Can the four gift rule work for you this Christmas?

October 26, 2017 Published by

Every parent loves seeing the look on their child’s face on Christmas morning when they come downstairs to see a big pile of presents – exciting new toys just waiting to be unwrapped – under the Christmas tree.

However, forking out for lots of gifts (especially if you have more than one child) isn’t necessary; we know most of it will end up in the back of the cupboard come January. Yet it can be so hard to cut down on gifts because you want to make sure your child enjoys those few precious ‘Santa Years’. You also don’t want your child thinking they’ve been naughty because they got fewer presents than the other children!

But there is a way to balance budgeting and gift-giving, by using the ‘four-gift rule’, which has been shared on a number of websites. You limit yourself to four presents for each of your children (and of course, it even rhymes):

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

As well as reducing the amount of clutter in your home, this approach to gifting will really make you think about your choices and will demonstrate to children that Christmas isn’t just about counting the number of gifts that you receive. Plus, it is easily adaptable to any budget.


Something they want


Young Child opening up Christmas Present


Finding a gift that your child wants is easy – many children will have a list of items ready and waiting!

Try to choose something they will genuinely enjoy for a long time; but if they truly have their heart set on whatever their friends at school will be getting, that’s okay too.

For babies and toddlers who are a little young to know what they want yet, take a look at our Tried and Tested Gift List for Babies and Toddlers for a little inspiration.


Something they need



Buying a practical gift is a good habit to get into, and it means you know it’s something that will be used.

For example, this could be a new school bag, or a duvet cover set for their bed, toiletries, etc. It might also be an educational toy that will help reinforce their school learning.


Something to wear


Buying your child items to wear may sound boring, but think about what appeals to your child: a specific character, colour or that coveted ‘fashion’ item.

For older children who are a little more fashion-conscious, keep the receipt (just in case!) or give them a gift card so they can enjoy the independence of choosing something for themselves.


Something to read

How Reading can teach empathy to children


Fostering a love of books from a young age is important; not just as a hobby but for learning too. For all ages, stories can help children understand the world and themselves – from potty training to fall-outs with friends, there’s a book for everything. You could buy a special edition of a favourite book, a sequel to a much-loved story or try a new genre altogether.   

The four-gift rule can be very hard to stick to; many parents argue that they spend all year saving for Christmas because they want the chance to spoil their children.

It really is about whatever works best for your family, but the general idea is that each gift is given for a reason – not just to add to the impressively large pile of presents under the tree. A few carefully selected presents will mean that your child is more grateful for the gifts they do receive, and hopefully, you’ll be less stressed and more able to just enjoy the festive period.


An alternative approach: The balanced play diet



If the four-gift rule isn’t for you, how about planning your gifts around your child’s play diet? This pyramid of play activities makes it easy to balance out the important stuff that contributes to your child’s all-round development (such as active play, which helps keep them fit and healthy) with little treats, like screen time.

With this approach, it doesn’t matter how many presents you want to buy your little ones – instead, we encourage you to make sure they get something to promote each type of play.

For example:

Christmas is a truly magical time for children, but that doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to buy them everything they want. Spending time together, playing games and watching your favourite Christmas films, is a much more valuable gift to give your children.




By Claire Gillies and Anna Taylor

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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