by Jay Payleitner
Adapted from his book, Hooray for Grandparents!

One of the great joys of grandparenting is strolling through a dollar store with a five-year-old. You can say “Yes” three or four times to their wide-eyed requests and it’ll cost you less than five bucks. Later that afternoon, when the dress-up plastic jewelry falls to pieces or the water pistol dribbles instead of squirts, there should be no panic, no tears, and no marching back to the store for a refund.

Wisdom on Buying Stuff for Grandkids

Helping your grandchildren learn that life goes on when a toy breaks is a pretty good lesson. Also worth remembering is that most kindergartners already have enough trinkets, toy dinos, rubber spiders, and other silly doodads stashed away in their bedroom hiding places. They really don’t need any more junk.

But at some point, their interests and attention are going to shift from silly to serious. Hopefully, they always maintain some of their childlike innocence, while at the same time they begin to identify a mature interest in a legitimate pastime.

Which brings us to this concept:

When your grandchild gets serious about a hobby or sport, then you have permission to get serious about gifts related to that hobby or sport.

It’s a two-part challenge for grandparents who want to be respectfully supportive. On the one hand, it’s important that you do not invest a week’s paycheck on a Dunlop Grand Slam racket or Miken Rain carbon fiber bat when your grandkid is seven years old. They won’t appreciate it. They won’t use it properly. They won’t take care of it. And, most of all, that kind of investment puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved. Even if you can afford it, just don’t.

The flip side of that idea is that—at the right time—go ahead and buy your grandson or granddaughter the best gosh darn bat, catcher’s glove, tennis racket, turf shoes, climbing gear, microscope, telescope, art easel and oil paints, trumpet, fishing pole, bass guitar, pottery wheel, camera, or ice skates you can find.

In most of these examples, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of dollars. We’re also talking about a once-in-a-lifetime gift …

Probably when the young recipient is not so young anymore. Maybe fifteen or sixteen years old. Or twenty. Or twenty-five. One rule of thumb might be to wait until they know—when they open it—exactly how big a deal it is. That sophomore catcher who just made the varsity team should squeal, “Ohmigosh, it’s a Wilson 2021!” That’s when you know you did it right.

Speaking from experience, here are a few more principles on investing in quality gear for your growing, enthusiastic, and focused grandchild.

If you’re going to do the research and make the investment, it should probably be a version of that gear or instrument they can use for several years or well into their adulthood. Spending big bucks on ice skates your granddaughter outgrows in six months is a little excessive.

Involve your grandchild’s parents in the decision.

Yes, you would like to surprise them too. But if you’re tuned into that young person’s hopes and dreams, then they probably are as well. Their advice will be quite valuable regarding brands, sizes, styles, and many other factors. They might already have that same dream gift on layaway for their son or daughter’s birthday. Even if it was their guidance that led you to the exact make and model, you can still take some of the credit. But please remember, like many of the actions you want to take as a grandparent, your own kids have veto power.

Finally, I apologize if this blogpost makes you feel like you’re attempting to buy your grandchildren’s love. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Your investment is saying, “Grandchild, I see how hard you’re working. I see how you’re setting goals. I’m proud of who are and what you’ve already accomplished. I’m your greatest cheerleader. I share your dreams.”

Make sure you also add,

“No matter what, I promise to love you unconditionally.”

Being an awesome grandparent does not require you to spend hundreds of dollars on your grandchildren. If you have a big family, that can add up real quick. But many men and women of retirement age have been scrimping and saving for years waiting for a rainy day or the right investment. What could possibly be more worthwhile?

Read more from Jay at Grandkids Matter here.

What’s your #1 tip about buying things for your grandchildren? Join the discussion on our Facebook page here.


Jay Payleitner is a best-selling author of Hooray for Grandparents! and more than a dozen other books on marriage, family, and doing life right including 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Ways to Connect as a Couple, and What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? He and his wife, Rita, live near Chicago, where they’ve raised five great kids (and now have eight grandkids) and have loved on ten foster babies. For information on booking Jay to speak at your next event, visit