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How to tighten Santa's belt

By Jennie Bragg, producer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's the season for giving, but most kids can't stop thinking about what kinds of gifts they will be getting.

Dealing with your kids' oversized wish lists for holiday gifts can be a little overwhelming.

Make sure you take the time to manage their expectations and your budget this holiday season.

Keep it in budget

The last thing you want is to end up in a pile of credit card bills you can't pay come January because you couldn't say no to your kids.

Be upfront about your budget. "Believe it or not, kids will actually listen to you," says Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance and author of "Money Smart Kids."

Explain that there are limits to what your family can afford and use it as an opportunity to talk to older kids about budgeting by asking kids to narrow down their lists.

"Say, 'if you had to pick, of all the 13,000 things on this list, if you had to pick five, what would they be?'" suggests Bodnar. "Or, 'if you had a budget of say, $100 or $200 or $300, what would you choose?' It becomes a learning tool."

With so many folks out of work, pinching pennies is inevitable in countless households, but a conversation about cutting back doesn't have to be a burden on your little ones.

Simply explain how this holiday many differ from holidays in the past in terms of gifts, travel and other expenditures. Bodnar says the best way to go about this is to tell kids, " 'We're working on a budget, we're still going to have a holiday season, but, you know, we're not going to have as many gifts as we did last year.'"

Santa will bring it

Mom and Dad might not have the money for too many gifts this year, but what about Santa?

If you child assumes Santa will bring the bike or video game system that you have already explained your family can't afford right now, let him or her down easy.

Explain that Mom and Dad work together with Santa as a team, suggests Bodnar. "We're working together, so if there's something that is too expensive or something that is too dangerous or we don't think is appropriate, Santa's really not going to bring it either."

If push comes to shove, explain that Santa has the same budgetary concerns that you do this year. "Say, 'You know, Santa's also on a budget,'" proposes Bodnar. "'I mean, he's got a lot of demand from a lot of boys and girls around the world and also limited resources, so he has to watch how he parcels things out, too.'"

This way, at least you have avoided any potential disappointment on Christmas morning.

Talkback: How much are you spending on holiday gifts this year? Is it less than last year? To top of page

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