Children’s Gifts: Don’t Spend A Lot On What They Don’t Want

Over my son’s life, he’s received numerous gifts from his parents (my wife and I), his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles. We actually have many more toys now than he regularly plays with, so we’ve given a few away and have some others in storage so we can rotate them monthly, giving him the enjoyment of having “new” toys to play with.

As his second birthday is approaching, we’ve been thinking about what sorts of gifts might be appropriate for him. What would he enjoy at this age? The surprising answer is that almost everything he indicates an interest in is very inexpensive. This would likely be his gift list if he were writing his own.

Hot Wheels cars This is his favorite item at the moment. It’s very easy to get a ten pack of these cars at a department store for $6 or $7, and it will likely wind up being one of his favorite gifts.

Paper to draw on He absolutely loves busting out the washable markers and drawing on any paper we allow him to, and sometimes drawing on himself. I am currently actively looking for a blank roll of newspaper for him to draw on, providing him a ton of paper to use to express his creative nature on, giving him some huge sheets to color on and also a lot of paper to get through. A new set of washable markers may also be part of a potential present.

Used children’s books He loves books. He sits on the floor and goes through them himself and insists that we read to him a lot. To sate his appetite, books are a great gift, but I’ve been able to find a lot of used ones. Why not get him five or ten used children’s books (many of which look barely used) instead of one new one, especially considering that he definitely adds wear and tear to them quickly?

A large rubber ball Whenever we see one of these at a department store, he looks, points, says, “Ball,” and then goes into almost a trancelike state of staring at them. I retrieved one for him a while back so he could look more carefully and he would have easily taken it home with him had I not asked for it back.

“Apple juice” Every time I’ve asked him what he wants for his birthday, this has been his response. Guess what beverage will be served at his birthday party?

My philosophy is this: just get him these inexpensive gifts now, things that he actually wants. If someone wants to give him more, then couple it with a donation to his college savings plan. Later on, when his tastes become more expensive (“I want an XBox 720!”), then gifts might change, but for now, if the child’s tastes are frugal, support that frugality.

I know that both sets of his grandparents are giving him larger gifts that are sensible and that’s fine, but for Christmas I’m going to encourage everyone to get him simple things – and if they insist on giving him more gifts, just contribute to his college fund. That way, he’ll enjoy these gifts now, and their contributions will have about seventeen years to grow and will really help him in college. Even better, it will prevent him (somewhat) from seeing Christmas as a giant materialistic gift-grabbing occasion.

What’s the take-home message here? When a child is young (or even when the child is older, if they have the right attitude) and you have the opportunity to give the child a gift, make it a frugal one that they’ll actually enjoy. If you feel obligated to spend more, put some money along with it but earmark it for their college fund. That way, they have something they’ll enjoy now and something that will really benefit them later on.

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