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How to Use the 4 Gift Rules For Your Family This Christmas

By Choncé Maddox
November 13, 2019

Gift-giving during the Christmas season can get expensive.

Buying one gift for one person may not seem like a big deal, but if you have a large family or a few kids, the gifts and the costs can add up fast. 

One alternative option is to use the 4 gift rule for your family this Christmas. The 4 gift rule essentially helps you save money by limiting the number of gifts you purchase for others. 

There are quite a few additional benefits to using this method and it’s pretty flexible. Read on to learn more about the four gifts of Christmas.

How the 4 Gift Rule Works

The 4 gift rule is a pretty simple method that breaks up the gifts you get for someone into 4 core categories:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

Yes, that rhymes if you say it altogether, but it’s a stress-free way to do your Christmas shopping. In fact, you can also avoid the mile-long Christmas list from your kids if you consider trying out the 4 gift rule

Receiving fewer gifts for the holidays doesn’t have to be a bad thing either. Overall, you’ll have less to clean up and maintain. Plus, it will be easier for everyone to practice contentment and show gratitude for the items they have. 

The 4 gift rule will help you stick to a holiday budget while still giving a nice gift to everyone. 

4 Gift Rule Examples

So, you may be wondering what the 4 gift rule actually looks like in action. 

As an example, let’s say you’re using this method for your 5-year-old daughter

You may end up buying her nice a toy she really wants, like a play kitchen or dollhouse. You also may get her some shoes (need), dressy clothes (something to wear), and a collection of her favorite storybooks (something to read). 

Here are some more examples for kids of all ages: 


  • Toys for imaginative play, play school bus, building blocks (want)
  • Shoes and/or socks, toddler bed, pajamas (need)
  • Outfit, onesie, snowsuit (wear)
  • Picture book (read)

Young Kids 

  • Art set, Legos, action figures, life-size doll (want)
  • Bike helmet, sports gear, coat, bigger shoes, comforter set with new sheets (need)
  • Dress up clothes, watch, outfit (wear)
  • Storybooks, chapter book series (read)


  • Phone, video game, movies, digital camera, concert tickets (want)
  • Laptop or tablet for school, journal, new glasses (need)
  • Sweater, jeans, jewelry, hat, retail gift card (wear)
  • Magazine, self-help book, fiction series (read)

This style of gifting doesn’t just work for kids either. As a wife and mom, my 4-gift list would look something like this:

  • New tablet or e-reader (want)
  • Annual planner (need)
  • Department store gift card (wear)
  • Audiobook or personal development book (read)

Setting a Holiday Budget

As you can see, the 4 gift rule is adaptable to fit any family, but you still need to develop a budget beforehand. Why? Because you can easily overspend on four nice gifts for each family member. So, start planning out your finances by establishing a holiday gift budget. 

Contribute to your savings in advance to help meet your holiday budget goal. This will also help you avoid getting into debt. 

Be realistic with your family and encourage them to narrow down their wants and needs. 

Another thing you can do: budget in regular needs throughout the year so they don’t become super urgent by Christmas. For example, you can always take advantage of BOGO back to school deals for shoes by getting your child one pair of shoes that they need now and a larger size for the future. 

Items like socks, underwear, and outerwear can also be purchased year-round as well, so you don’t have to save them for your needs category as part of the 4 gift rule. 

Alternative Options to the 4 Gift Rule 

The 4 gift rule is just one alternative to consider this year instead of buying multiple Christmas gifts for everyone. 

Here are a couple of other ideas and strategies to help you save money on Christmas gifts

  • Secret Santa Gift Exchange: See if your family would be up for doing a Secret Santa gift exchange. This means each family member draws a name from a hat and only gets a gift for that one “secret” person. When it comes time to exchange gifts, you can reveal who the gift is from – or keep it secret.  You can also assign a budget – like $30 per person – so that each person spends approximately the same amount of money. This is a budget-friendly way to involve everyone in the gift-giving fun.
  • Holiday Bucket List Challenge: To shift the emphasis away from gifts, you can focus on enjoying quality time with your loved ones. Here’s a good example: Try a 25-days of Christmas Togetherness challenge. I discovered this on Pinterest and it prompts you to complete certain activities with your family each day of December – counting up to Christmas.  You can do things like tour local museums, ride a holiday train, check out holiday lights, and build a gingerbread house.
  • See a Movie: Some families have a holiday tradition that involves going to the movies on Christmas. There are a ton of great movies that come out around this time of year. Why not even plan a major movie day and see a double or triple feature film? While you may spend money on a family movie day, it’s the experience of being together that counts. Plus, this can be a gift you give to the family instead of expensive material things.

Balance Gifts With Making Memories and You’ll Be Fine

The holiday season is about more than just money and gifts. 

By limiting what you spend with the 4 gift rule and these other money-saving ideas, you give yourself a better chance at saving money. You also can free up more of your time and build lasting memories with your loved ones – without busting your Christmas budget. 

Are you ready to give the 4 gift rule a try? 


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