Personal Finance

10 Guilt-Free Ways to Stop Overspending on Your Kids and Grandkids

Child holding a holiday gift
MillaF /

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

Raise your hand if you overspend on your kids for birthdays and holidays because you want them to be happy.

Do you spoil your grandkids because you don’t see them often and hope that presents will lead to warm feelings? Do you wish your mom would stop spending money on your kids, or that you could spend less on buying them stuff?

Guess what – you can put an end to overspending on your kids and spoiling your children and grandchildren. You might think that money buys their happiness, but kids don’t know what things cost. A cheap yet thoughtful gift means more to them than a basketful of toys, as does the gift of your attention and love.

Whether you’ve been laid out and need to cut expenses, want to eliminate debt or simply want to stop spoiling your youngest family members, it’s easier than you think to curb excessive gifting. Here are several guilt-free ways to stop overspending on your kids and grandkids.

1. Limit gifts to select occasions

Family members exchanging Christmas gifts
Yuganov Konstantin /

Choose the most important holidays and occasions to give gifts, and just say no the other 363 days of the year. Don’t give in to retailers who want you to believe that Easter should be like a second Christmas in terms of gift giving and that you should buy themed clothes and toys for Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July and Halloween.

If your child begs for a toy when you’re shopping at Target, tell him he can spend his own money or put it on his birthday list. Don’t bring a gift every time you visit your grandkids or nieces and nephews, and they won’t expect one. Set expectations with grandparents and family members that you’d rather they save their gifts for birthdays than for random weekends.

2. Set a gift budget

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For birthdays and holidays, set a gift budget and stick to it. You will be surprised how creative you can get about saving when you’re forced to keep expenses under a set amount.

Perhaps, you’ll try harder to find items on sale, or force yourself to choose which of two potential presents will be the best for your child. Maybe you skip the fancy gift wrap and packaging to allocate your money on the present itself. The perfect gift will be more appreciated than multiple inferior gifts displayed in fancy gift bags.

An unexpected bonus is that fewer gifts will cut down on clutter in your house. Plus, the kids won’t be distracted by an over-abundance of toys, and can focus on playing with the one new thing they received.

3. Only give one gift at a time

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If you don’t want to set a financial limit (or even if you do), train yourself that a gift is one item not several or a basket full of things. Instead of an Easter basket full of Xbox games, iTunes gift cards and tons of action figures and candy treats, offer one chocolate bunny. Choose one item to wrap for a birthday present, rather than a gift bag full of toys. It might feel small at first, but if the gift is meaningful, you’ll soon see that quality has the edge over quantity.

4. Avoid name brands

Woman looking at clothes in her closet
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When it comes to clothing your kids will quickly outgrow or toys they may or may not love forever, don’t give in to their pleas for designer or name-brand items.

Target’s Our Generation dolls are just as good and a lot cheaper than an American Girl doll. Walmart and Old Navy have adorable dresses; you don’t need to pay double or triple at Tea Collection or Hanna Andersson.

5. Get comfortable saying no

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When you look around your house, do you see piles of toys, video games and books that don’t get played with that often? We bet you do. Kids don’t need more things, so say no when they ask.

After the initial grumpiness or whining session, they’ll forget all about it. Plus, you’re teaching them valuable lessons that they can’t always get everything they want, and that they have to prioritize what’s important to them.

6. Give the gift of time

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Don’t spoil your grandchildren with material goods. Shower them with love by spending time with them. Take them on an outing or invite the to a sleepover at your house. (It’s a gift to their parents, too!) Making pancakes with Grandpa or taking a nature walk with Grandma can be more meaningful than a pile of Legos.

Same for parents – show your love by setting aside time to devote to your child rather than saying yes to that new toy car or hair bow. Read with them, play catch outside or plan a family board game night or ice cream outing. You won’t overspend, but you will create memories.

7. Embrace pre-owned items

Couple shopping online
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You might not think twice about buying a used car, and your house was likely owned by someone before you. Adopt the same mindset toward toys and clothes. Shop at yard sales, thrift stores or online buy/sell/swap or “Buy Nothing” groups. If you teach your kids and grandkids that “new” does not mean “better,” you can find them amazing gifts at a fraction of the cost.

8. Give cash

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Kids who don’t have much money of their own think $5 is a huge financial windfall. They might be more excited to receive a roll of quarters than whatever item you could buy for the same amount. They will be excited to choose their own gift, and you’re teaching them the value of money and how to make decisions about saving vs. spending.

Yes, if you slip your grandkid a $20 every time you see them, you will be spoiling them. But if you gift them cash twice a year instead of an expensive present that would cost triple that amount, you will be offering a welcome gift without overspending.

9. Make your own DIY gifts

Woman crafting at home
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Gifts you make yourself can be more affordable than presents you buy, and are unique and meaningful. Knit your grandkid a sweater in his favorite color. Sew your daughter clothes for her doll, or take her favorite old T-shirts and turn them into a quilt. Use your talents in woodworking, jewelry-making, painting and other areas to make gifts before you hit the mall for mass-produced plastic toys.

10. Offer a family gift

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A small per-person budget can buy more when combined into a family gift. Consider experience gifts, such as a membership to the science museum or dinner out at a favorite restaurant. Or buy a board game that the whole family can play together, or a sled the kids can take turns riding.

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