Kids' Christmas Stockings Are More Magical With The 4-Gift Rule

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

“What are you putting in your kids’ stockings this year?” I asked one of my friends. She replied, “Just a bunch of junk from the dollar store. You know, to keep it cheap.”

She went on to tell me she’d already splurged on the gaming system her kids had been begging her for over the past several months. Making sure her kids’ stocking contents were equally as magical had zero appeal.

My friend isn’t alone. The online parenting groups I’m in are buzzing with what-to-put-in-my-kid’s-stocking-this-year questions. Several parents have suggested that we just pop into our local dollar store and load up on items to fill stockings—items like plastic trinkets, small puzzles, and candy. These can literally be poured from bag-to-stocking late on Christmas Eve—ready to barely-wow our kids the next morning.

Parents reason that the dollar-store-stocking excursion is perfect because it’s quick, easy, and cheap. But I’m not here for it, because spending $20 on throwaway items isn’t just wasteful (hello, environment), it’s also not saving us money.

Now, I’m not suggesting we go old school and put a big orange in the toe of the stocking and maybe a straw rag doll. This isn’t Little House on the Prairie. But hey, if that’s your vibe and you’re crafty, go for it. I’m not dissing the citrus. My kids put away a few bags of oranges a week. I also don’t think a stocking should be jammed with the latest iPhone, several gift cards, and air pods. Let’s not break the bank more than it’s already been done this holiday season.

There is balance to be had.

It dawned on me last week when I was pondering the what-can-we-put-in-our-four-kids’-stockings-this-Christmas question that there’s an easy solution that may even save us a few bucks. What if we applied the four-gift rule to stockings as well?

Are you familiar with the four-gift rule? It’s the way many parents have chosen to simplify Christmas—and it’s freaking genius. You buy each child four gifts–something they want, something they need, something they wear, and something they read. For example, you could get them a new video game—their want, a bike helmet—their need, a pair of pajamas—they can wear, and a comic book—of course, to read. Voila.

With our big family in mind, the four-gift rule is perfect. For one, it keeps my holiday spending in check. The four-gift rule also allows me to make sure the gift-giving is as even as possible between my children — because God forbid, they catch a whiff of unfairness on Christmas morn. The categories help me stay organized—because on top of buying for our own kids, we purchase gifts for our five nephews, some extended family kiddos, plus our parents and siblings. The holiday spending can really add up.

If we’re going to shell out enough cash per kid to jam-pack our children’s stockings with holiday cheer, why not make sure those items are things they will value and enjoy rather than break and toss?

This year, my kids will wake up on Christmas morning to discover four items in their stockings. First, they’re each getting a favorite snack—usually something that they always ask me for at the store (hello, orangey-powdered chips) that I refuse to buy them. One of my kids is getting a box of fruity cereal bars that have zero fruit in the them, but are absolutely delish. Pop in whatever typically off-limit food will certainly thrill your child on December 25th.

The second item I’ve chosen is something for their feet. Each kiddo is getting socks or a pair of slippers to wear with their new pajamas they get on Christmas Eve. I mean honestly, what kid doesn’t like a pair of shark or unicorn slippers to stomp around the house in? Oh, and the socks? I’m not talking about a value plastic bag of six pairs of white socks. Instead, I got them a single pair of socks featuring their favorite athletic brand. Again, something I normally wouldn’t buy—because it’s called a budget.

I decided to go with another book for item number three. My kids love to read and are always adding new titles to their wish list. I know many parents claim their kids don’t enjoy books, but as a former English teacher, let me tell you that reading is reading. Get your kid a comic book, a magazine subscription, or a board or bath book for your little one.

Finally, I got each child a small building block set that I scored for cheap. You could easily replace this with a small toy, a key chain for their backpack, or even a new ornament for the tree featuring something they were really into this year.

The best part? We didn’t break the bank, and every item will actually be used. Because I have zero interest in distributing 100-piece puzzles of featuring cartoon characters, which will inevitably have lost pieces within two seconds of opening. No. Just no.

While we’re at it, can we agree to do this for our partners? I’d totally take a Starbucks $5 gift card (because I want to try the new holiday drink), a Target candle, some chocolate, and a coupon for a nap (this mama is exhausted).

There are endless possibilities when it comes to applying the four-gift rule to your family’s Christmas stockings this year—none of which have to ruin your credit score. And thankfully, none of the items will wind up in the dumpster the next day.

This article was originally published on