My husband and I had so many strategies to keep holiday spending in check for the children when we were pretending to be Santa. (Gillian Jones/AP)
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Christmas just isn’t the same now that our children have stopped believing that their gifts magically appear under the tree courtesy of the man in red.

The wonder is gone. They don’t want to be surprised at what’s hidden beneath the wrapping paper. They would rather my husband and I shop from their list. And that’s actually not a bad thing. Use it to your advantage.

My husband and I had so many strategies to keep holiday spending in check for the children when we were pretending to be Santa.

One year, we told them Santa was having a rough time financially so he had to lay off some elves. Their wish list for Santa was getting a little out of hand. It was our way to manage their expectations for a pile of stuff.

Read more: Those holiday savings? It’s still spending.

Our favorite tactic involved regifting. When our children were little, I noticed that they only really played with the things at the top of their toy bins. Some were actually still in the original packaging. So, I would dig down and find toys that had long gone unnoticed and wrap them up and place them under the Christmas tree.

They didn’t know.

Tucked in between the old were some new toys. But regifting what they had forgotten made it look like they had more. They were surprised and we saved. Everyone was happy.

Of course the ruse came to an end when my oldest made a comment after her brother opened a box with a stuffed bear. He was about three and thrilled. She was five.

“Mommy, wasn’t that bear on the top shelf in Kevin’s closet,” she whispered giving me the stinky eye.

Children can be so judgmental!

But the gig was up because we couldn’t trust she wouldn’t rat us out.

Now that they are young adults, all in college, it’s all about the negotiation. That’s how you save.

Read more: Being debt-free for the holidays is a feeling you can’t buy in a store

We ask the kids to come up with a list of what they want. They don’t have to put the items in any particular order. Initially, we don’t even set a dollar limit on how much we had planned to spend on each of them. Let them dream.

Then my husband and I inspect the list and give them some feedback. This is key. It’s our twist on the line from the song “Santa Clause is Coming to Town, “He’s making a list, and checking it twice.”

We might say something like, “Have you lost your mind? You are not getting a drone. It’s too expensive.”

Or, “No North Face jacket for you. How about you face north and we get you a more reasonably priced coat from Target.”

If they’ve given up on believing in Santa Claus, we don’t have to pretend their gifts don’t cost us anything.

It’s really not that much different than a gift registry. We want them to understand that just because they want something doesn’t mean we have to move heaven and earth get it for them. Or, as some parents do go into debt.

You may be aghast at this practice but it works. Sure, the children roll their eyes. They mumble something we can’t hear. But then they resubmit a more reasonable list. Do this often enough, and they will self-edit themselves.

And sometimes, we do surprise them with a pricy item even if they had decided to leave it off the list. If nothing else, you end up having a conversation about spending and what’s financially sensible.

We love giving our children presents. And when you don’t over overboard, it’s wonderful to see their gratitude for the gifts they end up receiving.

Keep in mind, your love isn’t measured by the presents they receive.

Trust me, this list thing, if you do it right, will save you so much money. And the process is actually fun. At least it is for my husband and me.

Read more:

Going Black Friday shopping? Just say no to those store credit card offers.

Do you stress-spend?

Don’t want to be an ingrate? Then, yes, you need to send a thank-you note when Grandma gives you money.

Color of Money question of the week

What strategies do you use to stay within a budget during the holidays? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Holiday Spending” in the subject line. Please include your name, city and state.

Live chat today

Who wants to be a millionaire? I’m live at noon (ET) today to take your personal finance questions.

Joining me for the discussion today will be Bill Danko, co-author of "Richer Than A Millionaire," which is the Color of Money Book Club pick for this month.

Here’s the review: How to be richer than a millionaire

The number of millionaires worldwide is estimated to increase over the next five years, reaching an all-time high of 55 million, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute’s latest Global Wealth Report. There are currently 42.2 million millionaires in the world. Within the past 12 months, the United States added 878,000 new millionaires — representing about 40 percent of the global increase.

Read more: What’s keeping you from becoming a millionaire?

It’s also “Testimony Thursday” so share with me your success stories. Have you paid of debt? Did you finally reach your emergency fund goal?

To join the live discussion click this link.

Color of Money columns this week

Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money.

In addition to this newsletter, please read and share my weekly personal finance columns.

-- There’s a looming long-term care crisis. Are you prepared?

-- ’Tis the season for proposals. And no, the bride’s parents aren’t obligated to pay for the wedding.

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested.

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