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The Santa Claus Equation - 2010

The countdown has begun.

I can almost hear the groans echoing throughout the internet as everybody reads this. At the time of this posting, there is only thirty-four days remaining until Christmas. That means making lists, watching newspaper ads, and scouring the internet for any deal that will save precious dollars.

Everybody goes about their holiday shopping differently (feel free to post your own particular habits in the comments section) and my family has tried almost all of them. I’ve shopped extremely early, months and months ahead of time, but that left me with premature consumerization. Then there were the years where the bulk of the shopping happened during last-minute runs to Walmart, and I'd like to apologize to all of you who received presents from me during that time. I’m sure they’re still collecting dust in the back of a closet somewhere, or been used multiple times as dirty Santa gifts. I've even gone Christmas commando and subjected myself to Black Friday a couple times. Let me just say this about that experience . . . it is not for the feint of heart. Hell hath no fury like a woman shopper, at four in the morning, who's just watched the last cabbage patch doll pulled off the shelf!

Thank goodness the process of shopping has changed dramatically over the years. I’ve gone from running around the state in search of that one item that nobody seems to have in stock, to buying 75-85% of the presents on-line and having them delivered to our front door…gift-wrapped.

But no matter the personal toll, to me it's all worth it because I love Christmas! Just ask my wife. I’m the largest kid in our family during this time of year. I love giving presents and I’m not ashamed to admit I get excited receiving them as well. I guess my parents are partially to blame for my yuletide enthusiasm, having spoiled us kids year after year. They did so regardless of the family’s financial standing, or the state of the economy. Inside our bubble we kids were oblivious to those problems, always awakening to mountains of presents under the tree.

My wife is the pragmatic one in our family when it comes to money matters. It took awhile, and I still have to go to regular meetings and be faithful to the 12-step program, but she finally made me take a hard look at my Xmas addiction. The burden of debt the holidays put us under when I was in charge of the present buying was crippling. Now we’ve adopted a budget for our holiday spending which includes swearing off credit cards and the evils of other same as cash incentives. We decide on a number we think we can afford and work backwards from there.

When it comes to buying presents, the equation for working within a budget isn’t as simple as you’d might think. It’s definitely not as straight-forward as this:

$$ ÷ #people = $ per person

There are all sorts of other factors influencing the formula. For instance, factor #1 = relationship. Your children always receive the largest slice of the pie. It’s a golden rule that cannot be fooled with. Parents, bothers & sisters, nephews & nieces, and co-workers are left with the scraps. Then there’s factor #2 = age. The younger the recipient is, the higher the gift quotient. Christmas is for kids, after all. Then there’s what happens when you combine factors 1 & 2, what about grown kids? That’s when sub-factors come into play such as distance, both physically and emotionally? Does a child who stops by and calls frequently deserve a more substantial gift than one who you rarely see or hear from? And then there’s factor #3 = the reciprocation factor. How much do you spend on the relative whose presents to you look like re-gifts from a dirty Santa party?

Think that's complicated? We're just getting started. Now that you've broken down how much $$ you can spend on who, there are the other sub-factors to consider as you plan how Christmas morning will play out. Will the children be opening up an equal number of presents? This can be a real challenge for families who have both tiny tots and older kids whose gift lists are loaded with items where a single choice could consume their entire $$ alotment. What about the size of the presents? You have to acquire at least a couple gifts with enough bulk to fill out the space beneath the tree. I won’t even try to address households touched by divorce.

Were a scientist to interpret all of these decisions, it would probably resemble something like this.

Oh. . . I left out the most important element of all. It’s the one component of the whole equation that’s a wildcard multiplier, impacting each and every part.

Does the gift recipient believe in Santa Claus?

After all, everybody knows that people who believe in Santa receive way more presents than those who don’t.

I do!


  1. My parents never seemed to buy into any of those equations...

    But my MIL is extremely conscious of the same-number-of-presents thing, even though her boys are now 29 and 27. :)

    I love Christmas too, and I'm one of the crazies who goes out on Black Friday. I don't fight or anything, but it's fun. Last year I was in a cast from my wrist surgery, so I joked that I could be the battering ram for us...

  2. Christmas is my favorite holiday! And I only buy for immediate family. This year, I'm just about done shopping, too.

  3. Ahahaha! Your equations are too funny! My husband and I buy for each other, our kids, and his family (because they expect it), and make gifts for everyone in my family.

    Our gift-getting was pretty simple when my sisters and I were kids. We each got three presents from our parents.

