Upping the Ante

Anika Hedstrom

MY SISTER JUST HAD a baby, our family’s first grandchild. That officially makes me a PANK: a Professional Aunt, No Kids. This often-overlooked demographic takes an active role in the lives of children they’re close to. They spend not only time, but also money: 76% of PANKs lavish more than $500 a year on each of their nieces and nephews, resulting in some $9 billion in annual purchases.

The opportunity to buy adorable items for baby Henrik is not lost on me. I’ve had the past nine months to ruminate over what being an aunt actually means, and the role I want to play in our family village. I am aware of the limited ROI—return on investment—of frivolous gifts. I would rather share values with my nephew—values that will serve him well throughout his life.

The challenge: Defy the shrewd marketing initiatives of brands that have tweaked their messages in an attempt to capture my PANK dollar, and instead focus on what truly pulls at my heart strings. Would it be possible to replace every holiday’s physical gift with an equivalent deposit into a 529 college savings plan?

Once Henrik is old enough, I will share the letter of intent drafted for his 529. This plan outlines the ideals which, I believe, will benefit him throughout the years, including the importance of discipline and education. The plan also includes monetary incentives to encourage his financial education. Henrik, of course, will initially fail to see the virtue in these virtues. I hope I survive the “why” stage.

My commitment to Henrik, and this plan, is a bit self-serving. I’m always looking for accountability partners, and now I may have the cutest one yet. It’s a good thing I will have time to try and figure out how to explain to a toddler why I don’t bring shiny gifts, and instead would love to talk to him about compound interest. Let’s just say aunt-of-the-year award isn’t on the table for a bit. When he applies for college, however, a simple view of the scoreboard—as reflected in his 529 account balance—will show complete and utter PANK dominance.

In this grand plan, there remains one unavoidable source of jealousy: While I may be a PANK, my husband gets to be a PUNK.

Anika Hedstrom is a financial planner with Vista Capital Partners in Portland, Ore. She loves to nerd-out and, when given a dollar, will save 96 cents. Her previous blog was Home Economics. Her nephew Henrik’s middle name is Olaf—named after his grandfather, who was born on April 13, the same date this blog was published.

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