Dear Dr. Tightwad: The holidays are over and once again I spent more than I should have on gifts for my children. After the wrapping paper was ripped off, the kids got bored and the gifts just lay there.

I'd like to make a New Year's resolution to keep spending under control next Christmas, but I need some guidelines.How much do other parents spend, and how much is enough?

Answer: For what it's worth, a survey of parents by Bruskin Goldring Research of Edison, N.J., shows that on average parents spend $161 per child on Christmas toys.

Or you could take a tip from SCROOGE - the Society to Curtail Ridiculous, Outrageous and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges - which recommends that you never spend more than one-half of 1 percent of your gross annual income on holiday presents.

Dr. T, however, finds it hard to put a dollar value on what's appropriate. The good doctor's prescription: If you're embarrassed to tell someone how much you spent on gifts or how many presents your kids actually ripped open, you've probably gone overboard.

Outrageous ostentation aside, Dr. T would like to put in a good word for piles of presents under the tree.

From my own experience as a child, and what I now witness in my own children, the secular side of Christmas climaxes with that first glimpse of the living room on Christmas morning.

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So ordinary on every other day of the year, the room has been transformed by some inexplicable yet very real magic.

It doesn't matter what's inside all those temptingly wrapped packages - what matters is simply that they're there.

Get the most out of your gift budget and make the stack swell by wrapping everything you can get your hands on - each book, each pair of socks, the pencils and gloves you would have bought your children anyway.

And when weeks of preparation are stuffed into trash bags and the living room looks ordinary again, don't be too hard on your kids. What you read as boredom may actually be the anticlimax of Christmas morning, 10 a.m.

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