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Ask the Readers: Frugal Birthday Party Gift Ideas

birthday presesnts in bags

Hi Kristen,

I love your blog, and comment occasionally (which is rare for me on other blogs!)
This may be less of a problem for you, because … homeschooling, but for us it’s an issue. My daughter gets invited to 20-something birthday parties for classmates a year. We end up going to many of them, and the gifts really add up quickly.

We want to be generous birthday gift-givers, but not spend an arm and a leg. Any ideas for affordable birthday gifts for kids’ friends?



nesting doll birthday gift

In 2012, someone wrote in with a similar question, and I shared my answer in a Q&A post. There were some helpful suggestions in the comments, but since it was 2012, there were fewer people around here to share ideas!

So, now seems like a good time to resurrect the topic and devote a whole ask-the-readers post to it.

You are totally right that homeschooling cuts way back on the number of birthday parties one gets invited to, so this is not an area where I have lots of expertise.

But I know the community here has a varied population, and I think my readers will come through for you.

So, dear people with experience: How much do you budget for birthday party gifts, and what types of things do you usually buy with that budget?

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Tuesday 31st of October 2017

When my girls were younger, I would hit the clearance racks after Christmas. I got bath sets, s,all toys, games ...... we kept them in the "prize closet". When a party invite arrived, they would go "shopping " for a gift to bring.


Tuesday 19th of July 2016

I asked this question originally, and love all the replies! I also hate the gift-for-a-gift mentality of goody bags.

I did just find one of my daughter's favorite summertime toys on sale at Christmas Tree Shops for less than $5 (it's the Discovery Kids Balloon Pumper, it comes with a bunch of water balloons...) and I ordered 4 of them to stockpile for upcoming parties. They're great fun, and she has had hers for 2 years and it has held up really well...


Tuesday 19th of July 2016

I'm so glad that you got so much helpful advice. My readers are awesome.


Wednesday 6th of July 2016

Reading through these comments make me very grateful that the majority of parties we go to around here (Austin,TX) explicitly state no gifts. We are more likely to attend a no gift party rather than one where a gift is expected. Up until my son's 8th party (in a couple days), we've always done either no gifts, asking for $ or items for a charity, or book exchange. We're only allowing our 8 year old to accept gifts since he only invited 3 people. We honestly skip a lot of birthday parties and prefer to stick to ones of best friends. I just hate all the expectations with parties from the gifts for the kids and party favors for the guests. We did a book swap for our youngest kiddo's 6th party, and I heard multiple kids complain that there was no goody bag. I hate the gift for a gift mentality. I want to instill that birthdays are about being with the people you love doing fun stuff rather than about what you get.


Wednesday 6th of July 2016

We have four girls (8, 6, 3, & 1yr) and follow these "guidelines": 1) We typically only go to parties where we know he family or if it is a new friend who our girls are talking about all the time. 2) We spend $10 or less on a gift and I usually pick them up at Target, Michaels, TJ Max or Hobby Lobby when on sale. (Found some great color-yourself Dori purses and craft sets for older girls at Target clearance yesterday for approximately $6 each.) 3) For very close friends we like to make certificates for fun play dates (I.e. Go to a movie together or have a special sleep over.) In some cases it may actually cost more, but paying more for a special and fun experience is something we are ok with. 4) We don't purchase special gift wrap of any sort. We reuse bags that are still in good condition and if they are plain or if we use basic paper we will use stickers and markers to decorate. Most importantly, please do not feel guilty! It is amazing how political the 4-yr-old birthday party has become. It should not cause stress to celebrate our sweet babies and if we ever feel like we "have to" go big it is usually a red flag that we have lost sight of the real focus. We still struggle with this sometimes, but our kiddos have embraced the opportunity to get creative. Not to stray off topic too much, but we have even hosted several bday parties for our own girls where we asked people to bring canned food to donate in lieu of a gift (usually after a garages sale when we can't justify bringing more items home) Thw girls still receive gifts from family and close friends regardless and it takes some pressure off the acquaintance friends to bring toys that will get played with once. :) There are so many creative and fun ways to celebrate!

Brook Hart

Wednesday 6th of July 2016

Our children are 8. 10, 12, 17, 21, and 27 . Birthday parties are a regular event around our house. I usually buy lovely gift bags for 20 cents a piece at the thrift store. We write on the enclosed hangtag and skip birthday cards. I keep a gift closet and keep a running inventory in my mind. When I run across good deals on Barbie and Nerf items , I stock up . ( The Nerf water guns after the summer clearance hits, is a great hit with the summer parties ) I also pick up Lip Smacker gift sets and other bubble bath type sets after Christmas at Walmart. I am a big fan of the annual clearance sale at Bath and Body Works. I just bought 7 sets of bath wash and lotion for 30.00. I picked up their candles for 2.50 . I buy poofy sponges at Dollar Tree and clear cellophane bags. If you tie it up with pretty ribbon its perfectly presented. I still buy for some of the children from our high school days . I never spend more than 10.00 for a gift and honestly most of mine are around 7.00. ( I also watch for new tissue paper and ribbon on clearance or at the thrift store). My best present was a box of white covered Oreos that someone gave me for Christmas. This person had remembered me saying I loved them. Thoughtful gifts don't have to be expensive.

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