4 Christmas Gift Rule: How We Use it With 5 Kids

by | Sep 18, 2020

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As we start getting ready for the holidays it’s can be tough to plan out exactly what you’re going to get the kids. Plus, it’s so easy for spending to get out of control! What are you supposed to do? With 5 kids I’m always looking for ways to not only save money, but also to cut back on the clutter in out home. That’s why I decided to start the 4 Christmas gift rule for kids this year.

Every year I feel like we go overboard. I love Christmas, but that doesn’t meant we need to overspend around the holidays. Plus I find that a few weeks after Christmas there’s always broken or neglected toys that leave me wondering why did I spend money on this in the first place?

Setting limitations like the 4 gift rule for Christmas helps kids prioritize what they really want rather than asking for a bunch of things impulsively.

What is the The 4 Gift Rule For Christmas?

You’ve probably heard of this concept before. For Christmas, instead of giving the kids a lot of gifts, or letting them write out a super long wish list, you purchase just 4 items.

Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. They can suggest multiple items in each category if you want, but at the end of the day they’re only getting one gift from each.

Scroll to the bottom of this post for two free 4 Christmas gift rule wish list printables!

In our house we also do Santa gifts, so they’ll each get an extra toy and stocking filled by him. If you include those gifts that’s 25 presents under the tree just for the kids!

If we allow unrestricted shopping it can really become too much. My kids also spend half the time at my ex’s house which means they’ll basically get double the gifts.

What I Love About the Four Christmas Gifts Rule For Kids

Even if you’re not being overrun by presents in your house there’s still some amazing benefits to adopting the 4 gift rule this Christmas.

Writing in Christmas cards

Less stuff in your house

Children, on average, have a lot more toys than they did in the past. Houses are also bigger… To hold all that stuff! It’s time to break the cycle of excess things and pare down holiday shopping.

By implementing the 4 gift rule you put restrictions on yourself so you don’t go Christmas crazy. As someone who likes to buy a lot of gifts for my kids (many that have gone unappreciated) this is really helpful. But also tough!

Intentional gift giving and list making

By asking your kids to list gifts that fit into those categories you’re basically forcing them to think a bit more deeply about what they’re asking for. For kids, Christmas seems like endless possibilities where they can get any toy they want. The truth is that most kids just want one or two things anyway, and the rest is just passing fancies.

If the kids don’t know what they want (or ask for multiple things) it also forces you to think about the gifts you’re buying. You can’t just run out and get every toy – so what will your kids actually play with?

It can fit with any budget

Something else I love about the 4 Christmas gift rule for kids is that it can scale to almost any budget. If money’s tight you can really be careful with your shopping and maybe splurge on the couple of things your kids really want. You might even be able to find some of the gifts (especially books) second hand.

Likewise, if you’re a bit of a spender on Christmas you can still go all out. You might even find that your budget gets better put to use and your kids actually appreciate what you buy more! For example, if you usually spent $500 per kid at Christmas on a bunch of little stuff you could get them a game console instead.

You get more time to spend time together

When there’s too many gifts it can definitely feel like Christmas morning goes on forever. Sometimes kids even get bored! Especially if you wrap up a lot of things they don’t really care for.

Instead, plan some Christmas day activities that can take the place of gift opening. Not only will it be more fun, it also reinforces the real meaning of Christmas for your kids.

Lists of Ideas For Christmas Gifts For The 4 Gifts Rule Categories

If your kids are like mine then they might not give you clear lists. My oldest famously tells me Santa will know what to bring her each year! At almost 13, I know she doesn’t believe he’s real. But it’s a Christmas tradition that lets her get surprised.

While these aren’t specific, I thought I’d put together some ideas to get you thinking about the perfect Christmas gifts for your kids.

Little girl looking at a Christmas gift under a small tree - to illustrate that the 4 Christmas gift rule is a way to help kids appreciate their gifts

Something they want gifts:

Something they need ideas:

  • Something for their room
  • New bedding or blanket
  • Needed sports equipment or accessories
  • Water bottle, Thermos, etc
  • Suitcase or overnight bag
  • Bath products or accessories
  • Hobby supplies
  • Cooking tools/small appliances (for older kids)

Something to wear presents:

  • Hat
  • Shoes
  • Sweatshirts
  • Something trendy they’ve been wanting
  • Jewelry or hair accessories
  • New backpack

Something to read gift ideas:

The 4 Christmas gift rule for Christmas ideas: there is text with the four categories: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read plus gift ideas

What counts as one gift?

