Here at Marotta Wealth Management, we love getting to see our clients become grandparents. For many, family is one of their core values in life and the arrival of the next generation breathes a new sense of purpose into them and their finances.
As the proud mother of a now three-year-old daughter, I thought I’d record some of my and my firstborn’s favorite things from this past year as helpful ideas for gifts from grandparents. You can see last year’s 1-year-old post here and the first 0-12 month post here.
Outfits. I find the easiest way to check the affordability of toddler clothing is to divide the price by how much of your child it is covering and compare the result to $5. A shirt is covering one body part. Pants are covering one part. A dress is covering two parts. A full sleeper is covering two parts. A hat is covering one part. You get the idea. Five dollars per part of the body covered is a good price. Lower than $5 is a steal. Anything exceedingly higher than $5 per part covered — like one dress for $25 comes in at $25 / 2 = $12.50 — then you know that the item is an expensive way to cloth your child. Only slightly higher than $5 — like a pack of three shirts for $20 comes in at $20 / 3 = $6.66 — you can think of as just being an average priced run-of-the-mill item.
I find this affordability guideline very helpful at avoiding unnecessary purchases. Children’s clothes are both very adorable, often limited edition, and always say they are on “super sale.” This makes them amazingly enticing. The affordability guideline helps to curb impulse and laugh at the “80% off” signs next to a $10 per part item.
With that in mind, here are some clothing items I struggled to find over this past year and really liked:
Pajamas. I find that my daughter is very opinionated about what she wears to bed. My daughter goes through phases when she only wants to wear one type of pajamas. The three favorites are footie pajamas with no-slip-grips (full body pajamas with attached socks that have sticky patterns on the bottom to help gain traction on the floor), pajama bodysuits with no footies (zippered full body pajamas where the feet are exposed), or simply a matched top and bottom set (shirt and pants or shorts set).
My daughter still is not using blankets at night because she does not like them. This means that we try to have a cold-weather and hot-weather version of each of these types of pajamas to make bedtime easier. It was particularly hard to find hot-weather footie pajamas with no slip grips as most are either made of cold-weather fleece or are lacking the no-slip-grips. However, I finally found the Leveret Footed Pajamas series and my daughter loves the flamingo and shark pajamas we got from them. They are currently $15.99 which is an affordability of $15.99 / 2 or $7.99 per part. This makes the pajamas just an average priced item, but they were also the cheapest non-fleece no-slip-grip footie pajamas I have found.
For hot-weather pajamas with no feet, the Carter’s Simple Joys three-pack at a price of $25.99 is a steal at, using my affordability guidelines, only $4.33 per part.
Snow Coat. In my shopping, I found that $50 was the going rate for snowsuits. There were a few outliers that were cheaper, some even as low as $30, but a little bit of researching showed just how much quality they sacrificed by going cheaper. For this reason, I found it was the most helpful to just shop for something around $50 that had the highest quality.
I was looking for a coat that 1) my daughter wanted to wear, 2) was reviewed as being comfortable, and 3) was machine washable. The best snow coat we found was OshKosh B’Gosh Heavy Weight Winter Coat and Snow Pants. We bought ours for $53.99. The price is now (Sept 2019) listed lower at $50.47. We bought a whole size larger (3T at the time) and then just rolled up the pants and arms in hopes that the outfit would fit for longer. This was very successful as it both did not interfere with our enjoyment of it last year and still fits this year. It is large enough, we may even be able to squeeze into it next year — although time will tell.
Shoes. When it comes to shoes, there is a lot of variability in prices. Many cheap toddler shoes are made entirely from plastic, but all-plastic shoes can prevent proper ventilation and, if worn every day, cause odor or health problems from the trapped sweat. All-plastic shoes are not intended for all-day wear or heavy exercise like running around outside. For this reason, I’m not a fan of the all-plastic shoe.
For the next level of quality in toddler shoes, the benchmark affordability price seems to be $15.99 for a pair of shoes. At or less than $15.99 is a steal. Closer to $17 or $19 is average. Higher is on the expensive end. The best kind of shoes are the ones that the child can put on themselves. As every parent knows, no matter how hard it is to put on, they can surely take them off themselves.
These days, my daughter likes books that have fascinating pictures and stories that she can easily memorize and read to herself. For this reason, “The Napping House” by Don and Audrey Wood reigns as one of my daughter’s favorite go-to books. You can get lost in the artwork’s details and the words are easily memorized as they are very repetitive in an enjoyable way.
My daughter and I are particularly partial to the Ladybug Girl series by David Soman and Jackie Davis. Each book is about a small normal experience that toddlers might have — being afraid of the ocean, having your friends not do what you want, or wanting to play with someone else’s toy. The book explores those feelings and that experience through the lens of a little girl who pretends “I am Ladybug Girl. I can do anything!” The books are very fun to read (even for adults) and definitely fuel helpful conversations. As the text on the book jackets reads, “Ladybug Girl turns life’s little moments into big adventures.” Definitely true. My daughter’s favorite is the short board book “Ladybug Girl Feels Happy” which is an emotions primer that she can read herself. My favorite is “Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy” which is a story about compromise in friendship.[Side note: My daughter was Ladybug Girl for 2018 Halloween when she was two years old. If you want to make a Ladybug Girl costume, here’s the cheapest way I did it: Ladybug Rainboots, Red Tutu Skirt, Red Shirt, and Wings & Antenna Set.]
As I mentioned in an earlier article, we have loved “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures” by Ben Hatke. In the book, Julia has a boarding house for fantasy creatures. The house is in chaos until Julia establishes a chore chart so everyone pitches in to make the house great. It is beautiful, very well-written, and has been a great resource in making the concept of household tasks fun. Easily one of my and my daughter’s favorites.
