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The Birthday Gift Dilemma: How Much Do You Spend and More Questions Answered

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Although we all know it is impossible that everyone has babies in October and April, why does it always seem that we are suddenly swamped with birthday parties then? There is festivity in the air now with the leaves changing colors, Halloween celebrations at school and more birthday cupcakes and sugar rushes than any of us would ever wish on a teacher.

With that slew of birthdays comes the tricky navigation of birthday gifts: how much to spend, what girls like at that age if you are a parent of boys, is his mom going to shun me if I get her son a toy gun, a drum or a video game?

Those are the easy questions. Go with your gut. Don’t overspend.

These days, the tough ones are:
• When the invitation says no gifts, what do you do?
• When the invitation says, “Johnnie would prefer a donation to his favorite charity,” what should you do?
• Are gift cards tacky?

Now, before I launch into my opinions here, you should know I am heavily biased toward letting our kids enjoy the experience of giving and receiving gifts from their friends. One day of ridiculous abundance a year is not going to spoil them, and as a 46 year old whose interest in birthdays is rapidly waning, why not let them enjoy birthdays to the extreme while they have yet to imagine a wrinkle or hip surgery?

Also, my kids love to give their friends gifts they know will make them happy. What’s better than a huge grin or a “this is awesome” when a friend opens the present you picked out?

Plus, an added benefit of gift giving is learning to write thank you notes. A lost art and quite lovely.

With that said, here we go.

When the invitation says no gifts, what do you do?
The dilemma here is especially challenging if you are new to this particular social circle, because you do not know if the good friends will sneak a gift in despite the admonition not to. Then you feel bad that you didn’t grasp the club rules. Depending on the situation and how well I know the family, I either follow their request or I get the child a book that I think is especially wonderful. It’s just a book, right? No parent will be upset with you for giving that.

When the invitation says, “Betty would prefer a donation to her favorite charity,” what do you do?
I am a cynic, and as a cynic, I believe that only the rare child came up with that one on their own. I involve my kids with philanthropy based on our family values and interests, and sadly, I often forget to make the party birthday donation anyway. I almost want to rebel against this one on behalf of the birthday girl and get her something ridiculous. But…. that will definitely be frowned upon. So I usually get Betty a really special book about the concept of giving or philanthropy or reaching out to others in need. It’s just a book, right?

Is a gift card tacky?
I tend to be anti-gift card, but I have to say, my kids are so excited to receive an iTunes, Target or Game Stop card that I am bending a little on this one. Yes, I think it’s tacky. Yes, I just purchased my first one for a birthday party next weekend. I know this family is pro-gift card, so I am confident it will not be frowned upon. For families I do not know as well, I would forego the gift card for a more traditional gift.

While writing this article, I know that there are many parents who disagree with me. Even my closest friends will shake their heads, having suffered the book gift when they specifically requested no gifts.

So I am hoping that Mile High Mamas readers offer their more graceful approaches to the birthday gift dilemmas we face today with this always-strange, delightfully festive October- November flood of birthdays now upon us.

Jennifer Kelly is a freelance writer and mother of three boys. In 2010, she founded Penny Jar Kids, which creates Global Giving Kits to engage children in philanthropy while learning about the cultures they choose to support. She also writes jennswondering, a blog that focuses on the challenges of parenting and teaching.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson October 23, 2013

    Great discussion topic! I generally try to cap our gift-spending to $20 (and a bit more for close friends). I’ve never given gift cards, nor had a child suggest a donation to a favorite charity. However at my son’s last birthday party he had several friends just give him cash in an envelope. It’s not something I would have ever thought to do and I thought it a bit strange. Though he’s only 7, he LOVED it and was able to put away some in savings and spend the rest.

  • comment avatar Ashley October 24, 2013

    Our kids have a lot of friends. We can’t afford to spend a lot of money on them. The most we can afford is $10. If there is a specific party theme or item the child really loves we try to get something that correlates. Summer birthdays are the easiest because we can usually build a theme basket around the gift more easily. For a pool party we get a big bucket and fill it with fun pool toys (sinking rockets, water helicopters, beach ball, goggles, etc.).

  • comment avatar Ashley October 24, 2013

    For our own kids, we typically stick to the following poem: one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they wear, one thing they read. We might buy one or two extra gifts, and take them somewhere special/throw a party, but we always stick to that rule. It’s no-holds-barred for Christmas, though.

  • comment avatar Franca October 24, 2013

    Simple answer, $25-$30 for my close friends and family. $10-$15 for acquaintances. And I usually don’t buy anything that I wouldn’t buy for my kids.

  • comment avatar Ashley October 24, 2013

    Oh, off-limits: I don’t buy anything I don’t want my kids to have. Small parts and things that make noise/need batteries make me insane. I don’t buy clothes unless they’re dress-up clothes. I won’t buy make-up. I don’t buy guns because I don’t know how other parents feel about them. I prefer to get books when I can.

  • comment avatar Amy October 24, 2013

    I’ve been spending around $20 for friends, but I’m sure that my price limit will decrease as my daughter goes to more parties.

  • comment avatar EvergreenPulse October 24, 2013

    That’s a great question. 25 is my limit.

  • comment avatar jackie January 17, 2015

    How much h would you give a sister on her surprise 80 th birthday party

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