    This Christmas will be particularly exciting because my eldest is three and he's going to help me make cookies! I can't wait to see how much fun he's going to have!

  4. We're entering my most favorite time of the year! Now, here's a fun dynamic to chew on: My husband (as you know) is French. The French enjoy a toned-down version of our Christmas. Their trees -- small, table-top affairs nailed to a wooden "x" that makes them impossible to water -- are put up the week of the 25th. Gifts are one "practical" offering per person, like a new pair of running shoes if yours are a bit worn out, or a pot big enough to cook for ten, since the last time you were a guest she had to cook the meal in two smaller pots. You can actually hear non-holiday music on the radio and there are practically NO television commercials with actors dressed as elves or fat, bearded men in red suits. So....

    The first Christmas hubs spent here, he wandered around, dazed and in culture shock. When we moved here permanently, the clashes began.

    He worn a perma-frown when we put up the 8-ft tree and decked every hall. He complained the Christmas music was too loud, the eggnog was disgusting, and why the hell were we putting wrapped gifts under the tree ?

    He fainted the first time he saw how many presents were going to each kid. I managed to revive him until the bills came in...

    I have to say, though, now that we've been here a decade, hubs is more Americanized than ever. He actually enjoys decorating the house with us the weekend following Thanksgiving, and he only grumbles once or twice about the spending...until I shoot him an un-holiday-like glare followed by promises of whatever he has on HIS wishlist, if you know what I mean.

    Hope your holiday week is awesome!!

  5. I LOVE Christmas. Seriously. It's my favorite holiday of all, and the only one I decorate for. I do almost all of my shopping online now, usually in November. So, I'm done a little early, but I don't have any of the stress. It works for me. And we have a similar system to yours. We try to work backwards, it doesn't always work.

  6. Oop, I left out something in this line. It should read:

    ...and why the hell were we putting wrapped gifts under the tree when Christmas is two weeks away?


  7. LOL on the equation.

    My kids were working on their lists this weekend. My 8 yo was being such a boy and putting big ticket items on his list (like a 3D TV). When I told him there's no way we're buying one of those, his comment was: That okay, Santa will bring it to me. That's when I pointed out Santa doens't do that for kids whose Mother receives phone calls from the kid's school because of his less than brilliant behavior.

    My 10 yo became suddenly nervous (even though I don't get those calls about him) when it dawned on him that the only one buying the presents in the house is ME. And I haven't been thrilled with his behavior lately. Let's just say he was aiming for sainthood for the rest of the day. ;)

  8. DL, you are nutty! But thank you. That equation is very helpful. :D I also love love love Christmas, and they showed the Polar Express in the street over the weekend in Fairhope, so I am THERE in the spirit~ :D

    now to get through this shopping ordeal~ Books! Oh, remember, give books! :D <3 and Geaux, Tigers.

  9. i am so so so so excited for Christmas! The last few years seemed to go by so quickly that i'm hoping this year will go a little slower so i can savor it

  10. My groups of friends have done a lot of things to save money. Last year my two best friends and I got each other footie pajamas but split the prices so we each only spent about $20 on each of the others, which is what we would have done anyway. My apartment did a list of one thing each person wanted and everybody got that person what was on the list, so I got a mountain of socks, my roommate got a handful of earrings, etc. This year we're going homemade - no money may be spent except on materials! We're all crafty, so this should be a good time ^_^

  11. Of course I believe in Santa Claus! I love Christmas shopping. The only stressful part for me is waiting weeks and weeks until I can give my loved ones their presents!

    You sound like my dad. He was as excited as we kids at Christmas time! I have an older sister and 2 older brothers- we always slept in the same room on Christmas Eve and of course we'd be awake all night! And my dad would come in and hang out with us until we were allowed to wake up my mom and see what Santa brought! My poor mom. It was like she had 5 overexcited kids instead of 4, lol! She's a saint, though!

    My family and my husband's family do pollyannas, so that makes buying gifts very affordable. My husband and I spoil each other with lots of presents, but we do have a budget. I love Christmas, but there's no way I love it enough to go into debt for it, lol.

  12. You're making my head hurt just reading this! Not to mention my pocketbook! :) Christmas has always been a relatively low-key event in our house, present-wise. And now that I have a job that doesn't pay (i.e., writing), I've had to resort to a lot of homemade presents (don't ask!).

