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Gift Ideas from Grandparents: What’s a Mimi to Do?

By Marie Burns December 07, 2022 Lifestyle

I have evolved over the years in my thinking around gift-giving to children as well as grandchildren. Perhaps you have, too? It’s a blessing that in many situations our grandchildren don’t “need” anything that their parents can’t already provide for them.

Our children are often better off than we were at their age, right? For which we should also be thankful, but it sure makes it harder for Mimi (or whatever grandmother name you use) to come up with gift ideas, doesn’t it!?!

Love of Learning

I am a lifelong learner, and I find many grandparents are as well. We love to learn new things, find it exciting to discover information about various aspects of life, and may even enjoy the opportunity with our grandchildren when teachable moments come along to hopefully instill in them the same love for learning.

So, initially, when grandchildren came along, one of my first thoughts was to find ways to stimulate brain development to help them become confident, capable, and maybe even enthusiastic, lifelong learners.

Colorful and engaging infant toys, the latest learning gadgets for all ages, and the gift of music in many forms were often on my list of gift ideas. Even the nostalgic gifts of basic things like jump ropes, tinker toys, or favorite classic books were common purchases.

I eventually came to cringe at the thought of walking through toy aisles (everything looked so cheaply made even if it wasn’t what I was looking for) or even scrolling online (since I really dislike shopping in general).

Then I remembered how differently my children valued “stuff” when it was their own money they were spending when we gave them cash for gift spending as young children.

The Need for Money

So, I switched to giving cash to the adult children (our grandkids are still a bit young for that, but school age is right around the corner). Let them pick what they want or need themselves and then no one has to deal with returns or polite thank yous was my thinking.

But I rarely learned what the gift purchase ended up being and sometimes feared it all ended up in a pot of money that may have just been lumped in with other bills/expenses. Not the “treat yourself” idea I had in mind, though if that is what they needed, then I guess that served a purpose too.

Financially, if you value and can help with providing a college education with your gift dollars, there are two main ways grandparents can help their children/grandchildren. You can always pay tuition costs directly to a school OR you can contribute to a 529 plan.

Paying a school directly does not count against the $16,000/year gift tax exclusion, it reduces your estate, and it is not taxable to the student. Contributing to a 529 plan has gotten easier and more flexible over the years and can be another “money” gift idea.

To me, a 529 contribution exemplifies my belief in the value of education and directs the monetary gift to that purpose. Electronic deposits via an emailed invitation or website login into an account that the parents set up seems like a win-win-win (for grandparents, parents, and grandchildren).

I still like to have a very small gift for the grandchild to open as another reminder that Mimi and Papa are thinking about them.

Opportunities to Create Memories

There is no right or wrong in gift giving to children or grandchildren as it is a very personal situation decision. We have now evolved to “experience” giving. A gift certificate for a concert, tickets to a local event, or Groupons for a family fun activity would be examples.

A believer in the impact of making memories versus accumulating things, I found sharing experiences to be more reflective of our family values. And now with children and grandchildren strewn across the country, shared vacations that we can help provide are becoming more of a preference for all.

Your Personal Journey

At a basic level, this idea of gift-giving is part of our personal finance journey. Our spending plan, especially as we near or are in retirement, needs to include decisions about our gift plans. We may ride a fine line in retirement between wanting and being able to be generous as we also don’t want to be a financial burden and make sure we don’t run out of money ourselves.

Oh, if we had only known earlier in life some of the personal finance lessons we may have learned the hard way! That lament is exactly what has motivated me to compile some money checklists related to various life events. They are great gift ideas for youth and adults of all ages and stages of life if you are interested in sharing money tips that you wish you coulda, shoulda, woulda known sooner. And the one possibly most helpful for us Mimis, a checklist for retirement, is kicking off the year in January.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What has been your gift-giving journey? What have you come to find works best for you? Any suggestions or experiences you can share with our community? Let’s have a discussion.

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We created education accounts for our grandchildren and when they went to college we gave them each ten thousand a year. When they graduated (recently) we gifted them the money left in the accounts and asked them to think very carefully about spending it or letting it continue to grow, our granddaughter bougt a condo and used most ot it on her down payment.
her brother is saving his to buy a home . We are so proud of them and it brings a lot of joy to us to see them enjoy it while we’re here.
ourother grands are now in college, story to be continued.

Marie Burns

Giving while you are living absolutely brings joy to the giver and receiver, so glad your grands seem to be using it wisely too!


My children and grandchildren all get money. I really don’t care what they do with it because once I give someone something, it is theirs to do what they want with it. That includes cash. They know where they need it. Two of them teach. My great-grandchildren (gg-kids) get gifts, although one is reaching that age where cash will be a better choice. Those who get cash also get a small token gift that doesn’t cost a lot. The past two years it has been something I made.

Diane Traendlin

I give my grandchildren subscriptions to Chirp and Chickadee magazines for their birthdays. They look forward to the mail every month. Easy for me as four of them live in the Yukon.

Marie Burns

Who doesn’t love mail right!?! Wonderful and educational, bonus! Our children loved Highlights and Ranger Rick so we continue that tradition for our grandchildren too.

Susan Berry

Trips together with my grandparents are some of my fondest memories!
In childhood, I was taken to symphony concerts and ballets. I was dressed up and taken to the San Francisco Broadway Theater where I was mesmerized by live performances of the Sound of Music and The King and I. I was treated to the magic of Disneyland. My favorite memory was a 2 month trip, by car, exploring the United States from coast to coast.
What an education and special times shared with my grandparents.


That is amazing memories for you and your family. I hope that my grandchildren always remember the special trips and adventures we have experienced throughout the years.
Have a Merry Christmas!

Marie Burns

Travel together is truly a fun memory maker for all. I hope to do that exploring the US from coast to coast some day too with grandchildren!


The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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