Grandparents may cut back on their holiday party treats, throw a little less tinsel on the tree and recycle last year's holiday outfit, but they don't want to stop indulging their grandchildren.
"People will do a lot of things for their children. They will do anything for their grandchildren," said Peter Francese, a demographic expert who has studied grandparents' spending habits extensively.
That's especially true during the holidays, when it should come as no surprise that grandparents often want just one thing: to see their grandchildren's joyful faces on Christmas morning. It's more than just about fleeting joy, experts say. In the weak economy, many grandparents have prided themselves on being the economic pillars of their families.
"Giving gifts is a wonderful thing and it makes you feel good," said Amy Goyer, an expert on family issues with AARP. "It's seeing those little faces light up. You just live for that sometimes, and the holidays are a time when you don't really want to change that."
Donna Jackson and her husband have 17 grandchildren between them. Although they have had to cut back significantly on their holiday budget in recent years, they still plan to spend $50 to $75 on each child—even though it means relying on credit cards.
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"By the time I get (them) paid off it'll be Christmas again. It's a tough situation but I just—Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I just cannot not buy them something for the holidays," she said.
Jackson, 64, retired from her job as a receptionist two years ago in part so she could take care of one of her grandchildren. Her 83-year-old husband retired from his career as a graphic designer but still works part-time delivering office supplies. They also have retirement savings, but health care costs and other setbacks have made it harder for them to get by.
The couple, who live in Green Lane, Pa., have stopped buying birthday and anniversary gifts for their kids, and cut back significantly on what the kids will get for the holidays. For the first time, Jackson also asked her son to host an annual Christmas party for about 24 family members that she traditionally gives.
Still, Jackson said she drew the line at not giving the grandchildren presents.
"I just could not bear to not give them something," she said.
Goyer said her research has shown that some grandparents did cut back on spending for their grandchildren as a result of the weak economy. That may mean that some are buying fewer or more practical gifts for their grandchildren, she said.
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But Goyer said her research also has shown that grandparents continue to find it extremely important to be able to provide practical support for their grandchildren, such as a new coat or money for karate lessons.
"Even when grandparents felt like it was causing a little bit of hardship for them, this is not an area they want to cut back on," Goyer said.