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What Santa is Bringing to My House

To cut back on my spending this year, I asked my kids to trim their wish lists -- and you can too.

With the ongoing financial crisis, money has been a bigger issue than usual this holiday season. I've devoted a number of columns to how parents can tell children there will be fewer gifts this year, and how they can use this as an opportunity to teach kids lessons about managing money:

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But it looks as if the message may not be getting through. Among teens interviewed in the annual holiday spending poll conducted by Junior Achievement, three-fourths said that they planned to spend as much or more this year than last year. Furthermore, about half of those teens expect their parents to help them out.

They may be in for a rude awakening. Just about every major poll I've seen shows that adults are spending less this year, and I'm one of them. Hoping to save time as well as money, I told each of my three twentysomething kids to draw up an abbreviated list -- one "big" gift, plus stocking stuffers. Cash was okay if they had a goal they were saving for.

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Granted, my kids are older. But children of any age are happy to take advantage of their parents' holiday generosity. So I was curious about how my request would go over. Verdict: When the kids e-mailed me their lists, I found they had followed my request almost to the letter.

Claire, my middle child, weighed in first, asking for a pair of winter boots (buff color, size 8). She even provided a link "for your convenience." Stocking stuffers: an umbrella (she lives in Portland, Ore.) and an angle brush from her favorite makeup store.

Of course, she added, "money can substitute/supplement any of the above," especially because she's been asked to be a bridesmaid in a high-priced wedding that will set her back a few bucks (why do brides do that?).

John, my eldest, asked for two dress shirts from Lands' End (he provided links, too), white low-cut socks "like the cool kids wear," and money toward a suit for job interviews after grad school.

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Peter, my youngest, requested Under Armour shorts and socks (ditto on the link), plus a couple of DVDs (a Harry Potter movie and Batman: The Dark Knight) and money toward a laptop or new video game system.

The only real downer came from John, who was bummed that his list was so boring. "I must be getting old," he sighed.

For me, the experiment was a big success. I managed to finish my shopping in one day, stay within my budget and even pick up a few surprises. Don't tell John, who's a big Steelers fan, but I asked his aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh to find a cool Steelers "toy" for him. So he'll also be getting a travel mug with a leather sleeve that makes it look like a football. Christmas can be inexpensive fun even for big kids.

Janet Bodnar is deputy editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95) and Money Smart Women (Kaplan, $15.95). Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com.

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