When Grandma and Grandpa become too generous!

How Can I Get My Retired Parents to Stop Spending On My Kids?

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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How Can I Get My Retired Parents to Stop Spending on My Kids?

I could use some advice about a sensitive topic regarding my parents. They are retired and living on a limited income, but are continuously spending money on my kids and my nieces and nephews. My mother especially is always seeing some "small thing" at the store that she feels one of my kids just has to have. And she makes frequent larger purchases throughout the year, so she can contribute a new piece to my daughter's Precious Moments collection or my son's model train hobby. These items are not cheap. My concern is that my parents are spending retirement savings that they could need in the future. And as selfish as this sounds, I would rather them stop spending on my kids now to minimize the chance that my husband and I will have to help them financially later. I don't see my siblings ever being able to help them much financially, nor should they have to help. I just don't see how we can afford to send our kids to college at some point, save for our own retirement, and eventually support my parents. Does anyone have any advice on the best way to approach my parents with my concerns? Do I even have a right to be concerned about how they are handling their own money? I don't want to treat them like they are making poor money decisions, but from what I know of their finances, they did not enter retirement with a whole lot saved up. What is the best way to have this conversation with them without offending them?

Focused Gifting

We set up 529 accounts (college savings account) for all of the kids and their grandparents contribute money towards that for 'bigger' gifts. While they still want to buy 'smaller' gifts for the kids, we have requested for clothes, jackets, or shoes, which they seem to always need. Another good thing to suggest are school supplies or other things for their extra activities (sports uniforms, etc.)

Remind Them What Kids Really Want

  • Shopping may be recreation for them. Suggest they spend that time researching fun, inexpensive things to do with grandkids. The internet is full of ideas for crafts and games that use things found around the house. Remind them that kids don't want more stuff as much as they want time.
  • Ask for their help in teaching your kids the value of money by saving gifts for birthdays and Christmas. New things a couple of times a year is no longer special if they get too much stuff all year long.
  • Suggest that instead of spending a little money every month on things, they could put that money in a special account to help with education down the road.


Make It a Win/Win Situation

Being a retired grandparent, I can appreciate both sides of this issue and agree overspending for gifts can become a serious problem. For every dollar that goes out, there is not necessarily one returning back to the savings. However, there is another side of this issue that bears consideration. Often retired seniors can harbor feelings of being unimportant. Their careers are over, their children are grown, and life as they lived it has pretty much changed, except for the opportunity to focus on the grandchildren who give them great pleasure.

Perhaps you can gently redirect their gift spending to one that also includes education. Books are great gifts and can be purchased in secondhand shops, thus saving those precious dollars. Grandparents can become involved with reading to the children, either in person or via FaceTime or other such opportunities. If the children are older and can read for themselves, another wonderful opportunity presents itself with discussions between both parties about the book and its merits. Books would allow grandparents to feel important and needed again while saving some of those retirement dollars. Address and redirect the issue to a win/win solution.

Ask Them Why

Sometimes, the necessary but difficult conversations must happen at the risk of someone being offended.

I would flat out ask my parents why they bought item X and item Y. You might be shocked to discover that your kids are asking for this stuff. You might discover that some of the nieces and nephews are asking for things and your parents are just trying to be fair in spending comparable amounts on each child. Some children are master manipulators and can guilt or pressure grandparents into all sorts of spending.

Your parents may be trying to 'buy' the love of the children. This is a particular issue if their love language is gift giving. Getting to the root cause of the spending is going to take conversation. If it is truly important to you, then be persistent and find their motivation, so you can help redirect them from spending money to activities, time, and conversation with the kids. Long term, kids remember and treasure times that are memorable and important, not the crap that accumulates.

Changing their existing spending behavior may be a long-term life change for your parents and you should be supportive to help them set and attain new relationship goals. Perhaps redirect grandma to start collecting something small and individual like Christmas ornaments for each child; she can have a meaningful shopping experience without blowing the bank.

If your parents aren't receptive to change and this truly is an important issue for you, firmly put down your foot about of how much they spend on your kids. You may not be able to persuade your parents not to spend so much money on all the kids, but you can certainly curtail what they spend on your kids. Set a limit and inform them that you will be returning to them anything that is over the limit. Be firm and stick to your guns. You'll need to be proactive, kind, and firm.
D Wilder

Putting a Little Aside

One idea might be to get your parents to open savings accounts in your children's names and make regular small payments into it. That way, they are contributing in a manageable way, but it will add up. By the time your children are grown, the account will have enough in it for a used car or to partially pay for college. A fixed amount every month is easy to set up and your parents can arrange their remaining funds around it, avoiding the expensive random presents. Hope this helps.

Let Them Indulge at Holidays

Ask them to set up a small savings account to help contribute to their college education. Figure out roughly how much they spend on each of their grandchildren each year and reduce that amount by half, pointing out that the interest will accrue until their grandchildren need it for college. Or maybe buy a government savings bond at a small price that will mature around the time. Otherwise, let them indulge on birthdays and holidays when it gives them real pleasure. It is their money, so convince them to contribute to their grandchildren's future and have fun on those two other occasions.

Approaching Issue from All Sides

This is a problem and one many of us have had to deal with.

One of the things that you might want to try is to provide suggestions for activities rather than things. Many studies have shown that this is what children (and teens) crave more than things anyway.

Grandparents' Side

Suggest that they take the kids to area parks or museums with lunch or an ice cream out afterwards. Another good choice is to make a big deal of concerts, sports activities, etc. Grandpa and Grandma can host a visit to a pizza place or ice cream parlor afterwards. Grandparents can take the kids to the library on a regular basis and then go someplace for sodas to talk about some of the books that they pick up.

Kids' Side

Encourage your kids to ask Grandpa and Grandma for time to sit down and talk about what life was like when they were kids. Or have the kids ask Grandma to spend an afternoon cooking a family favorite together. Have the kids ask Grandpa to take them fishing or help them build a wood toy or share some other interest.

Parents' Side

Talk to the siblings about how they could encourage less spending on all the grandchildren. It may be possible the others are also concerned about this.

Think about what it is that is leading their parents to doing this excess spending. Are they finding shopping for the kids an escape from boredom? Do they feel like the kids don't really notice them unless they are getting gifts? That may not at all reflect how your kids think of Grandpa and Grandma, but it could be a perception that you can work on to resolve.

If the grandparents insist on spending money on their grandchildren, encourage establishing a 529 plan for the kids. This may seem a bit self-serving, but if there comes a time when the parents have to help their grandparents due to earlier spending, at least they will have some assistance with their kids' college costs when needed.

This is not an easy problem and needs ongoing effort. Above all, be grateful that your parents care about your children and keep that in mind as you work to help them understand other ways to demonstrate their affection.

Reviewed September 2017

Take the Next Step:

  • Talking to aging parents about finances can be difficult. Here are some tips to help you know when and how to bring up this delicate subject.
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