Auntie ATM

How much do I spend on my niece and nephews?

Photo credit: Mobilus in Mobili, CC BY 2.0.

I have two nephews and one niece and they’re all based in the Philippines. The oldest is my little sister’s son, but my parents raise him in Manila. The other two are raised by my oldest brother and his wife.

It’s difficult to acquire a tourist visa in the U.S., especially if you have long-established family members in America. My brother and his family will never likely see America, but my oldest nephew—an American-born citizen—can fly in and out of the country whenever he wants.

So, every year for almost three months, my oldest nephew flies in with my parents for school breaks. Before they leave, I send him off with gifts for himself and his two cousins. I’m especially generous with his cousins because they don’t get to experience life in the United States—especially life in the great Washington State—whereas my oldest nephew is privy to meals out, American snacks, trips, and “really fast internet.”

I set myself a budget for gifts but each year I blow past it; my largess this time of year is such that I’ve started calling myself Auntie ATM. I decided to tally up how much I spent on the kids during my nephew’s most recent visit, to see whether I’d need to curtail some of this spending in the future.


Nephew #2 is 7, and I know nothing about 7-year-old boys even though I have brothers. So my boyfriend Lukas and I went to Nordstrom Rack to look for shoes. My first choice was a pair of black school shoes because pretty much everyone in the Philippines wear school uniforms. Lukas vetoed that idea, saying who cares about school shoes when they can get a wicked pair of Nikes? After over an hour, we found a pair of black Nike Air Max Dynasty 2s for $54.97.

According to my parents, my niece is the quintessential pink girl. Lukas and I were powerwalking at the mall when I spotted a pastel pink purse covered with flower appliques—perfect, right? But we looked around Aldo a bit more and Lukas picked up a dark pink purse that my niece could hang over her kid shoulders. Decisions, decisions. Bearing in mind the smog of Manila — pastels are helpless against the city’s pollution—we bought the dark pink purse for $55.

I handed my mom the purse and Mom said “she likes green now.” Something about a fairy TV show that she’s obsessed with, and now everything has to be green. So we returned the bag and I decided to give her a pair of Nikes instead, just like her brother. While grocery shopping at Fred Meyer, I snuck into the shoe section and found a pair of aqua green Nikes on sale for $52.99.

American snacks are straight-up currency in the Philippines. When I was a kid, I sold American candy I received from U.S. relatives and from my Pops, who traveled globally, to my classmates. I had a profitable business until one of my teachers found out what I was up to and shut down operations. I don’t yet know if my niece and nephews have my entrepreneurial instinct, but I still want to keep them in good supply—so I bought $85.02 worth of M&Ms, KitKats, Oreos, Ferrero Rocher, and Tate’s cookies.

When I was a kid, my favorite thing about the start of the school year was getting a new backpack. I spent $52 on backpacks for the siblings: blue for the boy, and “Aqua Dash” for the girl. My older nephew goes to an elite private school and they’re required to buy school supplies with the school logo, so no backpack for him.

Then I bought them a $9.87 pack of Target erasers in the shape of animals, fries, and ice cream. (I’m starting to think I’m using the kids as an excuse to indulge my unfulfilled school supply obsession.)

My sister in law requested I send over professional portraits so the kids can put up my pictures in their house. It’s a cultural thing — we like to give each other portraits — for reasons I can’t really explain because I’m not sure why we do it. In Manila, professional portraiture is very affordable, which keeps the national obsession for glamour photos stuffed and happy. I looked up photographers and quickly vetoed all of them because they all cost over $250.

So we walked into JCPenney Portraits—the cheapest option, even though I think it’s tacky to go to JCPenney—and it was a surprisingly easy process. In minutes I picked out the “memories” package: various-sized prints and no digital. After a 40 percent discount, my total came to $76.98—which was significantly less than I expected to spend.

What about my older nephew? Any queries as to what kind of gift he wanted were met with non-committal shrugs. I thought about not getting him anything, but I wanted to be fair considering how much his cousins were receiving, so I did what I always do when I can’t decide on a gift — I handed over some cash. Lukas’ nephew and niece have been getting cash gifts since last year, and I wish I’d thought of it sooner. It’s hard enough trying to buy gifts for anyone, much less kids whose tastes and interests are constantly changing. Lukas and I decided all nephews and nieces under 18 would get $50 in cash gifts, so $50 it was.

Total cost of being an aunt to three kids, during my nephew’s most recent visit: $381.83.

I’m surprised that this number isn’t higher. I felt like I was gorging on gift-giving—although, even as Auntie ATM, I still have it pretty easy. $381.83 is minuscule compared to the stratospheric costs of raising a child.


Ruzielle Ganuelas is a writer, baker and PF nerd in Washington State.