The 4 Gift Rule Tradition Changed Christmas for My Family 5 Years Ago…

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This Christmas tradition will change how your family celebrates…forever. 

girl laying on belly pointing to gifts under christmas tree - 4 gift rule

Simplify your Christmas this year. 🎁

The “4 Gift Rule” is a unique Christmas tradition to simplify your family’s gift-giving. Less stress, more grateful kiddos, and so much more meaning! Read on to find out what it’s all about.

Here’s some backstory…

christmas tree with presents and big teddy bear

When I became a mom in 2010 I started doing exactly what my mom did – buy for my kids in extreme excess.

For years I thought surplus of gifts = joy, but I quickly realized it felt the very opposite for me.

Christmas can quickly get taken over by frivolous gifts by the unconscious habits of “I didn’t buy enough”, “Just one more gift”, “I need to even them out”, or simply falling for a hot, new trendy toy on the market only for its joy to be short-lived.

Above is a photo from Christmas 2012 – just 8 months after I had my second son. Presents were packed so deep under the tree and every single one was for my two boys. My ex-husband and I had spent so much we didn’t even have enough to buy gifts for each other, yet I remember feeling so proud placing the last gift under the tree knowing my boys would wake up to a “magical” looking Christmas.

Deep down inside I felt empty and so very stressed over the financial burden. I was a very young mom living off one income and I knew I couldn’t afford to keep this up. I didn’t want to keep this up. You see, when you buy in excess, you create an expectation for yourself and for others. Almost always these high expectations lead to unnecessary stress for you and your finances.

I LOVE gift giving…but what I realized is that I love gift giving with intention.

That’s when I started doing the 4 Gift Rule…

feet standing in front of flocked christmas tree with 4 gift rule presents on floor

I toyed with this minimalist idea for a few years but I found myself making every excuse why I couldn’t start yet. My kids still believed in Santa…they’re still too little…I’ll do it next year…it’ll be easier when they’re older…etc, etc.

Fast forward to 2017 (yes, 5 Christmases later 😳) I finally committed myself to the 4 gift rule. No excuses. No ifs, ands, or buts. I knew I deserved the stress-free and simple Christmas season my heart yearned for every year. More importantly, I wanted my children to have realistic expectations and a new sense of gratitude.

Starting the 4 Gift Rule was the best thing I ever did for myself and for my kids.

mom and son on ski lift on mountain

Can you imagine the idea of giving just 4 gifts to each of your children?

I know this tradition might come off shocking if you’re used to going completely overboard like I used to, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents asking on Facebook or Instagram what to even gift their kids because they already have it all…🤔.

What I can tell you is that starting this tradition has been extremely freeing. I also love that it has forced me to think much deeper about every gift I give.

These are the 4 Gift Rules:

  • WANT Gift – such as a popular video game, dollhouse, play kitchen, or the hottest new trends this season.
  • NEED Gift – such as toiletries, new bedding, or maybe a more expensive item you’ve been neglecting to buy like a fancy electric toothbrush.
  • WEAR Gift – such as makeup, new sports equipment, or a sports jersey for their favorite team.
  • READ Gift – could be educational, a college textbook, or even something interactive.

I sometimes also incorporate one more gift – something you DO and sometimes a bonus gift for all my kids – a “share gift” which is typically a family game of some sort. 

My kiddos still enjoy Christmas just as much. In fact, they love it the MOST now.

This past year was the first year since starting the 4 Gift Rule that I asked my kids where they love celebrating Christmas the most. They celebrate Christmas at multiple homes between me, their Dad, and multiple sets of grandparents. I was fully anticipating them to say my mom’s (a.k.a. Grandma) was their favorite because she’s notorious for going completely overboard…and what kid doesn’t love that? 

I was shocked when they told me my Christmases are their favorite because they get gifts they actually want or need and we always have time for our French toast casserole afterward. 😭 It’s the little things, guys. 🥹

After four successful years, I felt more confident than ever in my decision to start this life-changing tradition.

Hip Tip: Encourage your kiddo to list a few different options for each of the 4 Gift Rules when making their Christmas list so they’ll still be surprised come Christmas morning and you’ll have a few extra ideas for extended family who may want to get them something too.

christmas tree with gifts

This is our tree from last Christmas – year four doing the 4 Gift Rule.

