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Monday Q&A | Birthday Gifts and Playing the Drugstore Game

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I am wondering . . . how do you handle it when your kids are invited to a birthday party and the giving of a gift is expected? I purchased a couple of generic gifts at after-Christmas sales but my stash is used up. We CAN afford to give gifts and I don’t mind doing so for close friends, but sometimes the invitations are to all the kids on, say, the baseball team . . . any thoughts?


I haven’t had a lot of personal experience with this, probably because we homeschool and because my kids haven’t played any organized sports. We do go to birthday parties, but they’re generally for people that we know really well.

But here are my thoughts:

I’d say that unless the invitation said something like, “No gifts necessary…just please come and enjoy the party!”, a gift ought to be given.

(The exception would be if you’re in a situation where you truly can’t afford it.)

That said, if it’s the sort of party where 40 children are invited and you don’t really know the child that well, you shouldn’t at all feel like you need to spend a ton of money on the gift. Depending on the age of the kid, a $10-$15 gift should be sufficient.

If the parent or child is upset that the 30 attendees didn’t give larger gifts, I’d be inclined to think that’s their problem, not yours, so don’t stress out over it. 🙂 Buy something small-ish and don’t sweat it.

I have a question about drugstore deals. They sound like great deals until you look closely at them — i.e., the “better than free” razor that costs $5, but you get a $5 ‘Register Reward”, meaning that you DID in fact pay $5, but will get $5 off your next purchase. This is NOT a FREE razor — it’s a chance to save on a future purchase. It seems to me to be a lot of work for a little return, and most bloggers make it seem like you are getting free merchandise when you are not. What is your take on this practice?


I’ve played the drugstore game intermittently in the past (read: when I had fewer children!), but a few years ago, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. It was too hard to haul everyone to the store, and more often than not, I found the shelves cleared of all the really great deals, and that was super frustrating. I think we should pick frugal activities that don’t drive us nuts, and playing the drugstore game was driving me nuts.

Anyway. It is true that the Register Reward/Extra Bucks type of deals require an upfront purchase. However, if you shop the drugstore deals every week, you can use last week’s register rewards to purchase this week’s deals. And assuming that each week’s deals trigger the printing of more register rewards, you can keep purchasing deals while paying very little out of pocket, except for the initial payment that first week.

Playing the drugstore game can get you a lot of merchandise for very little money, but like you said, it’s a fairly large time investment, especially if you’ve got a number of children and don’t have drugstores conveniently located near you.

Some people just love couponing and deal shopping, though, so for them, playing the drugstore game doesn’t feel that much like work.

I’d say that if drugstore deal shopping seems like a lot of work and you don’t really enjoy it, then find other ways to save money. There are lots of options out there, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to play the drugstore game just because a lot of other people are doing it.

(P.S.I wrote a post about saving money on groceries without using coupons and it might be helpful to those of you who hate couponing/deal shopping).

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Wednesday 9th of May 2012

Thanks, Kristin! I appreciate your reply and can see where you're coming from (for your family). From a frugal standpoint, it certainly makes sense! We do choose some limited team sports for our boys (soccer and baseball) as well as swimming lessons and it has worked well, but definitely to each his/her own.


Tuesday 8th of May 2012

Hi, Kristin! As always, I enjoyed this post. But my heart did give a little ache that your kids haven't done organized sports! As I'm typing this, I am thinking that you probably have well thought-out reasons for not doing this, or perhaps it's your children's choice. We are not a sports nut family by ANY stretch, but a season or two on a t-ball diamond or watching them learn the concept of a soccer game just seems like a rite of passage. Even SouleMama's kids play baseball! :)

So I guess I am wondering, why no sports?


Wednesday 9th of May 2012

I wanted to add that I'm not saying team sports don't teach things like teamwork or perseverance. I just think that a lot of the things team sports teach can be taught in other ways as well...the important thing is to teach teamwork, perseverance, and all the rest, no matter what form the teaching takes.


Wednesday 9th of May 2012

I don't have anything against organized sports, certainly, as long as they're not taken to crazy extremes.

But none of our children have had any desire to play a team sport, so we're happy to let them be active in other ways (biking, rollerblading, swimming, scootering, etc.). Also, Mr. FG's odd work schedules would have made it difficult for us to participate in team sports.

Mr. FG played lots of team sports growing up, whereas I played none, and neither of us see an appreciable difference in how we turned out. We both can follow directions, work with other people, work hard, and persevere.

What we DO think is important is being active, whether that activity is organized or not.

We plan to get them into some sort of tai kwon do or judo program this coming school year, since we think self-defense skills are something good to learn. :)


Wednesday 9th of May 2012

I agree. I think it's really important in many ways and am thankful that both my children are involved in them, but appreciate the need for a balanced lifestyle as opposed to excessive training programmes for future Olympic athletes. ;-)


Tuesday 8th of May 2012

Thanks for the gift ideas! Craft items are great for younger kids but my son is almost 9 and coloring books don't do it anymore for his friends. A suggestion I received on another site was to creatively give cash--for example, gift-wrap candy in $1 bills taped together, tape 10 $1 bills end-to-end and put them in a box with one of the bills peeking out. I think part of what I object to with birthday gifts is the thought that I just spent money on an item that may sit in the bottom of the toy box and never be used--with cash, the kids can use it on what THEY want. (same with gift cards--thanks for the idea, Lori!)

Candice Freeman

Tuesday 8th of May 2012

Here in SA I plan for between R70-R100 (that's about $8-12)... I also look out for when I'm shopping for good bargains on generic type gifts and stash away (I HATE last minute birthday gift shopping!!)...we go to sometimes 2-3 birthday parties in a week, especially during party season.. (April & May...strange that!!!) I LOVE giving board games - Candyland, Hi-Ho Cheerio, Chutes and Ladders as well as card games...Uno, Snap...Pictionary and Monopoly have also come out with "travel" card games.. Lego or Duplo or Megablocks is always a firm favourite and I also love giving books...especially from the Usborne range of books or DK educational (books on space, maps, animals etc). There are also great "How to draw..." books which are great with a stash of pencils and eraser.... we recently got some home made play-doh as a gift which is great, as my 5 year old loves play-doh (just make sure that you are good at making it...and stash in a zip seal bag...) I guess you could add some cutters and rollers but this was a 'add on' to the main pressie..... other things my kids have enjoyed receiving....mosaic, scrap-booking supplies/papers (nice for an older girl), stationary and pencil/book bags, Perla Beading (little beads you peg on a template to make up a picture and then iron to infuse), sand art kits, Melissa and Doug jumbo colouring pads and sticker pads.... hope that helps!!!!


Monday 7th of May 2012

I don't play the drug store game, it drives me nuts. There's a big chain drug store two blocks from my house. When they replaced another chain, the prices went UP. So when I need to buy something, the prices aren't very good to begin with, and saving money with their coupons requires another trip to buy more overpriced stuff to get my "discount".

I don't have the time, memory, or patience for that nonsense. I'm better off driving some short distance to another chain that has lower prices all the time, or buying those few things I would buy at a drugstore (deoderant, shampoo, and the occasional OTC remedy like bandaids or skin cream) at my grocery store when it's on sale--I stock up, since that stuff lasts a while. The once exception is greeting cards, since the drug store is the nearest greeting card carrier. I buy the least expensive ones, often no message cards I can use for any occasion (my kids make the cards for family and close friends). I don't need to buy groceries, office supplies, gifts, etc. at a drug store.

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