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Today a USA Today Network article noted that the cost of raising a child born in 2013 will be $245,340.  That was quickly followed by a USA Today Money article that noted raising a child actually costs you $1.4 million, because the money you spent on food, clothing, shelter and other expenses wasn’t available for investing.  If it was, it would be worth $1.4 million at the end of 18 years.

While those are sobering numbers, I doubt many of us focused on the long-term financial impact of a child when we made the decision to become parents.  I just knew I wanted to be a mom.

Kids are expensive, especially this time of year for those headed off to college and their tuition payments come due.  Younger students have school fees, sports equipment and piano lessons to pay.  Our children cost us lots of money, but once they’re no longer financially dependent on us, I think we voluntarily do at least as much financial damage to ourselves spending on our grandchildren.   And we aren’t doing our grandchildren any favors in the process.

I thought about this recently while I watched my youngest grandchild, Eva, open presents on her first birthday.  She wasn’t exactly opening the presents, since her two older brothers were excitedly helping her tear off the wrapping paper.  But the presents inside weren’t as interesting to her as having all her family and extended family around – and being the focus of everyone’s attention.

We derive pleasure from blanketing our young granddaughters with adorable clothing, but they don’t know the difference between hand-me-downs and something we’ve purchased at Nordstrom.  Grandsons love new toys, but if you put their old ones in the closet for a few weeks after they’ve become boring, when you get them back out they are ‘new’ again.  We love to buy things for our grandchildren, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we may be doing it more for us than for them.

When I talk with other grandparents, I often hear complaints about grandchildren who don’t appreciate all they have, or don’t understand the importance of saving and investing.  These kids are older, usually in their teens or twenties, and it’s possible they’ve become this way because we’ve been blanketing them with stuff their entire lives.

It’s unreasonable for us to expect our kids and grandkids to be financially stable and practice good financial management if we aren’t able to model good behavior for them.  What we do speaks so loudly that they can’t hear our lectures about financial responsibility.  Although it may not be as fun as shopping for frilly dresses and toys, there are other ways we can help our grandchildren without teaching them that buying more stuff is the answer to happiness.

For example, we all recognize how expensive a college education is today, and the costs will only increase with inflation over time.  A 529 Plan established for our grandchildren can help with the expense, and give us a tool for teaching concepts about investing and saving.  Ohio’s College Advantage Plan has a low cost Direct 529 investing program that is one of the best in the nation.

Helping a child set up a savings account, with a promise to match their deposits to help them reach a financial target, is another great way to encourage both delayed gratification and the sense of accomplishment that comes from setting and reaching a goal.  Many online banks and credit unions pay higher rates than traditional banks, and a joint account allows you to monitor the activity without being intrusive.

What children and grandchildren really want is our time and attention.  If we spend time with them and share the financial lessons we’ve learned over our lifetime, it will be a much longer-lasting legacy we can be proud of.