Epic Ideas for Doing 4 Gifts for Christmas

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Does holiday gift giving get out of hand at your house? As parents it can be so easy to become carried away. We want our kids to have the best at the holidays. Which seems like a good thing. Until it isn’t so good. We started only giving 4 things for Christmas because we realized our kids were becoming overwhelmed with gifts on Christmas morning.

Too many gifts

You know when you see gift overwhelm. When we’ve gone overboard on gifts, my kids don’t have motivation to even finish opening their gifts on Christmas morning. They just want to play with one or two favorites.

Maybe they open all the gifts but then don’t play with or even undo the packaging on everything. Many of the toys get discarded or broken within a few days. As a parent you start to wonder if they even liked anything you put under the tree.

It doesn’t have to be this way! The solution is simple. Give your kids less.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it works. Doing 4 gifts for Christmas has helped us go from holiday overwhelm to happy and content on Christmas morning.

What is the 4 gift rule?

You may have heard of the 4 gift rule. It is the close cousin to the 3 gift rule, which states that you give 3 gifts on Christmas—just like the Christ child received as a babe.

Simply put, the 4 gift rule means you are only giving your kids 4 gifts for Christmas.

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

By narrowing in on what you give your kids, you can make gifts more meaningful. They will be more likely to remember what you gift and appreciate what they have.

Benefits of giving only 4 gifts for Christmas

We love using this gift guide for our gift-giving. There are so many benefits our family gains from it. For example:

  • It serves as a guide. We never have to worry about “what” to get for when shopping for our family. Simply follow the guidelines and fill in the categories as we shop. We use it for everyone in the house…including mom and dad!
  • Less stuff. The fight against stuff is ever present. Having less stuff come into our home is a big help.
  • It helps us stay on budget. When you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to add a bunch of gifts at the last minute (because CHRISTMAS!) and blow your budget.
  • Set expectations. Our kids know they are only getting 4 gifts. They don’t dream up hoards of gift requests. They know what’s coming and they are happy working within those bounds.

Does it really work

The first year we switched to giving 4 gifts for Christmas, we expected our kids to be disappointed. After all, the holidays might seem a lot less magical if you are only getting a few gifts.

Boy were we wrong! Our kids didn’t even notice the number of gifts. They got what they got and loved everything. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the sheer number of gifts, they were content playing with their treasures. The number of gifts was a non-issue.

What about stockings?

Stockings are a gray-area for a lot of people. What exactly do you put in a stocking? Should you put gifts there? Keep it treats and candy? Fruit? Every family is different.

In our family, we use stockings as a place for consumable goods like treats, fruit, and items we may normally buy anyway (think fingernail clippers, body wash, hair things, toothbrushes, etc).

You could certainly put toys or gifts in stockings if you wanted. But in my experience, it’s not necessary.

Explaining it to the kids

It’s easy to decide that you want to limit the number of gifts under the tree. It’s not as easy to explain this to kids who are used to getting all the presents.

The age of your kids will determine how you approach this with your kids. Our kids were young when we started doing this. We just made the transition without much explanation. It was not a big deal.

Older kids might need you to clarify the change and why is can be a good thing (better gifts for the same budget, getting what you really want instead of a lot of “fluff”, etc.)

This Christmas wish list is a good way to get your kids thinking about what they’d really like to receive for Christmas.  It has categories to help get your kids thinking about what they could get for the want, read, wear, and read gifts.

Get the 4 Gift Christmas Wish List

Get that list here.

What about Santa?

Anytime I explain this concept to someone, the inevitable question comes. “What about Santa gifts?” Of course, you can’t forget the fat man! How every family does Santa is highly personal. Some families hope to keep Santa alive for many years while others skip the whole experience altogether.

For our family, Santa brings one gift (usually in the “want” category) and mom and dad bring their 4 gifts. We never want our kids to inadvertently make another child feel bad because Santa brings big or expensive gifts to our kids and not to another family. Because of that, Santa brings a small gift and mom and dad gift bigger gifts.

Not to mention, we kind of like getting the credit for some of those big gifts. 😊

Gift giving amongst the family

Giving four gifts for Christmas doesn’t mean that your kids will only get 4 gifts during the holidays. Between friends and family, your kids might see many more than just four gifts.

