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May 232016

It was the night before Easter, and I stood there staring at the baskets I just made for my two kids. Instead of Xbox games, iTunes gift cards and as many action figures and candy treats I could stuff in without breaking through the cellophane, they were getting about $15 worth of items.

I felt guilty that my recent layoff was going to ruin their Easter, which over the years, had become like their second Christmas. While I don’t regularly hit the toy store, I admit that on holidays and birthdays, I’ve enjoyed splurging on them. But for the first time in their young lives, I was anticipating sad little faces when they woke up Easter morning. To my surprise, just the opposite happened.

They were elated that instead of getting a whole bunch of random stuff, the Easter bunny seemed to know exactly what they liked. My Disney-obsessed older son got a Walt Disney World travel guide (under $10). My younger son received a Captain America drinking cup (99 cents) and a Lego Minifigure (about $7) in his basket — his two latest obsessions.

Within minutes, I went from a feeling of dread to a sense of relief. More important, I felt empowered that I could do a holiday on the cheap, and my kids didn’t think any less of me. In fact, I’m a bit ashamed that I thought they would.

Here’s what I learned, and what I plan to apply to gift giving, goodie bag making, and party items moving forward:

  • Get creative gift-wrapping materials. Expensive cards, gift bags, baskets or wrapping paper can add $5 to $10 to a gift. See if you can turn part of the gift into the container, so for instance, a lunch tote or beach pail from the dollar store can hold other items, and you can wrap everything in clear cellophane. And use handmade gift tags or handwritten notes instead of store bought cards.
  • Find the perfect gift, not the most expensive one. As with the Easter baskets, having one or two inexpensive but meaningful items meant more than the size of the basket.
  • Lower your spending across the board. Especially if you have a large family (I have seven young nieces and nephews, for instance), you can’t go overboard for every holiday and birthday for everyone. Pick an amount that you can reasonably afford to spend and work it into your budget, and don’t feel one bit guilty about it!
  • Stop worrying that the kids don’t have enough. When I look around my living room, I see toys, video games, books, and DVDS, most of which are barely played with. And I’ve been on enough playdates to know that is the case in many households.

What my kids really need is my attention, my care, and my love, not more stuff. I’m not sure how I lost sight of that, but I’m glad my boys (and a financial hiccup) brought me back to reality.

Dawn Papandrea

Dawn Papandrea is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, and women's lifestyle topics. She's been a journalist for nearly 15 years, doing everything from editing to writing to blogging to social media management. Her work has appeared in, Family Circle,,, Parents,, The Huffington Post, and other national publications. She lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband and two sons. You can read her personal blog at, or follow her on Twitter: @dawnpapandrea.

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