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Kids birthday party gifts: What’s your favorite thing to give?

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Parenting, Uncategorized


The birthday party cycle is starting up again, and my social-butterfly children are raring to go to each and every celebration to which they are invited. Their birthdays are in the fall, and one thing that struck me after their parties were over was that I had been slacking in the gift department. So now, I’m a little nervous. And, frankly, so is my budget.

When did kids’ gifts get so expensive?

Remember in the “Little House on the Prairie” books, when Laura is pleased as can be with her new hair ribbon, or that curly-haired rag doll? Yeah, times have changed.

I know people who routinely spend $30 or more on presents for other people’s kids’ parties. I can’t do that — I get dizzy just doing the math. So, to minimize the expense, I shop sales and keep an eye out for great gifts that are gender neutral (is Sam a girl or a boy? How about Dylan?). But then, another problem: The same kids are all going to the same parties. So I can’t buy, say, a dozen of the same great gift and dole them out over the course of a few fetes. Because kids, you know, they talk and compare.

My favorite place to shop for kids gifts is my local craft store. You can put together a great jewelry-making kit for less than $10 and customize it for the birthday girl. They also carry some great craft kits — origami, homemade bouncy balls, stained-glass or colored sand art — that are perfect for gift giving and for rainy day activities. Art cases, pre-filled with pens and crayons, are almost always on sale; pair it with a little eisel or some color-by-number books and you’re good to go.

What’s your go-to birthday present for kids’ birthday parties? How much is too much to spend on a gift?

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8 comments so far...

  • It depends on the kid, but I usually give books plus something to play with. We’ve only been to relatives’ birthday parties, so I tend to spend about $20+ per kid. It would probably be less if it were some kid I didn’t really know. Probably a book, a coloring book, crayons, and a puzzle/game. Sounds like about $10-ish.

    SKL  |  May 27th, 2010 at 8:47 pm

  • I almost always have my daughters give “consumables” for birthday-party gifts–i.e., things like drawing paper, markers or crayons, sidewalk chalk, bubbles. Things that all moms know you go through like water, and are constantly replacing. This way, I know we’re not giving something the child can’t use, already has one of, etc. And moms really appreciate it!

    Shannon  |  May 28th, 2010 at 9:05 am

  • How much is too much? Any amount that makes your wallet cringe. If things are really tight, $5 might be too much.

    I don’t find that kids compare notes all that much, but then again, my kids are at the age where most kids don’t have ‘invite the whole class’ parties so it’s rare for the same gang to be at every party.

    Gift cards to Barnes and Noble or Target are always great - kids love to go shopping and pick things out for themselves. I also love craft kits and science kits (Target often has a good selection of both). I hate getting cases filled with markers and crayons - my kids have a gazillion of them at this point. Nice idea, but consider that most people probably already have a plethora of that stuff.

    akmom  |  May 28th, 2010 at 10:23 am

  • Books! I don’t think enough people do this, and I am a big adovate of encouraging children to read every chance I get. Also since most other party goers will be bringing toys or clothes, it is unlikely that your gift will be a duplicate. And if you go for more obscure books (whatever that means in the world of children’s literature) you will be less likely to buy them something they already have. Books are also a great oppportunity to buy something that is unique to the child: if your child has even an inkling that they like x, you are bound to be able to find a book related to x in some way. For your children’s closest friends, sharing a book your child particularly loves is also special and for older children, provides an opportunity for them to talk about the book after the other child has read it. And, worst case scenario, if they don’t like it, books - unlike other types of presents - are very easy to regift or donate and usually don’t end up as trash. Finally, if you HAVE to go birthday party shopping (not always so fun) taking your children to the bookstore on a weekend is a lot nicer than dragging them to Toys R Us and then having to explain why they can not have another toy for themselves.

    Jesse  |  May 28th, 2010 at 10:28 am

  • This is a very good topic, I can so relate to the dilemma! I remember getting $2 or $3 play makeup sets or a jacks game from party guests when I was growing up…if they slipped me a $5 I thought I was rich! These days it seems like the bar has been raised and there is this pressure to spend $10-$15 on each kid. Once you buy a bag and a card it ends up costing even more. Some of my nieces and nephews actually request gift cards and that is a nice/easy idea, except that I feel pressured to spend more than I would on a small trinket. Now that we have children of our own I really don’t want to spend more that $5-$8 on a gift for other people’s kids! I have been trying to think of good gifts in that price range but it’s very difficult. I reuse bags and usually have my daughter make them a card instead of spending $3 on one that will just end up in the trash. And no matter what you give the child, more than likely it’s going to be played with for a week at best and then thrown aside. Books are a very good idea. I even like the idea of buying a cheap, plain tote bag and letting your child help you decorate it for them to use as a “library bag” or for sleepovers…etc. That is, if you can find the time! I have a lot of crafty ideas but usually don’t have the time to bother.

    Sara  |  May 28th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  • I usually have my kids make a handmade card for the birthday child and we usually give books, puzzles, and games for gifts.
    If I’m not sure what a child likes such as a child from my son’s class that I know nothing about, I will give him a gift card. I’d rather the child get something he likes than waste my money on something he might not like at all.

    Alicia  |  June 1st, 2010 at 11:56 am

  • We try to encourage parent friends to ask kids invited to bday parties to ask for “gently used” presents — and it seems to be working. As toys and games often outlive kids’ interest, but would still be great for other kids, it’s a great idea.

    It teaches the child that something that once brought them joy can now bring someone else joy. And teaches them to re-use.

    It only works if you’re giving the party though. So it helps if you decide in advance with a group of parents.

    Shak  |  June 1st, 2010 at 1:40 pm

  • This is always an interesting topic to discuss. I enjoy reading other people’s ideas on this subject, and this is a great article to get us thinking and bouncing ideas off of one another. Feel free to visit my site as well for more ideas!

    Sue Pierce  |  August 31st, 2010 at 3:08 am