You might also choose to have your kids give gifts to one another. Our family still does a sibling gift exchange with (mostly homemade) inexpensive gifts. We want to encourage our kids to think about giving to one another. They must plan, budget, and work towards something they think a sibling will like.

Expect that the four gift rule will be loose. And that’s okay. Even if a few extras slip in, this will still help you par down your Christmas spending and consumption.

Gift ideas for categories

What in the world can you put in a each of these categories? Anything you want! We like to think outside the box. Here are some ideas to get you started.


Wants are the easiest category to plan for. This is the stuff your kids are begging for. You’ve probably heard about it over and over again. They asked Santa Clause. Your kids have been making their own list and checking it twice.  Wants might include:

  • RC Cars
  • Legos
  • Nerf guns
  • A camera
  • Art sets
  • Dress up clothes
  • Dolls
  • Scooters, rip sticks, hover boards, or bikes


What does your child need? Have you been meaning to purchase something they need but just haven’t yet? Now is the time. Need items may include:

  • Sports equipment (basketball, ballet shoes, bike)
  • Personal care items (electric razor, gift card for a salon appointment)
  • Shoes or clothing (swim suit, winter coat, boots, running shoes, socks)
  • Electronics (headphones, laptop for school, case for a kindle or tablet)
  • School supplies
  • Tools or supplies for a hobby
  • Things for their bedroom, locker, or car (blankets, artwork, desk with chair, lamps, seat covers for a car, mirror for a locker)
  • Contribution to a college savings account
  • Musical instrument (or lessons)


If you are like us, “wear” gifts can be difficult to brainstorm. Throughout the year, we buy the clothes our kids need as they need them. However, we still find so many things that our kids would love that they can wear.  For example, this year our kids are all getting new winter gloves. Here’s a few more ideas that you might like:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes (boots, sports shoes, or cleats)
  • Socks/underwear. Yes I said it!
  • Perfume
  • New glasses/sunglasses
  • Hair accessories
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • Jackets
  • Jewelry
  • Slippers
  • Purse or handbag
  • Backpack
  • Sports bag
  • Wallet
  • Belt
  • Robe
  • Pajamas
  • Themed clothing that they may not normally have (dress up clothes, giant footie pajamas, Star Wars jackets)
  • “Nice” clothing (suits, ties, dresses, formalwear)


Not every kid is a big reader. But every parent can encourage reading in ways that will resonate with their kids. My husband mainly reads books in an audio format. I read on my Kindle, and my kids love the tactile feel of a real book. Here are some ideas for readers and non-readers alike:

  • Audible subscription
  • Audio book
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Journal
  • Favorite book series (Harry Potter, The Rangers Apprentice)
  • Comic book
  • Board games (“reading” instructions)
  • Card games (“reading” instructions)

Bonus gift: Experience gift

Although we’ve outlined the 4 gift rule, our family technically follows the five gift rule for Christmas. We add an additional category of experience gifts. Our kids remember those gifts longer and better than anything else they get. Experience gifts might include:

  • Concert tickets
  • Tickets to a sports game
  • Lessons (music, dance, or art)
  • Dates with mom or dad
  • Princess day (manicures, dress up, and all things princess)
  • Passes for local museums, waterparks, aquariums, or zoos

Read more about why we love experience gifts here.

Sticking to a budget

There is no set budget for giving 4 gifts for Christmas. Families with large budgets may be able to spend money on more expensive gifts that were not possible with a gift giving frenzy.

For those with a tighter budget, only giving four gifts means you can stick to your Christmas budget.

It’s easy to fit this style of Christmas giving for any budget. For example, “wear” for your 16-year-old son could mean a brand-new suit, or an inexpensive tie.  Both examples work under the guidelines.

Doing what is best for your family

It really doesn’t matter if your give 3, 4, 5 or more gifts at Christmas. Ultimately, you must do what is best for your family.

If you are still feeling unsure, try giving your kids just four gifts for Christmas. If it doesn’t work for your family, you can always change it for next Christmas. Tweak it to work for you.

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