This one is totally up to you! If you’re on a tight budget, for example, you might want to get your kid the first book in a series they want to read. If funds allow, you could also wrap up the boxed set. It’s still technically one gift, after all.

The same goes for toy playsets, outfits, or anything else you might be questioning. The rules are just there to make Christmas more streamlined and fun, not to be restrictive in negative ways.

Can You do the 4 Presents for Christmas Rule With Adults Too?

Holidays aren’t just for the kids! If you like to do a big exchange with other adults like your parents or spouse then you can absolutely use this plan to make your gift giving more intentional this year.

On the other hand, I also think this is a great brainstorming idea for couples who aren’t big into gift giving. How many parents are there out there only getting things they need or stuff for the house as Christmas gifts? Way too many! You deserve “something you want” for Christmas this year too.

Wrapping a Christmas gift

Variations on the 4 Christmas Gift Rule

Maybe you think that 4 gifts aren’t enough for your family. Or maybe you like the idea, but one of the categories doesn’t work for you. You don’t have to stick to the plan exactly! Instead, make it right for you.

Add an activity gift. Something like concert tickets or passes to a local museum. Either that the recipient really would love, or that you can do as a family.

Have a gift exchange. Alongside the 4 gifts, have the kids exchange gifts with each other.

Turn it into an activity. Make finding the gifts part of the Christmas morning with a scavenger hunt or wrap the gifts up in a super fun way.

What is the 5 Gift Rule for Christmas?

The 5 Christmas gift rule is usually a variation on the 4 gift rule that includes something from Santa as the 5th item. I didn’t include that on the printable list because everyone handles gift giving, including Santa presents, differently. We also tend to pull items from their 4 gift rule wish list to inspire presents from Santa.

I’ve also seen the 5th gift listed as “something they don’t know they want”. Basically, it means something you decide you want to get for the kids! After all, part of the fun of Christmas gifts is the surprise. If they already know everything they’re getting it takes away some of the magic.

What is the 7 Gift Rule for Christmas?

The 7 gift rule also adds some extra categories for Christmas presents. Once you start getting up to seven gifts there’s less consensus about what those categories should include. If you want to do seven gifts instead of five or four, pick the categories that fit best with your kids’ age and family’s lifestyle.

Here’s some categories for the 7 gift rule:


  • To do (puzzles, movie, activity, etc)
  • For the family (board game, family activity)
  • To share (snacks, friendship bracelets, etc)
  • Used (a second hand item)
  • Homemade (or handmade; like knitting or baking)
  • For me (keepsake item eg. ornament)
  • Played (video games, board games, nerf guns, etc)
  • For a hobby (start a new hobby, craft kits, or hobby supplies)
  • For work (great for adults or school supplies for kids)
  • For my room or for the home (decorations, gadgets, fun lights, etc)
  • To eat (we love doing food gifts for the kids; think treats and kits)

Two Free Printable Christmas Wish Lists!

These free printable lists are a fun way for kids to make their 4 Christmas Gift rule wish list. Instead of just asking for 4 things, they can add a few to each category so you have options. Perfect for kids (like mine) who can never decide on exactly what they want. You can also use the extras on the list to pass on ideas to grandparents and other relatives who may be asking too!

Christmas gift Wish list printable with vintage elements and Santa art
Christmas wish list

Why You Should Start a 4 Christmas Gift Tradition

At the end of the day, Christmas is about family time – not stuff. If you’re looking for a way to simplify your holidays this year, especially if you’re on a budget, the 4 Christmas gift rule for kids is a fun way to make Christmas morning special.

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Everett Franchuk

Everett Franchuk

Everett loves to plan parties and events, decorate, and make crafts/DIY projects. As a parent of 5 in his early 30s, he decided to start The Best Nest to offer practical tips and ideas.

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