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How grandparents can avoid gift-giving pitfalls

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am a 64-year-old grandmother who adores her grandchildren ages 3 and 6. I enjoy giving them toys; unfortunately, they don’t seem to appreciate them. Thank-yous occur if they are repeatedly prompted by their parents. Yet the children expect something from me when I visit. Am I just dealing with a spoiled family?

Answer: The “toy syndrome” is a difficult one. A number of dynamics are likely at play. Let’s begin with the buying choices of a grandparent of the baby boom generation, a subject of commentary and research.

Some note that boomers want grandchildren to experience the same type of childhood they did, as a way to pass on their childhood legacy. They often buy traditional toys that encourage creativity, particularly in music and art, and purchase wooden puzzles and scrapbooks.

Others note that boomer grandparents are interested in toys that promote education, such as science and art, and purchase electronic gifts that encourage communication between the generations.

A study of “The Grandparent Economy” by Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics, commissioned by Grandparents.com, found that America’s grandparents are among the most powerful and underestimated drivers of the U.S. economy.

Currently, there are about 70 million grandparents in the U.S. The report indicates they buy $2 trillion worth of goods and services annually – about one-third of all consumer spending – and “have control of the majority of assets in the U.S. today.”

Here are some key findings that illustrate the demographic and economic force of grandparents:

  • Three in 10 adults in the U.S. are grandparents.
  • Grandparents today are younger than ever before. They first become grandparents at the median age of 50 for women and 54 for men.
  • In 2010, more than half of the grandparent population consists of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
  • One of every three households is led by a grandparent.
  • With recent economic events decreasing net worth, Americans ages 55 to 64, in general, are better off than the younger population.
  • Of the $2 trillion spent annually by grandparents, about $52 billion is spent on goods and services for their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents spend about $23 billion annually on toys for their grandchildren. It is estimated they spend $64 billion on all gifts.
  • Grandparents not only spend on grandchildren, they make 45 percent of the nation’s cash contributions to nonprofit organizations and account for 42 percent of all consumer spending on gifts.
  • They support and invest in their grandchildren’s education by spending $32 billion annually on tuition and other education-related expenses.

But what about the gift giving?

Depending on the age of the child and finances of the family, children get a lot of “stuff.” Think of the number of children attending birthday parties. Each child who attends brings a gift; that may total 25 to 30 gifts plus gifts from the family. Factor in Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and that may add another 10.

Of course, there are the McDonald’s toys and birthday party favors, too. A child could easily receive 50 to 75 gifts a year. One more gift may be just “one more gift for the moment.”

Here is a thought: Substitute some of your gift giving with “experience giving.” Do something with a grandchild that you both love and that builds memories.

For example, the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation sponsors children’s programs; Torrance has the Western Museum of Flight; Lomita has the train museum. Then there is the Children’s Garden at the South Coast Botanical Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Consider volunteering with your grandchild to feed the homeless or plant a garden. Think about taking a special trip – to the Los Angeles Zoo, maybe, or to San Diego by train.

View the world through the eyes of your grandchildren and cherish those moments. The toys are good but have momentary value. It’s the time we spend with our grandchildren that creates joy and lasting memories.

Thank you for your good question. And enjoy those grandkids.

Copyright 2010 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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