The 4 Gift Rule will take so much pressure off YOU and your wallet and as you can see, our tree still looks just as magical with just 4 gifts for each of the five people in our family.

This new tradition might also allow you to splurge on a gift you normally couldn’t or wouldn’t buy if you were spending money on a boatload of other things.

Here are more of the amazing benefits of the “4 Gift Rule”:

  • It makes your holiday shopping more simplified.
  • You’re likely to spend less money.
  • It creates an equal playing ground when everyone gets the same amount.
  • Kids will think harder about the things they really want.
  • It encourages grateful hearts.
  • Kids will have more appreciation for what they have.
  • Christmas morning will be less hecticmore enjoyable.
  • There’s less clean up when all the unwrapping is over.
  • Helps everyone focus on what’s really important during the holidays.
  • Doesn’t make other kiddos feel bad when they didn’t get “as much”.

hand holding hangman game in front of christmas tree

Plus, it can still be extremely fun and magical. 

As I shared above, I LOVE giving gifts and since there’s such a minimal amount for each person I’m able to really put so much more love into the wrapping and coming up with creative ways to gift them.

Above is a hangman game I wrapped in a big box for my oldest son last year. The words took him to our mudroom where his new bike awaited him. Although it was his biggest gift, it really felt like two exciting gifts in one.

two letters on brown paper laying on wooden table

The year before, I wrote a couple of fun poems for my boy’s “share gift” which coincidentally ended up being their biggest gift that year – a handmade ramp. I wrapped each one in a big box, sending them all around the house until the final poem led them to their surprise!

boys with scooters on top of wooden skateboard ramp

Needless to say, it went perfectly with their “want gift” – new scooters! 😍 I also love that coming up with creative ways to wrap gifts extends the amount of time you get to enjoy the unwrapping. Things can move pretty fast when there are just 4 gifts and some stockings from Santa.

And in case you’re wondering…yes, Santa still comes to our house. 😉 His presence will remain in our home for as long as my youngest still believes, but we keep the stockings practical and affordable. Plus, my youngest never really knows which are from Santa and which are from us, so it’s still magical despite an overabundance of gifts. My boys who no longer believe even told me Christmas has never felt different for them. ✨

The options for your family’s 4 Gift Rule are ENDLESS.

boy with skiis standing on mountain

Over the past 4 Christmases, we have had so many amazing memories thanks to our new 4 Gift Rule tradition.

The “do gift” is often my favorite and is quickly becoming one that my kiddos look forward to the most as they get older. We’ve gone skiing, paintballing, and also took my daughter to enjoy a Disney On Ice show. These are typically the types of gifts we also ask for from extended family so we can continue to keep gift-giving to a minimum. This year, Grandma will be surprising them with a trip to the Gaylord in D.C.!

Honestly, we enjoy experiences so much as a family that I envision us eventually evolving into only experience gifts the older they get.

Hip Tip: Read more about experience gifts and why the gift of time is so important for families. ❤️

close up of red christmas present with 4 gift rule share on tag

More than anything, I am just so proud of my self-control! 👏🏻

The first couple of years I struggled with the temptation of buying “more” because it didn’t look like “enough”, but I constantly reminded myself that what I have IS enough. Now, it’s not even a thought that crosses my mind.

I’ve also adapted new shopping habits over the years like avoiding mindless walks down toy aisles and doing nearly all of my shopping online so I can stick to just the items on my 4 Gift Rule list.

