My daughter is 3, and is every bit the demographic that Disney and Nickelodeon hope to appeal to. Every morning before preschool, I wake her from her warm bed and coax her downstairs to a bowl of oatmeal.

We turn the TV on low, and as she watches her favorite cartoons, she slowly becomes accustomed to the day. Soon, she's sitting upright and pointing at the screen.

It's a Disney princess castle one day, and a baby doll set the next. It doesn't really matter what they're selling; she's in love with it and needs to buy it.

I tried to keep up for a little while. I went online and made a few Christmas wishlists on Amazon. I scoured the web for coupon codes and other deals and steals that could take the sting out of some of the price tags. I even pressed the "Check out" button, but then "Chickened out" instead.

I couldn't do it. Not because money was tight (it is), but because something inside me said I'd come to a critical point. I could buy her the things she coveted now, or I could help shape her heart's desire for the long-term.

I chose the latter. That was back in September, and since then I've been on a months-long journey to find simple ways to bring the joy and intentionality back to the season.

My ideas aren't revolutionary, but they've worked for our little family; and I pray they impact yours, too.

1. Follow the "want, need, wear, read" rule

I can't take credit for this one, but it's a game-changer. Rather than stock up on goodies that she'll love one day and toss the next, I've taken the approach to buy four practical, meaningful gifts.

Put simply, the rule is to buy each child something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Isn't that a beautifully simple way to cut back on unnecessary holiday spending? I especially love the last part, as I'm striving to build my children a library they'll cherish for years to come.

2. Start a new (meal-based) tradition

Don't you love it when people tell you to start a new tradition? Because you've got all the time in the world, right?

Don't worry; this one is pretty easy.

Create a holiday-themed meal or snack that your family can associate with the holidays. For me, it's these bacon and cheese pull-aparts. I'm almost 31 years old, and I've made these for my siblings since I was about 18. We're all married now, but we still show up at Mom and Dad's around 6 a.m. on Christmas, sleepy babies (and spouses) in tow. For 12 years, I've brought a casserole dish filled with these bad boys, and if it wasn't already Christmas, it is when you slice into that salty dough.

3. Redirect the focus

You know when a baby is crawling toward an outlet and you need to stop him, but if you directly intercede, you're looking at a half hour of tears? What do you do instead? You redirect! You find a ball or book to grab his attention instead, and gently avert him away.

With so much focus on spending this holiday season, I'm taking a similar approach with my family. I'm redirecting our focus toward what this month is really about. For us personally, that means reading scripture from their children's Bible and even making a birthday cake for Jesus the week of Christmas.

Some of these concepts are pretty difficult for tiny minds to grasp, so you may need to adapt them just a bit. We can't expect a toddler to understand every detail, but we can talk about the little baby and his big impact.

4. Talk about sharing

My daughter dropped a quarter into a red Salvation Army bucket yesterday. A small contribution, yes, but you need to understand that was her Aldi quarter — the one she saves in the drink well of her car seat to snag us a cart each time we go grocery shopping. Few things make her face light up like putting that coin into the slot and watching the cart roll toward us! When I explained what the bucket was for, she reached into that drink well and pulled out her special coin. Then, she held my hand and walked proudly over to the man ringing the bell. "Mama!" she exclaimed, "I shared my Aldi quarter!"

This season, I'm emphasizing the giving. I'm letting her give of her time, her heart and her money and feel the tangible good that comes back to her. I think she's already learning.

5. Give yourself a little grace

I may or may not be talking from experience here, but there might be one late night when you find yourself on a flash sale site and you see a really great deal on a bean bag chair that would look fabulous in your little girl's room. So you buy it and for about 10 minutes you feel great about that decision. Then, the buyer's remorse sets in and you second-guess the decision.

In so many ways, Christmas is about grace. Let it be a season to extend it to others; but reserve some for yourself in the process. You might make an impulsive purchase. You might not parent the way you want to one day. You might be short with your spouse or parents. Forgive yourself and change for the better.

It doesn't have to be a season of busyness, and it certainly doesn't have to be one of guilt. Love your family deeply, and everything else will fall into place. The best part? It's totally free — and it's definitely what your kids really want, whether they know it or not.

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