The holidays are a magical, wonderfully family focused, and oh-so-expensive time, especially after you become a parent. Some of that holiday spending is worthy and fun — nothing beats watching your child freak out after opening the present at the top of their wish list that you scored with great effort, then heroically and unselfishly credited to Santa.
But for every holiday dollar you'll be happy you spent, there's another one you feel like you totally squandered. Want to ensure that you're spending on the right things this season? Then learn from our money mistakes, and don't waste your hard-earned cash on the following six goods and services — no matter how festive they might seem.
- Elaborate (or any) gifts for babies and small toddlers. Until your child is old enough to actually express something they want for Christmas, don't bother getting them gifts. Caveat: if that baby or toddler has an older sibling and you'll feel guilty about the inequity, then go ahead and wrap up a few superinexpensive or hand-me-down items. They'll still prefer the box.
- More than a few gifts for children of any age. Trust me, give your kids more than three gifts each and you're wasting your money. After that third gift, they glaze over, barely even seeing any subsequent presents, and instead become package-opening machines. Get three goods ones, and you're a hero and they'll be beyond satisfied.
- Fancy Christmas outfits and pajamas. I get all those catalogs with the adorable matching holiday outfits and pajamas, too, and every year, I'm tempted. But then I remember the one year I did splurge on some pricey Christmas-themed pajamas, passing them over on Christmas Eve, hoping to start a new tradition. My kids refused to wear them that night and every other night after that, too, because Christmas was then a thing of the past. Lesson learned.
- Gifts for every kid in your extended family. When your cousin or husband's best friend has a new baby, it can be tempting to add them to your buying list. Don't do it. The best way you'll keep control over holiday expenses is to keep your gift-giving list short. Invite the parents over for a glass of wine instead and call it a (holi)day.
- Expensive Christmas activities for babies and toddlers. When my son was 18 months old, we spent $30 per ticket to take our family of four to a Shrek-themed holiday extravaganza in a neighboring town. He immediately hated the faux but life-size Shrek waiting outside the event and refused to go in, and we were out $60 while my husband waited with him in the car. I've had similar experiences with a teddy-bear-themed Christmas tea I tried to take my then-2-year-old daughter to (she wasn't in the mood) and the Yo Gabba Gabba Christmas show we took her to the year before that (she kept her eyes closed the whole time because she was terrified and eventually fell asleep). If you don't think your kids are old enough to truly enjoy an excursion, don't waste your time and money on it.
- Bringing or buying excess baby gear for holiday vacations. If you're flying somewhere over the holidays, there's some smart money to spend (shipping diapers and gifts separately is a big one for me), and then there's not-so-smart money to spend. Keep your checked bags minimal — your kid doesn't need a million toys and all their baby gear, we promise. Only rent items you'll really need (a crib and highchair are probably it), and bring along your stroller and car seat since airlines will let you check them for free. That glass of not-so-good white wine on the flight, however? That's totally worth the money.