First Person: Struggling Through Christmas

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First Person: Struggling Through Christmas

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Anthony playing with homemade toys.

Yahoo asked parents who are struggling financially to share how they cope with little to no money over the Christmas holidays: What do they tell their children when they can't give them the gifts they asked for? How do their children respond? Here's one parent's story.

FIRST PERSON | It's December, and the streets and shops here in Johnson City, Tenn., are filling with people encumbered with presents for their friends and families. My son, Anthony, who's nearing 4, and I admire the lights and decorations in the stores. But we won't be rolling a shopping cart full of gifts through the checkout line this year.

Like most kids his age, Anthony asks for many of the toys he sees on the shelves, though he realizes he can't have everything he likes. In particular, he keeps asking for a $30 Iron Man toy that talks and lights up. Anthony loves the Avengers, especially Iron Man, who he knows shares his same first name. But I have to tell him he cannot have it.

"You have toys at home," I say.

Many of these are toys I used to play with when I was his age: action figures and toy cars. He loves to play with Spider-Man, and has me play as the superhero's nemesis, Venom, acting out his favorite cartoons. My wife thought I was silly to keep the old toys, but they've come in handy in these financially tight times.

For my family, it's more than just the economy keeping us pinching for pennies. A few years ago, I quit my job as a Wal-Mart inventory associate. That way I could stay home with my son so my wife could focus on her career as a medical doctor. Then I started getting calls from collection agencies wanting me to pay on my student loans and credit cards. I never finished college, so my options for jobs are limited. And the bills from the experience are still coming in.

We were getting by all right until a flood washed our car down the road and added another bill to the ones we already had.

So what do I tell my son when he asks where his present is? Anthony doesn't understand that the money just isn't there. We've found a cheap solution that helps a little -- we make toys together. We make them from paper, from sticks, from whatever we have, and we fashion his favorite characters. They don't speak or light up, but for a little boy, they still feel like presents.

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