Courtesy of the author

We're A Family Raising A Toddler On $70,000 A Year, & This Is How Much We Spent On Christmas

by As told to Romper

The holidays tend to light up our budget constraints like a Christmas tree — families make tough choices, and try to put on the best celebration they can for their kids. Romper followed several families as they approached the spendiest season, to see how they handled diverse budgets and wishlists this year.

Nothing makes people more broke (and crazy) than having a kid. And my husband and I are no different. Our daughter is the joy of our lives, but also squeezes our wallets dry. My daughter can't get enough of those oddly captivating YouTube videos of kids and adults opening up toys. And, of course, she wants every toy she sees in a video. That's why this year I wanted to keep track of my Christmas spending since my daughter is getting older and begging for the hot (and generally expensive) toys every other kid wants.

Family: A mom and dad in their thirties

Location: California

Annual family income: Approximately $70,000

Number of children: One, aged 5

We spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and amidst the eating and drinking, I was able to squeeze in a few hours looking over the Bible of Christmas shopping: Black Friday Ads. I love the smell of flipping through fresh ads, seeing all the goodies I can buy and how much money I will save. All the $5 Doorbusters give me life. This year some stores were allowing you to buy Black Friday deals online on Thanksgiving day, and even the night before that, including Target and Toys R Us.

In order to keep track of the toys my daughter wanted for Christmas, I would take pictures of them and save them in my cell phone. Any time my daughter and I were out, I would tell her I would take a picture of a toy and text it to Santa so he (and I) knew exactly what she wanted.

I asked my husband to chime in with any ideas he had, but he was more worried about the money aspect of things; I guess that's important. I looked at multiple websites including the all-powerful Amazon, where it really pays to be a Prime member at Christmas time. I decided where to buy my items based on a few things: If I had to physically go into a store (and risk an item being sold out), shipping costs, and, obviously, price.

I was determined to get the one item my daughter truly wanted: a L.O.L. Surprise Doll.

After all was said and done, I guesstimated that we were looking to shell out about $200 on our daughter alone. I looked at my husband with a concerned/apologetic look on my face. I had promised my daughter too many things from Santa, and felt torn because we only have one child — a really great kid. We went through the list and painfully crossed out items I knew my daughter really wanted. We got it down to about $150, which I knew was still too much, but we agreed to look for whatever was on sale and go from there. But I was determined to get the one item my daughter truly wanted: a L.O.L. Surprise Doll. And, of course, it was the most popular gift for the holidays. Oh the joy of being a parent.

32 Days To Christmas

Target: $131.96 (Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Camera Pink: $59.99, Bottle Squad - Blake - Super Strong Large Doll with Accessories: $16.99, DC Super Hero Girls Bumble Bee 12" Action Doll: $14.99, Num Nums Nail Polish Maker: $39.99)
Toys R Us: $32.96 (Hatchimals Colleggticles - 4 pack: $10.99, Disney Petite Moana and Pua Doll: $4.99, Make It Real Deluxe Cosmetic Case: $9.99, L.O.L. Surprise! Lil Sisters Doll - Series 2: $6.99)

I continued to browse the websites and the deals were so good that I ended up getting my niece and nephew taken care of. A $5 doll and $10 art set. I was so proud of myself for taking care of all the kid gifts at once. I checked online to see if any of the items I wasn't able to get were back in stock. As luck would have it, there were L.O.L. Surprise! dolls in stock. I put in the cart and continued to look for more items.

That was a bad idea.

As soon as I had enough to get free shipping, the L.O.L. doll was not available anymore. I was angry, but even more determined to get the stupid doll. It was my mission. And I wasn't going to pay double the price on Ebay for it. I refreshed constantly. I searched when items would normally be in stock. By the end of the night, I was able to get a L.O.L. Surprise! Lil' Sister (good enough) and just bought it.

Running total: $172.17

Target, Toys R Us, Amazon, Pier 1

31 Days To Christmas

Toys R Us: $31.97 (Lisa Frank Rainbow Rockers Cosmetic Set: $6.91, Puppy Surprise Stuffed Doll: $16.42, Disney Pixar Cars 3 Deluxe Coloring and Activity Set: $8.64)

My husband and I decided to still visit stores late Thanksgiving day just to check out deals and see if anything was in stores rather than online, so I wouldn't have to pay shipping. We were underwhelmed. I got myself some cheap PJs and nothing for my daughter. Back online I went and saw that items were already sold out, including the L.O.L. Suprise! dolls. I was able to find that the Puppy Surprise stuffed doll my daughter wanted (there was of course a specific one named Tia) was on sale. I was so excited and quickly added that to my cart.

South Coast Plaza: $22.63 (Red and gold holiday dress: Free, Santa picture (5x7 print and flash drive of one photo) and carousal ride: $22.63

As my daughter does every year, we meet Santa and take a picture with him. My daughter's preschool used to do them but since she is now in kindergarten we took her to the Santa at South Coat Plaza. She took her first Santa picture there and it was perfect. I already had her dress covered as a gracious mom on one of the Facebook selling sites offered to give me the dress she was selling for free. It was a beautiful red and gold with lace and I was in awe of how much I saved; I'm guessing about $20 to $30. The Santa picture came with a free carousal ride so my daughter was excited about that.

Running total: $234.56

30 Days To Christmas

After obsessively checking numerous websites, I was able to find a L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Series 2 3 pack through Amazon. And since I am a Prime member, shipping was free. It was the last item to check off my list. I felt successful, yet slightly ashamed that I spent a little more than I wanted to. I just kept in mind that my daughter deserves it and we will try to scale back next year.

Amazon: $30.24 (L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Series 2 (3pk): $30.24)

Running total: $264.80

24 Days To Christmas

Lowes: $35 (Christmas tree)

Self-explanatory, plump, and maybe my favorite Christmas purchase.

Running total: $299.80

19 Days To Christmas

The Dollar Store: $10 (miscellaneous Christmas decorations)

My husband and I decided to forgo presents for each other this year because to be honest, we are much happier seeing our daughter be happy. I also saved from last year by buying wrapping paper after Christmas when holiday items go on clearance, but I did buy a bunch of decorations at the Dollar Store.

Running total: $309.80

Courtesy of the author

The Grand Total

Holiday Clothing: $0

Decorations: $45

Activities: $22.63

Gifts: $242.17

Estimated final total: $309.80

I don't think I have ever been able to get all my Christmas shopping done for my daughter so fast. In total, we did spend about $300, but every item was on sale.

As online shopping gets better, the crowds at the mall become smaller and hard-to-get items become actually obtainable. I hope stores continue to utilize build out their online sales instead of making employees work on a holiday. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

Previously: How much a mom of four living on $140,000 a year spent on Christmas.

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