The Average Amount Grandparents Spend On Christmas Gifts Might Surprise You
Of course, there’s no “correct” amount that works for every family.
A couple months before the holiday season rolls around is when many families start thinking about gifts — planning them, asking their children what they'd like, and floating the idea that lumps of coal will appear under the tree when the kids are misbehaving. Statistically, it's not out of the ordinary for many parents to spend a couple hundred dollars per kid — if they can swing it and want to, of course. But how much do grandparents spend on Christmas gifts? According to research, it's probably more than you expected.
For some perspective, the average U.S. consumer spent $766 in 2020 on gifts during the holiday season, according to surveys by RetailMeNot. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it might come as a surprise that the average wasn’t less than the year prior. In fact, it was higher, with Americans spending $738 in 2019. Altogether, U.S. consumers spent a record $789.4 billion on the holidays last year, reports the National Retail Federation, which was 8.3% higher than in 2019. Likewise, this year, RetailMeNot projects that the average American will spend $885.76 on holiday gifts, which is 15% more than they did last year.
In terms of spending on children, specifically, the average holiday shopper with kids under 18 plans to spend $276 per child on gifts in 2021, according to a survey by CreditCards.com. With all this in mind, where do grandparents fall on the spectrum?
Holiday Spending By Grandparents
In November 2021, researchers at OppLoans surveyed over 1,700 grandparents across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, asking how much they spent on holiday gifts, if they felt these gifts were appreciated, and whether or not they ever planned to stop giving their grandkids gifts. According to this survey, the average amount spent on Christmas gifts by grandparents is $218 per child. However, grandfathers actually spend more on holiday gifts ($244) than grandmothers spend ($202).
Furthermore, grandparent holiday spending varies depending on where a family lives. Here's a look at the five states with the highest-spending grandparents: Oklahoma, $339; Connecticut, $336; Washington, D.C., $330; Louisiana, $328; and California, $311. The five lowest-spending states were: Minnesota, $128; Washington, $121; North Dakota, $118; Wyoming, $113; and Nebraska, $93.
Other interesting findings from the OppLoans survey include:
- Older grandparents tend to spend less on gifts. Grandparents between 35 and 44 spent $312, grandparents 45 to 54 spent $248, and grandparents 55 and older spent $179.
- 80% of grandparents feel their grandkids appreciate the gifts, 11% feel their grandkids appreciate the gifts a little bit, and 4% feel their grandkids don’t appreciate the gifts at all.
- Clothing, toys, and gift cards are some of the favorite gifts for grandparents to give.
Another source of data offering insight into grandparents’ gift-giving habits can be found in a 2019 study conducted by AARP. According to this study, grandparents spend an average of $2,562 annually on their grandchildren, with 86% of the nation’s grandparents spending an average of $805 on gifts each year. Although this data doesn’t speak to Christmas presents specifically — it likely includes birthday presents and gifts for other occasions — it does go to show that many grandparents across the country invest a chunk of money into gifting their grandkids.
That being said, while these numbers may speak to larger trends that the U.S. is exhibiting, ultimately, there is no specific amount for how much grandparents should spend on grandchildren for Christmas. And the holidays can be special for grandkids regardless of money spent.
Making Christmas Special On A Budget
The holiday season can definitely put pressure, both financial and emotional, on a lot of parents and grandparents. What’s most important, though, is that grandparents and parents aim to make the holidays special and memorable for the kids in their lives, and that certainly does not have to include spending big bucks on gifts — or buying gifts at all.
“Holidays are about building memories, closeness, and family identity — we want our kids to look back on these special days with fondness and a warm sense of, ‘This is how we do things in my family. This is what brings us together,’” Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem, tells Romper. “Physical gifts can be delightful in the moment, but memories of these are likely to fade.”
When next Christmas rolls around, kids likely won’t remember what they received as holiday gifts last year, but rather how they felt around the holidays. Still, many grandparents can feel obligated to spend a certain monetary value in order to buy presents that will make their grandchildren happy.
“Holidays can put pressure on adults when expectations are too high or just out of sync with current circumstances,” explains Kennedy-Moore. “In some cases, pressure can come from parents believing they need to spend more money than is comfortable or wise because they don't want their kids to feel deprived. There may also be disagreement between parents about how much to spend.”
Kennedy-Moore recommends thinking carefully about what matters most to you and putting your efforts toward that, which may include ditching the activities that no longer match your values or simply don't seem worth the effort — even if they're tradition. Instead, consider creating new traditions that fit you and your grandchildren’s vision of a fun holiday.
“Focus on sharing fun activities,” Kennedy-Moore says. “If you don't see your grandchildren often, talk to their parents to understand what they enjoy doing now. Children's interests can change rapidly! A game you can play together might have more staying power than a toy.”
Activities such as having a holiday-themed movie night, taking a trip to a local museum or sports game, making DIY ornaments, and cooking up a pancake breakfast (or maybe even a pancake dinner) can make for incredibly fun memories to share with your grandkids. Presents are often considered a seasonal norm, but experiences can sometimes be even more meaningful during the holidays.
The research definitely indicates that when it comes to grandparents across the United States, many like to loosen the purse strings for their grandkids for the holidays. But in reality, not everyone can or wants to do that — and that’s OK. What matters most this Christmas is that grandparents prioritize making the holidays special, gifts or no gifts.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem
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