Inexpensive children's gift ideas

Too Many Presents

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Looking for Inexpensive Gift Ideas for Children

I was wondering if your readers can help with my problem. I buy birthday and Christmas presents for my friends' children. When they each had their first child, it was fine on my budget to buy the presents for both birthdays and Christmas. Now they are on their second kids, and I have new additions coming into my immediate family, not to mention my own 3-year-old. I can no longer afford to buy presents for all my friends' kids. How do I approach the subject with my friends without hurting feelings, or how do I budget for the presents? I did pretty well last year, spending under $12 for each child, but with the new babies coming, I can't afford it this year.
Carrie M.

Combine Creativity and a Little Time

Last year for my son's birthday, my good friend made a coupon book for him to redeem several things he loves to do. One was for a movie night at her house and one was for a trip to the local park (without his sisters). This was a great non-clutter, inexpensive gift idea that he still talks about. Be creative and think of things you could do with the kids that would only cost you a little of your time.

Break During a Busy Season

This last year for Christmas, my friends and I decided that our kids got way more presents than they needed from family, Santa, etc. and that we didn't need the extra stress and expense of buying presents for each other's kids. We planned a "Happy Birthday Jesus" party and had the kids each bring one gift for a needy family that we had chosen from our community. The kids had cake and ice cream, made a craft at the party, and then just played with each other for over an hour. They had a great time just being together during that busy season. They never missed opening gifts from each other!

Give Children a Once-a-Year Extravaganza

Once a year, try gathering all the kids at the park in the summer to celebrate all the birthdays together. Have a potluck and bring a homemade cake. Pick inexpensive toys for a grab bag and let each child pick one item out of the bag. Play games, have water balloon fights, etc. The emphasis should be on having fun together and not on presents.

Give Gifts to Family Instead of Children

Start giving a small gift to the family instead of each child in the family. Giving a plate of home-baked cookies on a nice, inexpensive little tray is a nice idea. They may enjoy a game for the entire family. Or give a homemade or store bought ornament with the year on it for their family Christmas tree.

For their birthdays, give a coupon for ice cream or a trip with you to the ice cream stand. Be honest with your friends. I am sure they will understand and probably relieved themselves to hear the suggestion because they might be struggling with the same situation.

Save the Day with Mickey D

A great way to cut down on the cost of kid's gifts is to give McDonalds certificates. Sometimes you can buy a book of 10 "Free Fries" certificates for $5 or less. I know my boys always feel special to receive something "free" and they enjoy handling the transaction themselves.
Dena in California

Honesty is Always Best

If your friends also buy presents for your children and others, they may be in the same predicament as you. The best thing to do is to be honest. My suggestion is to write each one a note saying that because of the economy and the expanding size of everyone's family, you will be unable to participate in a gift exchange in the future. Then thank them for understanding and say you hope a lovely card will remind them of how much you are thinking of them on their special day.

I am sure the other parents are going to be heaving big sighs of relief that someone has finally done something!

Wean Yourself from Expectations

I feel your pain. I can see how you would stress about what your friends might think about you not giving them presents at Christmas and birthdays since you have been doing it for quite awhile. Fortunately, I never got into that habit so it's not expected of me! Do your friends invite you to their children's birthday parties? If not, then I would just "forget" the present and maybe do a card with two or three dollars in it. Kids love getting money as a gift and three dollars seems like $100 to them. Then later you can forget the card all together. Wean yourself and them from expectations.

Gift Idea for Children: Theme Gift Baskets

Instead of trying to give individual gifts that seem substantial enough without breaking the budget, I give family gifts. Think "theme gift basket." It can be as big or small as you want. Put everything in a basket, box or other appropriate container and add a card with the theme title. Here are some ideas, but once you start brainstorming, you won't be able to stop!

Movie Night - Include a family video or DVD, microwave popcorn, large plastic drink cups for the popcorn, cans of soda or packages of drink boxes, and a box of tissues if it's a tear-jerker.

Winter Fun - You may want to include a snowman kit (hat, scarf, carrot, buttons or coal for eyes and mouth), hot chocolate mix, mugs from the dollar store, peppermint sticks to swizzle in the hot chocolate, microwave popcorn or cookie mix, holiday paper napkins, and a jigsaw puzzle.

Cooking - Include a kid's cookbook, dry ingredients for one of the recipes, pertinent utensils such as cookie cutters, a wire whip and wooden spoons, and aprons for the kids from a craft store that you can paint cookie shapes onto with fabric paint. For the finishing touch, put everything into a mixing bowl.

Sundae Party - You may want to include ice cream bowls, scoop, toppings, sprinkles, a gift certificate for a half gallon of ice cream from your local ice cream shop, vinyl table cloth, and decorative paper napkins.

Story Time - Include children's story books, a small stuffed animal for each child, a small blanket for each child, and flashlight for each family member. Ask your local school if any of the teachers participate in book clubs and order from the pamphlets at reduced prices. They will be glad for the business because they get credit to use towards books for the classroom or keep your eyes open for bargain books at local bookstores.

Stop the Madness!

There are two things you can do.

  1. Stop! You are not obligated to purchase for anyone, especially if it is out of your budget. But if it is still in your heart to do it, a nice card with $2 to $5 depending on age will suffice and cut your budget in half and the kids will love it.
  2. Start a gift trunk. Whenever you shop in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, or in the mall, keep your eyes open for children's toys on sale. You will find cool toys and games for under $5 if you buy them this way, and when present giving time comes, just go into your trunk for the most appropriate toy for this child. You can cut your budget this way and even have toys left over to donate at holiday time.
Andrea H.
Lawrenceville GA

Shop party supplies and decorations at The Oriental Trading Company!

Don't Forget the Dollar Store

I recently lost my job. I have become the queen of cheap. One thing I realized early on is that dollar stores are great! It's amazing what you can find! Give them a try. Look for well-made, attractive toys or other gifts. Take your time and really look, and you may find gifts that are just as enjoyable, for nearly nothing! It's like a treasure hunt!
Mary T.
Janesville, WI

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