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Don't spend a lot on gifts kids don't want

Younger children often prefer simple, cheap toys.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 1:19AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Over my son’s life, he's received numerous gifts from me and my wife, his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles. We have many toys he doesn't regularly play with, so we've given a few away and have some in storage so we can rotate them monthly, giving him the enjoyment of having “new” toys to play with.


His second birthday is approaching, and we've been thinking about what sorts of gifts are 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. These are his favorite at the moment. It’s easy to get a 10-pack at a department store for $6 or $7, and it will likely be one of his favorite gifts.

  • Paper to draw on. He loves busting out the washable markers and drawing on any paper we allow him to, and he sometimes draws on himself. I am looking for a blank roll of newsprint. A new set of washable markers also may be part of the 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. Why not get him five or 10 used children’s books (many of which look barely used) instead of one new one, especially considering that he quickly adds wear and tear to them?

  • A large rubber ball. Whenever we see one in a department store, he points, says “ball,” and stares at it in an almost trancelike state.

  • Apple juice. Every time I’ve asked him what he wants for his birthday, "apple juice" has been his response. Guess what beverage will be served at his birthday party.

My philosophy is this: Get him things that he actually wants. Later on, when his tastes become more expensive -- "I want an Xbox 720" -- gifts might change. But for now, if the child's tastes are frugal, support that frugality.


Both sets of 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, I'll suggest they contribute to his college fund. That way, he’ll enjoy the gifts he receives, and their contributions will have about 17 years to grow and 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? If you have the opportunity to give a gift to a child,  make it a frugal one that the child actually will enjoy. If you feel obligated to spend more, put some money along with it and earmark it for a college fund. That way, the child will have something to enjoy now and something that will be a benefit later on.


Other articles of interest at The Simple Dollar:

Published Dec. 7, 2007
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