As a tip, I keep my lists organized in an app on my phone by the type of gift and I always mark what’s been ordered ✅, received 📦, and wrapped 🎁 with fun emojis. It is SO satisfying to add that last emoji on that last gift! 🙌🏼

girl wearing gingerbread outfit standing in chair baking

Christmas is truly so special and meaningful to my family now (in more ways than one) so I challenge you to give it a try too! As a bonus, clean-up will be minimal and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy a delicious Christmas morning breakfast together. ❤️

Here’s what some of our readers had to say about their 4 gift rule experiences:

hand holding a wrapped gift with dark hunter green ribbon

“We have done this for 5 years! They are always pleased with what they receive and doing just 4 gifts allows us to afford a family trip each year, which they are always excited to learn about on Christmas.” – Dawn

“It makes it so much easier but also harder because I really think hard about what I’m getting them. It’s a wonderful tradition in this over-consuming America! I don’t buy stuff just to buy stuff anymore!!! We are living a minimal life and it’s beautiful!” – Chelle 

“We’ve been doing this for two years and I LOVE IT! My children have been so spoiled which is my fault, so we are trying to reign it in. I don’t want them to think Christmas is only about gifts.” – Shawndra 

“We have been doing this the last few years, I love it. It really reduces random buying. I still do a stocking with fun stuff and jammies on Christmas Eve.” – Samantha 

“We do this!! I’m a single momma of 4 kids, so this helps with the budget as well as makes sure gifts are equal. The kids love it and ask specifically for certain gifts. It takes the surprise away at times but they also get to look forward to getting what they’ve asked for in each category.” – Karen 

“We started doing this 4 years ago in our house and it has made the holiday so much more enjoyable.” – Tracy

Hip Tip: Help your kids with their list by using these reader suggested techniques:

girl writing christmas list

“When you have kids make out their list, have them list in those categories. It’s a good lesson in their needs vs. their wants.” – Mary 

“I do this and we have a board up divided into the 4 categories and the kids can add to the list, this really makes them think about gift ideas. My kids are 14, 13, and 8 and we thankfully have no complaints about this!” – Brandy

Ready to give it a try? Check out our FREE printables below!

Dear Santa letter printable

christmas wish list printable

christmas wish list printable

I also created a 5 Gift Rule printable for ya along with my bonus share gift if you want to give my custom Christmas tradition a try! 🎄

Here are some other great gift ideas that our readers shared:

gift of time experience box - 4 gift rule

“I do 3 gifts for my kids. 1. Something they want. 2. Something they need. 3. An experience – This could be going to a sporting event, a concert, a Broadway play, swimming with dolphins, etc.” – Sarah

“We’ve done this the last 4 years and have loved it, but this year everyone is in charge of buying an entire family experience. My 12-year-old wants to treat the family to see the Nutcracker movie, my 6-year-old wants to have an art painting night and my husband and I are each planning a little weekend getaway. Grandparents usually still spoil them and Santa will still fill stockings.” – Rosette

woman standing with kids on scooters downtown at night with rain and christmas lights

Christmas should be a season of joy, togetherness, and, for many, the celebration of Christ’s birth. We all have a choice to mold it into the way we want it to be, so make the most out of your holiday. No matter how you decide to celebrate this year, make it memorable, be grateful, spread joy, and surround yourself with loved ones.

Merry Christmas, Hip2Savers! ❤️

We have all the Christmas deals for your shopping list.

About the writer:

Sara is a self-taught blogger & photographer and brings 9+ years of experience to her craft. Her work has been featured in numerous esteemed publications, spanning building, travel, and fashion. Beyond her creative pursuits, Sara’s primary mission is to empower others to embrace a toxic-free & sustainable lifestyle.

Join The Discussion

Comments 137

  1. Lee

    We somehow have this kind of tradition with my daughter! I let her write Christmas wishes on clean paper. She loves to draw on its background afterward. It was more effective and easier for me since I’m not good at gifts lol. We love doing it because every Christmas it becomes more memorable. Even on her birthdays! Thank you for the printable ideas I would love to try them for my daughter to write on this year!

  2. Danae Daria

    We do something very fun every year. My niece and my husband made it up many years ago … Christmas Adam ( because Adam came before “Eve”) December 23rd. Now it’s a big tradition. Cousins share gifts and aunts and uncles give to the kids. We have a family gingerbread house contest. We play games. It is soooooo much fun! This year we are adding a Christmas Auction with “Christmas Bucks” ( money with different family members faces on it.

  3. Melissa G.

    ⭐️ You have permission to do a more simpler Christmas. No matter the expectation of your kids. Less is more. We are spending far less this year. Our kids are ages 8-13. 4 gifts is a good number. 👏🏼

    • Sara (Hip Sidekick)

      I couldn’t agree more! Merry Christmas to you and your family, Melissa!

