Why Parents Should Spend Less Money on Toys and Take More Family Vacations

Halloween has passed, Thanksgiving is right on the corner….and, most importantly, Christmas is coming soon! And with Christmas, so is lots of spending!

Annually, families spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on toys. And, the fact that Christmas is between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Week, doesn’t help either.

According to a 2016 report by Forbes, the average parent was prepared to spend over $1,700 over the holiday season. Specifically,

Parents are predicted to spend $495 per child this year, which is nearly $100 more than they spent in 2015.”

Last year`s poll found that adults are planning on spending around $885 on gifts.  Here is the range of a Gallup poll`s results below:

  • 33% expected to spend at least $1000 on gifts
  • 22% expected to spend between $500 and $999
  • 29% expected gift spending to be between $100 and $499
  • 3% planned to spend less than $100

These numbers are huge, aren’t they? This is the reason why Oliver James, Britain’s best-selling psychological author, believes that parents should be spending that money on vacations instead.  As he explains, children don’t even appreciate the gifts they receive.

The whole business of providing material commodities for kids – in ever more expensive forms as they get older – is entirely 100 percent, about propping up the industry that profits from it,” James says. (4)

On the other hand, family holidays are definitely valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”

A psychology professor at Cornell University, Thomas Gilovich, has done many surprising studies about this particular subject.  He believes that people derive happiness from experiences, not from things.

Scientific Proof That Experiences Mean More Than Possessions

In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Gilovich and his partner wanted to discover what kind of purchases make people happy.

What they found is that people felt more regret about not going to the movies, for instance, as opposed to not buying a piece of clothing or furniture.  Interestingly, their research also revealed that experience is what holds our social lives together.  Gilovich also found that experiential purchases,

  • Enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods
  • Form a bigger part of a person’s identity
  • Are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases

That’s Why Oliver James Emphasizes Spending Money on Family Holidays

You should understand that memories are timeless, while material gifts are temporary satisfaction.  Children may not value things like fine art and rich cultural history.  And, this is a very common mistake that many parents make- expecting their children to love what they love about vacations.   Oliver explains it beautifully,

Children see the world differently, though consumption for example: the way that French cafes have Organgina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends,” says James.

Give a two-year-old a present and she’ll get absorbed in the box instead. It’s similar with children and travel. We should let them explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings.”

Not all toys are bad, though.  This isn’t what James is saying. But, if you haven’t given your child a great holiday season experience before, consider doing it.

 “Because, according to James, what children really value about holidays is the rare possibility they create for prolonged periods of playfulness with their parents.”