Kids Birthday Gifts on a Budget

With three kids under the age of eight, the number of birthday party invitations during the year can be overwhelming, not to mention expensive.  Add up the time, fuel, bridge tolls, gifts and you are looking at a your annual IRA contribution.

However, birthday parties are a part of childhood and figuring in the entertainment, food/snack, goodie bag and exhaustion factor that guarantees a nap afterwards can be a real value.   The gift-giving doesn’t have to kill your bank account and can even be part of the thrill of the hunt.  (OK, that last part may be a bit of an overstatement).

This weekend my husband and I will divide and conquer with the girls heading to one party and my son and I to another.  In an effort to keep our sanity from the anticipatory squeels on the ride to the party and sugar-bombed squawls home coupled with $4.31 per gallon gas, a little advance planning and spending limits may eliminate the need for Tylenol and a stiff drink at the end of the day.     

A Word About the Present
First and foremost, remember who the present is for.  Yes, this sounds strange but our culture of celebrities giving outrageous baby gifts there can be this sense of over-giving.  The gift isn’t a reflection on you, your tax return, personal values or coolness factor.  It isn’t to show status.  It is for the child and most are darn delighted to unwrap just about anything, especially if cake and ice cream are injected at some point during the day. 

Spending & Annoyance Limits
I have a strict spending limit of under $10.  The gift can’t be junk and hopefully isn’t laced with lead.  While not a spending limit per se, as a courtesy to parents everywhere I don’t buy gifts that require batteries, make tons of noise or take up gobs of space.  This is something my relatives do not adhere to as I have 2 large pop-up tents filled with beeping and honking toys that have overtaken rooms. 

Advanced Planning
There’s always a last-minute invitation that shows up and I’m the last one in the world to demand that everyone have a “gift closet”.  I’ve tried in the past and from time-to-time, have succeeded with such a notion.  For those of you who are unaware of this… it’s that magical closet/shelf/box that holds gifts for that anytime party you’ll need a gift for during the year.  

Given that my kids are old enough to snoop, having such a place started to require more work on my part to switch hiding places on a regular basis and I ended up forgetting where the magical stash was.  Hence, I’ve gone with a box on the top shelf of the cleaning supply closet.

I do not plan a year in advance.  On the contrary, I don’t like to have money or vast amounts of space tied up.  I do look at the invitations for the coming weeks and determine what I have that would be appropriate. 

I typically leave my kids out of the gift-selection process.  They get distracted with all of the items they would like or what would make them cool (“I want to give the best gift”) and it becomes a battle of wills and wallet.  Instead, for my oldest, I ask what her friend is interested in and go from there. 

For the little ones I may ask the parents if there is a specifc theme or area to avoid.  I have parent who won’t allow an action figure and another where Scooby Doo is the cat’s meow.  This doesn’t mean I have to buy in this realm but it helps me to know what to avoid.

I don’t make special trips out but incorporate ‘the hunt’ on my grocery store and errands loop.   No sense in adding fuel and time costs to the task.  Be sure and write down the names and ages of the upcoming birthday reveler to buy age and gender appropriate gifts.

Where to Shop
If you are lucky enough to have a Dollar Tree store in your area you can find a slew of goodies.  Your local office suppy store and drugstores have fun and inexpensive puzzles, and games.  I’m also a fan of the bargain bins at Borders,  Barnes & Noble, Joann Fabrics and Costco.  Often they have crafts and activity books for under $10.  For more name-brand toy items, T.J. Maxx has great deals as does Target.   

If you have enough advance notice and you are already making a purchase on Amazon, enjoy the free shipping and look for books, toys, games and puzzles to add.  It’s a great way to get the shopping out of the way while you are making other purchases.  Plus, you get a bit more variety.   

Favorite Kids Birthday Gifts for Under $10  
Long after the plastic has cracked, batteries have died and found their way into the recycling heap, books are long-lasting and enjoyed.  It may not be the “oh wow” factor at the party but has staying power.  My top picks are Scranimals and Blackie, The Horse Who Stood Still.

Candy Land, Sorry!, Boggle Junior Letters, Don’t Spill the Beans and Original Memory are all great gifts. Some are always under $10 while others I have to watch to go on sale.   Hisss is our all-time favorite game that takes matching and counting to a whole new level.  My 7 year-old still loves this game and we bought it for her when she was 4.  It’s a big hit with boys or girls in the under 7 crowd.  

I watch for the above items in the Target and Walgreen circulars in addition to watching on  Whenever any of the items go on sale for below $10, I place my order.

I’ve had better success for girls than with boys on this but making up bag of ribbons, flavored chapsticks, stickers, fun socks and hair doo-dads found at the drugstore and discount stores can be an original and fun.

Wrapping It Up
I’ve been caught on the steep end of the wrap costing more than the gift.  Avoid this at all costs.  If you have white paper or brown paper bags, wrap up the item and let your kids color the heck out of it. 

A note on gift-giving for your own kids…
My husband actually had a great idea for our son’s 5th birthday.  He was ready for a bike with training wheels and the Toys R Us special couldn’t get us below $50.  Knowing that he would outgrow the bike in short order, we looked on Craigslist for a clean, used bike.  Voila!  He never knew the difference.  It didn’t have a scratch on it and for $20 was a bargain for us and likely kept it out of the landfill.

I’m not suggesting you should by used items to give to other kids, but depending on the item and its condition I would keep it as a possibility.