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Blended Family Finances: Untangling holiday gifting as a blended family

Sarah Kinbar
by Sarah Kinbar, Dimespring 30 (@bigblendedfam)

We’re making a change. This month, our blended family Christmas gifting is going to be seamless, because we’ve finally got a plan.

For the past few years that we’ve been blended, Todd and I haven’t gotten our heads together on Christmas shopping, so days before The Big Day, I wasn’t sure who was giving what, or even who was getting what. Sometimes certain cousins were forgotten, or a present meant for one kid accidentally went to another (we have two kids born in 2008, so you can see how that might happen).

There were a few reasons for our discombobulated state, the first of which is my issue. I resent the focus on “things” at Christmas. I avoid gift shopping, not because I don’t like giving gifts, but because I think that the spirit of greed isn’t compatible with the true meaning of Christmas. Even my kids are annoyed by the endless ads prompting us to spend money on items that will be loved for a moment and forgotten moments later. But alas, denial about gift shopping doesn’t make it go away.

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The second reason for our gifting awkwardness is more general — it has to do with being blended. Our expectations aren’t all the same because we come from different backgrounds where priorities haven’t necessarily matched up regarding gifts.

For example, if Todd’s giving me a gift, I like to get it on Christmas morning, instead of a promise that it will come but he hasn’t had a chance to shop for it yet. Another example: my son doesn’t care at all about gifts and doesn’t get very excited to open them Christmas morning, while the other three kids are ravenous about opening their presents.

The third reason our gifting could go better is that Todd and I haven’t been able to get real about what is definitely going on the Christmas list based on what we can afford. We also didn’t discuss where gifts fell into the scheme of things during the holidays — would gifting be the main event? Would it be second to the family meal? Would we be going to a Christmas Eve service? Would charitable giving or volunteering become our focus as a family during the holiday season? Our holiday unfolded without a discussion or plan — whatever happened, happened.

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Here’s what we’ve decided for this year to turn the ship around:

We made a simple, precise list that names each person we’re shopping for and what we’re giving them. We’ve set budgets for each of those gifts, and agreed on who will shop for whom.

We’ll take our kids shopping for the cat — together they’ll pick out a few new toys for him, and a new cat bed. This tradition will be meaningful to them because kitty was a gift to them last year.

We’re going to educate our kids about the importance of reaching out and doing good at this time of year. One way we’ll go about this is to gather items for homeless children in central Florida. Our kids are going to make cards that we attach to the items before we drop them off.

Our togetherness as a family of six on Christmas Day will focus on love and gratitude, and gifting will not be the main event. We’re waking up together on Christmas morning, but we won’t run right for the tree. First we’ll have our pancakes, and watch the Charlie Brown Christmas movie.


What will you focus on this holiday season?



Sarah Kinbar of Blended Family Finances is a mother of two and stepmother of two who writes about the extra-complicated financial situations that blended families face. Sarah is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.