  13. I believe!
    Sadly I've barely started my shopping this year...

  14. You have just described our household. I remember sobbing a couple Christmas Eves ago as I wrapped presents because I knew there were fewer presents under the tree for our older daughter than for our younger, most of them smaller in size--but we had probably spent MORE on them. It's just what happens as they get older--they don't get giant dollhouses, they get tiny earrings! But it was silly, of course. She doesn't count the number of presents or compare her pile. It was just me, trying to be some sort of crazed equalizer. But man, when it comes to everyone else in the family, dang it gets very mathematical. The madness, I tell you. I think the important thing is to remember what you love most about Christmas. The pie. And it's easy to make enough to have a lot.

    *sigh* I love Christmas.

  15. I believe!!

    Thanks to my daughter and my sister, I've actually started shopping early this year. I rarely start before Dec 1. I'm already about half done!! :)

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  17. I love Christmas! I just wish it wasn't so commercialized. Then again, I do love to give presents.

  18. My youngest two believe in Santa, though I forget sometimes and talk to hubs/oldest and let things slip, but so far they haven't heard my flubs.

    You are a brave man for going out on Black Friday. I've done it a couple times and just don't get it. I freeze my butt off waiting in line only to get trampled by the crazy ladies (lets face it most of them are women) rushing through the doors. There's no THING I want that bad. I stay home in bed now.

  19. I already have 3/4 of my Christmas shopping done. I like to try to get it done early so I am not scrambling around at the last minute.

    Christmas grows on me. It is not my favorite holiday, but I love spending time with the family. This year we are taking the kids skiing for the first time.

  20. LOL Wondeful post:) Thank goodness I have already celebrated Christmas with my daughter. But hubby does want to try out Black Friday in search of a toy for himself.

  21. My wife shops for family and friends throughout the year as well as wraps the gifts. So that by the time the holidays roll around, we're done. Just have to mail the packages or gift certificates.

  22. AMEN! Hilarious and so, so true. Yes, the kids always get the biggest slice of the pie. Always. But I agree, that's the way it should be.

    I love Christmas too. It's been cold and snowy here this week and I've been dying to put the tree up. Unfortunately my husband won't let me until the day after Thanksgiving. Just three more days!

  23. DL—I bet Santa saves his best gifts for you! :-)


  24. Ugh, Christmas :( Not because I dislike the occasion, but Christmas shopping (*groans*). But it's great to see how much you enjoy the festivities (read, presents) ;)

    Love your equation, though I'll take your word that it's accurate (*chortles*).


  25. Great post! And so true. Once the kids are teenagers, one tiny little box can take up their entire gift allotment. Then what do you use to fill out the space under the tree? And let me just say, girls are sooo much easier to buy for than boys. Hair doodads, jewelry, perfume, accessories, the list is endless. But I have a thirteen-year-old boy this year and I don't have a clue what he's going to get.

    Enjoy your Christmas countdown!

  26. OMGosh, you have so hit this for me! Loved it. And do gift receipts believe in Santa?? Hah, 'course...on return/exchange day.

  27. First before I leave my comment; THANK YOU for your support lately. It truly is appreciated from the bottom of my heart.

    My comment: I HATE Christmas, but I do LOVE giving. I just don't want to be limited to one day.

    I believe in Santa, in fact I'm still trying to get him to explain why he left a stupid doll instead of the BB gun I asked for. :D
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  28. My kids still believe in Santa! Though I'm pretty sure my 9 year old this year is going to figure out the ruse. We barely bypassed his questions last season.

  29. Thanks for the fun look at Christmas and the gift list. I think it really is like that equation!
    Catherine Denton

  30. Amanda ~ A homemade Christmas sounds like fun, but one where I would fail miserably!! :)

    Stephen ~ I tried that one year and thats when I experienced premature consumerization. The whole month leading up to Christmas I felt like I needed to be buying something, and I missed the last minute excitement.

    Rachel ~ Cross my heart!! :)

    Lydia ~ Sit your son down and tell him this. Opinions vary around the world about the existence of Santa Claus, just like they do about ghosts or aliens, about I guarantee you one thing...people who believe in Santa receive more presents than those who don't!!!

    Catherine ~ Your welcome. It is like that in our household at least.

  31. happy thanksgiving to you as well, thanks for the comment.

  32. One of the things I got from my mom was the love of Christmas. I love seeing the pleasure on someone's face and I love finding what I know will please them.

    We were pretty poor financially, yet mom always managed to find one really cool toy for us, then stuff our stockings. And that cool toy was played with till it was unrecognizable.

    Fun post! Is that a real equation? Math sends me into a corner, crying and rocking and muttering unintelligible words.

  33. Love the post! We now only buy for close family. I do it online as we are in different countries.

    I am not a shopper, but do enjoy opening pressies. ;0




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