The whole family loves the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. These are stories about two friends who are often confused by little things. There are three collections: “Days with Frog and Toad,” “Frog and Toad All Year” (this volume has “Ice Cream,” which is easily my daughter and husband’s favorite story) and “Frog and Toad Together” (this volume has “Cookies,” my favorite story). They are also sold in one large collection (rather than three volumes) but that large tome costs more.
My daughter and husband like Jan Brett’s books. Her books have a very unique art style as they are highly detailed but the drawings are also framed in some sort of decorative border. They read like old folktales. Some favorites are “The Mitten,” “The Umbrella,” “Fritz and the Beautiful Horses,” and “The Wild Christmas Reindeer.”
Although we do not yet have another child, my daughter very much enjoyed “But I Wanted a Little Sister” and “My Baby and Me,” which we checked out from the library. The first is about a little girl who considers trading her baby brother for a baby sister, until she realizes how enjoyable her brother is. The second is a rhyming book about all the things toddlers can do to help out that babies cannot do yet. I imagine either these would make great gifts for expectant older siblings.
Toys & Games
Our favorite “toy” from this year was a KiwiCo subscription. It is a monthly box with fun age-appropriate activities. In addition to being fun when you first open them, of the 10 we received so far, we continue to play with 6 of them on a daily or weekly basis.
From those KiwiCo boxes, we learned that my daughter has a great love for cutting things with scissors. (Asking around, I believe this is a common 2 1/2-year-old interest.) We have two types of scissors that have easily become my daughter’s favorite toy: 1) safety scissors which are rounded and have a blunt tip making them hard to injure someone with and difficult to cut anything other than paper and 2) paper edger scissors which, instead of a straight edge, have a patterned cut. We put all the junk mail or random coupon booklets in a box designated as her cutting box. Then, whenever she wants to play cut, she can clip coupons, cut-out random collage materials, or just shred things.
After she cuts them all, we have taught her to glue her favorites into a scrapbook. The best glue we have found is called purple washable glue sticks. It is purple when you paint the glue on but then the glue dries clear. The best value pack we found was the Amazon Basics brand in a 60 pack for $0.21 per glue stick. If we had been willing to buy the purple glue in liquid rather than stick it would have been even cheaper, but we felt the glue stick would be safer in the hands of two- or three-year-old.
Markers and coloring books have been another large favorite. Washable markers is important, so that parents don’t have to be fearful of their child’s creativity. We love our Crayola pack of 40 colors. For coloring books, having a coloring book that is scanned to a PDF is very helpful so that, with the help of a printer, favorite pages can be colored more than once.
We started loving puzzles this past year. Hands down the best puzzle we have received is a Mudpuppy 25 Jumbo Pieces puzzle. The puzzle pieces are around 4.5 inches wide and fit together without any trouble, making the puzzle easily accomplished by the toddler alone after some initial practice. Now, my daughter can open the box, do the puzzle, and clean it up after she is done without assistance.
My whole family loves board games and could not wait to introduce my daughter to them. Although we started introducing her to some games very early, the most success in actually playing them on her own came throughout this last year and there are some obvious winners.
Love Letter is hands down the easiest game for my daughter to play successfully while also being fun for adults. It has a simple mechanic: You have one card in your hand. On your turn, you draw one card and then pick one card to play. For my daughter, we boil this down to the reminder “One to Play; One to Keep.” No matter which card is selected to play, something happens, which makes there almost no wrong answer. (“Don’t play the Princess!” is the other rule the child needs to remember.) We love it. The base game plays up to four players while the premium version can play up to eight. Both are easily played by younger players.
While I am at work, my husband and daughter regularly and successfully play the cooperative tower-defense board game Castle Panic. Because it is cooperative, the adult can help the child with the strategy of their turn. The mechanic requires identifying which colored arc and labelled ring monsters are in, which is quite a fun game in and of itself for toddlers.
My favorite game to play with my daughter is Tokaido. It is a calm game where you journey across Japan gathering cultural experiences. We play a low-stress version of the game where I offer her the next places she could go as a question (“Do you want to take a bath or paint a painting?”) and she picks. For adult enjoyment, it is best played with one toddler and two adults. However, my daughter loves playing a two-player version. With only two players, there is little strategy so the enjoyment comes completely from getting to see the cards and tell a story about what your journey is like, which admittedly is quite fun.
Another game we all love is Sushi Go. It is a pass-and-play game (you pick one card from your current hand to play and then pass the remainder of the hand to the next person) where you can always play any card in your hand. This makes it easy for toddlers to play as there is literally no wrong answer. We regularly host a game night at our house of 7 adults and my toddler. Sushi Go can play 8 people and the addition of one toddler who is picking random cards easily makes the game more fun for the strategizing adults. The theme of the game is that you are eating the menu items that you pick to play. This adds another element of fun to the toddler game as you can act out and pretend that you (or a doll or animal friends) are eating the played cards.
A 529 college savings account or even just a stock or two in a custodial account can be helpful savings. The power of saving and investing while young means that this will be the gift that keeps on giving. My article “How to Make a Gift of Appreciated Stock Feel Personal” has some ideas on presenting money to children.
We present children with gifts that expose them to ideas and possibilities about the world. Unlike adults who use sensitivity in their response to gifts, children often have very clear favorites and least favorites; they don’t love each gift equally. But sometimes the duds are as important as the successes at helping the toddler. Life is enriched by being introduced to a wide diversity of items, experiences, and facts. The process of learning what you enjoy in life includes learning what you don’t enjoy as much.
So don’t be discouraged if even after lots of research picking what seems like the perfect gift, you find out it isn’t a favorite. It doesn’t have to be amazing to be a great gift.
Photo by author.