As the festive season approaches, the sad reality for many families is that the cost-of-living crisis means they just haven’t got any spare money to spend at Christmas.
And it may mean children are going to be disappointed if their dream toy isn’t under the Christmas tree.
So how can parents explain to their kids that money troubles will even affect Santa this year?
"The cost-of-living crisis isn’t easy for anyone, especially at Christmas, but handled sensitively and age-appropriately, it can be an opportunity for children to begin to learn to budget," reassures mum-of-two Katie Warrior, a ‘mummy-saving expert’ from ChannelMum.com.
"This life skill is bigger than any gift Santa can deliver, and one which keeps on giving for the rest of their lives."
Here, Warrior shares her tips for talking to children about how financial problems might affect Christmas, and for keeping a lid on the costs…
1. Reassure them
Make sure children aren’t jumping to their own conclusions from what they hear on the news and on social media, and tell them Christmas isn’t being cancelled. "Children will be hearing all sorts of scary things on the news or in the playground," says Warrior. "Reassure them that they are safe and secure and there will still be a Christmas."
2. Tell them gifts don’t have to be expensive to be worth having
Christmas is a time for giving but that doesn’t have to mean expensive gifts, Warrior stresses. "Spin it so it’s about the spirit of the season, and explain this year you’re going to be making gifts or giving your time as a present to the people that matter most, so you get back to basics and the true meaning of Christmas."
3. Make it age-appropriate
Warrior says that for older children who no longer believe in Father Christmas, it’s fine to explain that money is tight and to manage their expectations. She advises: "Set them a small budget and get them to decide the gifts they want, according to what you can afford. You’ll be amazed how creative they’ll be."
Although it’s more difficult to explain financial constraints to younger children, Warrior suggests that taking them to a toy shop to try some of the items on their Christmas list could help to whittle the list down a little.
"Spend a little time before Christmas taking them to a toy store so they can see the items and try them out. Almost always they’ll decide they don’t want many of the toys they thought they did. You can also point out much more affordable alternatives," she says.
4. Use the ‘fair share’ explanation
If you’re struggling to buy presents, Warrior suggests explaining to younger children that Santa doesn’t have enough space in his sleigh to carry loads of gifts for every child, and getting just one or two means everyone gets their fair share. "It’s a gentle way to manage expectations and helps little children learn about others."
5. Get them involved in festive saving
Make being thrifty an activity the whole family’s involved with, to help the kids understand money’s tight. Warrior says: "Whether it’s hunting down yellow label festive food bargains, teens finding a discount code on the internet, making gifts, or thrift shopping for something unique, children love a challenge that gets them involved and it brings the whole family together."
6. Secret Santa and second-hand Santa
If money’s really tight, tell the kids you’re having a family secret Santa where you buy one small under €5 gift for each other, suggests Warrior, who says another festive money-saving idea is to shop second-hand. Many charity shops offer new, boxed toys and gifts at a fraction of the normal cost.
Alternatively, you could agree to bake or make each other some homemade gifts.
7. Don’t feel pressured to overspend
After you’ve done your best to help the kids understand money’s tight, don’t get yourself into debt by spending what you can’t afford to get the kids what’s on their wishlist. "Think back to your childhood Christmases," advises Warrior. "Can you remember how many presents you received or how much they cost? Of course not.
"Christmas is about family and a feeling, not pure consumerism. You can create that festive feeling for your kids even when money’s very tight. If you begin with this in mind, all the other conversations become much easier."