 items from the front-of-the-store bins. We always talk a little about whether those dollar items will 1) last long enough and 2) feel like nice gifts. The girls usually put back all but one or two of the dollar items, pick a few fun holiday candies, then fill out the box with one nice, small toy that’s “cool” this year—like a Littlest Pet Shop set.

The decisions our kids consider with this gift roll over into buying for friends and family: Will a lot of inexpensive items make my gift seem bigger/ stretch my budget or should I use my money for one, larger gift? Am I buying something the receiver will like or picking something I want for myself? Can I put myself in my receiver’s shoes and ask: What might really delight this person this year?

2. Discourage kids from buying for themselves while shopping for others. It dilutes their attention. We ask our kids to leave their own spending money at home while they’re shopping for others. We want their attention 100% focused on picking gifts for those special people—not filling up their own gift lists.

3. Encourage them to make coupons. Sometimes the best gift is a service, rather than a thing. And for kids on a tight budget, service coupons can be a great solution. For a sibling, your child could make and color cute little coupons like: “I’ll make your bed one morning.” Or “I’ll let you choose one TV show without arguing with you.” Or even “I’ll do your after-school chores today.” The receiver can present these coupons for “redemption” anytime from now to next Christmas.

Our kids give us, their parents, these coupons, too. I’ve gotten some great ones: “Good for one time I play a board game with you.” (They know I love board games but the kids often thing they’re boring.) Or another favorite: “Good for one time I let you win an argument with me.”

4. Homemade is cool, too. Kids who love to cook can help you make and wrap holiday goodies for friends and family. Let them add their own tags to the yummies. Lots of craft sites also suggest simple projects kids can make and give as gifts.

For instance, a few years ago, our girls made notecard sets out of some of their favorite school art, like this. Another year they made refrigerator magnets and put them inside cute gift tins. Last year, our eldest daughter custom-gift-wrapped candy bars for friends (sort of like these candy bar wraps, but she used cute, store-bought wrapping paper and ribbons) and also cute hairpins with glued-on buttons. The key is to start with things your child enjoys making, and figure out how to make them gift-able.

5. Consider becoming a neighborhood Secret Santa. There’s always someone on our street who is going through a tough time, or could just use a little sparkle at the holidays. Could your kids pick an elderly neighbor or small child and leave them occasional notes, candies or little gifts throughout December? Kids love, love, love the chance to ding a doorbell, run off and then imagine how surprised their neighbor will be to find a little treat on their doorstep.


6. Create a “gift” budget (for older kids). If your tween or teen is ready to buy, rather than make gifts, this is a great help. Beginning last year, when our oldest daughter started getting a monthly “salary” instead of an allowance, we had her save $5 a month for Christmas gifts. It was a painless routine. Now, as Christmas rolls around, she is delighted to see that she has more than $60 saved up! It’s sort of a Christmas Savings Club for kids. Start now for next year.

7. Let them pick a “good cause.” If your child puts part of his allowance or earnings into a jar or segmented bank (we’re partial to this one) for “giving,” this month is a good time to sweep out that money and put it to use. Let your child decide to whom or what organization he’d like to give his money. What touches his heart right now? He may opt to give his money to your church, an animal rescue organization, or an international children’s relief fund. Learning how to give money away is as important as learning how to earn it and spend it wisely.

How do you encourage your kids to become givers?