  4. Hardel

    We do the 4 gifts, but we do want, need, surprise, and read. As they get older, they help determine their want and need (it helps them think through the difference), we (the parents) gift a surprise- often something they didn’t think to ask for or a family trip, etc, and then books. We are still in the Santa years, so they get 1 thing from him (we only let them ask Santa for 3 things though). It works so great because it is so easy to go overboard. I still struggle on the read part- rarely is it just 1 book, but they are all wrapped as one and I feel there are way worst things than having too many books. Haha This year I have been trying to focus on non-toy gifts because I’m over all the toys!

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for sharing how you give gifts with your family, Hardel! 🎁 I agree that you can never have too many books! 🥰

  5. Pammie

    French toast casserole! Recipe please?!?

    • Sara (Hip Sidekick)

      Hey, Pammie! I wish I had one to share with you but I don’t. 😔 Our next-door neighbor always makes us a homemade loaf of Sourdough bread a couple of days before Christmas so I always use that (we are gluten-free so this is a huge treat for my kiddos). I dice it up and just mix up a bunch of eggs, cream, cinnamon, maple syrup, and so on until I get the consistency I want, and then dump it on the bread to cover it. Bake at 350 and take it out once it firms up and the top is golden. I have also added crumble topping in the past but my kids normally complain it’s too much sugar. 🤣 If you make one, you’ll have to let me know how it turns out!

  6. Linda

    Baked Almond French Toast Receipe
    Ingredients: French Bread or I sometimes use Brioche Bread
    3 large Eggs, 2 cups milk, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, 4 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract. For Topping: 1 large egg, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3/4 cup sliced almonds.

    Cut bread into 1 inch thick slices and squeeze as many slices as possible into a buttered 13×9 inch pan ( I sometimes make individual ones in ramekins). Wisk together eggs, milk, sugar, salt and extract and pour evenly over bread. Chill, covered, until bread has absorbed custard. Preheat oven to 375.
    Topping: lightly whisk egg white with sugar and a pinch of salt and stir in almonds until well combined. Spread mixture over bread and bake until bread is puffed and golden .. 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.
    It is absolutely delicious and my whole family loves it .. especially when I do individual ones!

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      This sounds delicious, Linda! ❤️ I also spotted a Hip2Keto post on a keto-friendly version of french toast casserole here, if you’d like to check that one out! 🙌

  7. Gigi

    When our kids were younger we would have them wait an hour between opening each present so they would savor what they received and not rush through it. I think this would be good to do with the 4 present idea.

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for sharing how you opened gifts at your house, Gigi! 🎁 ❤️

  8. Dana

    Tried the 3 gift rule(“if 3 gifts were enough for baby Jesus then that should be enough for you “)
    Thought I had finally found a way to cut costs/chaos on Christmas morning. That is until my 5year old announced “ Yeah,but Jesus got gold and he could have cashed it out for more gifts!”😜

  9. Adiana

    I get what your doing and its nice and practical, just be aware that some family cant make de decision to do this, it’s done to them, us, because of our low income.

  10. Jin

    We never go overboard for Christmas and our gifts are not surprise. We got good jackets on sale this year because we needed them. My husband and son has already started using them because it’s cold but we understand it’s intended for Christmas. We have a couple of small surprises for our son total less than $50. We could have indulged if we wanted more but with the rising food cost and uncertainty I just don’t want anything more. I know a lot of families will not be able to afford necessities this year and somehow I am just not in the spirit for anything big.
    When my son was younger (2-4) we had hardships and couldn’t afford a Christmas tree or ornaments. I used green construction paper and star shaped stickers and made a tree on the wall.
    But to be honest, now we buy what we need all year round so no big ticket items for Christmas. I know what hardship is and when I read in the news that many families are struggling to provide food, it just makes me depressed.
    The costs for food is ridiculous. I keep hearing in the news inflation is lower but every week I go to the grocery store the prices keep rising.

  11. D

    My kid is an only child and disabled. I get WAY more than this but that’s just because I am glad she is still here with us 16 years later! I will spoil her forever lol. No gift limits here.

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