4 gift rule

The 4 Gift Rule

Pendleton Family FarmOctober 12, 2021

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As a single mom for 7 years, Christmas was spent over indulging my two children in a ridiculous way. The bottom of the tree was filled to the brim and most times spilled out across the entire living room. The 4 gift rule came into play a few years ago. 

4 gift rule

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Christmas time at the Bowman (my maiden name) house was a sight to be seen. My mother is the optiamy of the ultimate hostess. Freshly washed blankets in baskets, little trinkets that were only brought out at holidays that she safely tucked away for the rest of the year (made it even more special when they came out), and the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and oranges often filled every room of the house. 

Like most young families, they were not wealthy, but they always made sure Christmas was a time to remember. Now as an adult I realize how many hours of overtime my mom must have had to accomplish to make our Christmases that way. I can’t even imagine. Oh wait, yes I can. For years and years, I would go over the top on this special holiday. 

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Once I wasn’t a single mom any longer, the weight of 4 children at Christmas was hard. My tendencies for going over the top didn’t stop, but this time it was beyond what we could afford. Oh trust me, I did it for years and we’re still paying for it. 

I remember reading an article around that time that spoke of the 4 gift rule. I instantly thought Oh, there is no way I could do that, but I was still intrigued. I also knew my children would probably be disappointed and there is nothing worse than a mom who has spent months planning for that morning only to be saddened by her children’s responses. 

kids watching the Santa tracker

Circa 2016. The littles watching the Santa Tracker


It was in that moment that I knew things had to change.  If I was concerned that my own children wouldn’t value how much work, time, money, and sacrifice we put into having a magical Christmas…we missed the whole point. 

We both decided the financial stress of this particular holiday was insane. With our children having an overtop gift giving explosion every single year, how would they react to this new norm? How would we even transition to a 4 gift rule? First thing we did was have the hard conversation. 


Popping up 4 gifts that year without explaining why Christmas wouldn’t be normal this year was not how we wanted to start it. I say normal that way because to kids, it was their normal. They would wake up Christmas morning to mounds of gifts for them to tear open. This was going to be different

In our household, we let the kids believe in Santa until well…they don’t. They all know the true meaning of Christmas and for many years we would make Jesus a birthday cake along with singing him Happy Birthday on that special day, but they would make their little list out every year to send to that jolly old man. 


Here is what we said in a nut shell. “This year Santa has asked us to make your list out for 4 really special gifts that you would love to have. Instead of putting down so many things you would like to have only to not play with them a month later, he wants to know 4 gifts that would make this year super special. He wants to know something you want, something you’d like to read, something you wish you had to wear, and something you think you need.” 

We held our breath…


Yes, questions arose and we answered them as best as we could and reminded them frequently that Santa wants us to remember the true meaning of Christmas. That first year we also did our random acts of kindness which I think really helped put their hearts where they needed to be. They made out their lists and changed them often, but it got them thinking about what they really really wanted. 


Some may look at this image and think that’s a ton of gifts, others may gasp because it’s not. It’s all relative. Those gifts under the tree were not only the kids, but extended family as well as their stockings. That beautiful piano was a family gift. 

Our family takes our time watching each person in our home open their thought out gifts with anticipation and let me tell you…it’s that much sweeter. Although we only have one little person left in the house who believes in Santa, she also knows the real meaning behind our celebration and for that I am thankful. 


I have this little book on my desk snuggled in so no one can see. In it I write things throughout the year that the kids mention they would love to have, or a need I see. When the time comes to get gifts prepared to purchase, I pull out that book and take consideration on this year’s goals. 

Example: Our two littles have been electronic free (iPads, iPhones, tablets, video games, etc.) since July 24, 2020. Yep, we made them an epic deal for the ultimate prize at the end of a solid year without those gadgets and truth be told, I’m not sure we’ll ever bring them back. That being said, this year I would love to focus on things they can do


They both have been begging for a Kiwi crate for awhile now, so they each will be getting a 6 month kiwi crate. I’ve picked out the Tinker crate for Jackson and I’m still deciding on either the Doodle crate or the new Yummy crate for Ella. 

Ella recently went to a birthday party and in their backyard was this amazing swing their dad had built. I have put it on the husband task list to build one for the littles this year as a surprise gift. They are going to freak out. 


Here are some other ideas for anyone who needs a little inspiration. 

*A kids cooking class, a book series they can read, a magazine subscription (my kids love getting mail), museum membership, gift card to their favorite ice cream shop, a day trip to somewhere they have never been (hiking, water park, new town to explore, etc.), a backpack filled with explorer gifts, new good quality pjs, boots for the winter (this will be one of theirs), any outside toy, something to build, a local art class, maybe a music lesson? The sky is the limit, but the value of the gift is that it was picked out with thought, not just another plastic toy they will play with for a month and then get dust on it. 


No, we do not count the stockings as a gift and let me tell you…I can go over board on this one. It is by far my most favorite thing to shop for. I used to save things throughout the year and put them up to use for the stockings later on. I fill them with extremely special things I know they want/need. Brand new art supplies, speciality teas for my oldest daughter, little Lego men packets, little gift cards, new toothbrushes, and I’ve found many amazing things at thrift shops. 


I mentioned before that the same year we moved to a 4 gift rule, we also did a lot of giving back. If I remember correctly, each week leading up to Christmas (I think we did this for 6 weeks) we did a random act of kindness. One week my children made cookies and gave them to our neighbors. The next week we taped quarters onto the little kid toy vending machines at the grocery store, and we even collected sleeping bags for our local homeless community. 


These acts gave my children new eyes to see. It wasn’t all about the gift receiving, but the giving. The giving of our time, our money, and our hearts to those in need. I highly recommend your children seeing you not only talk about selfless acts, but walking the walk and doing them. Invite them in to witness and be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

kids sitting my the christmas tree

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