A creative gift for a tween birthday

The Tween Shoebox Birthday Gift

by Alicia Z. Klepeis


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With the start of the school year comes the gift-giving season, or so it seems. Just when you think your budget cannot be stretched any tighter, it arrives in Jimmy's backpack: the first of this year's birthday party invitations. Now there will always be the parents who believe that unless the gift is expensive and wrapped in store-bought wrapping paper with a store-bought card, there has been a crime committed. Luckily, there are the rest of us who know better than that.

Where do you start? My idea for the birthday in a shoebox came out of necessity when my tween daughter wanted just the right, cool-enough gift for a friend of hers. Had it been her best friend, she would have been happy to decorate a pillowcase with fabric markers, fill a Mason jar with penny candy, or even make stationery. However, in this case, there was a clear "keep up with the Joneses" feeling in the air.

I asked my daughter what her friend was interested in. When American Girl® and iTunes® cards were mentioned, I knew it was time to take action. Since school had just started, I still had several sized shoeboxes on hand. "What kinds of things," I asked, "could you fit in this box for Katie? Jot down any ideas you can think of." Upon reflection, the list included the following:

  • art supplies
  • nail polish
  • shower gel
  • ponytail holders/clips
  • notebook
  • lip balm
  • window decals
  • gum/candy
  • jewelry
  • candles
  • DVD
  • cards/paper
  • stickers
  • bubble bath
  • hot cocoa packets
  • magnets

Because we keep a gift box in my closet, we always start "shopping" at home. When there are sales on markers or crayons, I grab a couple of packs. Hair accessories? Ditto. My daughter took a couple of items and placed them in the shoebox. Not too bad for an inexpensive start.

I soon found out that Katie loves chewing gum. After digging through my coupon file and scanning the sale prices at our local drugstore, we had a few different fun flavors of gum to add to the box. And Wegman's, the big grocery store in our area, has an international food section. Nothing thrills a kid (or an adult) more than getting some candy, chips, or a bottle of soda from another country. $1.29 might buy a candy bar from Britain or a strawberry soda from Latin America.

To my surprise, my daughter got into the spirit of the hunt. She scored a coupon for some nice-smelling body wash and found a three-pack of lip balms on sale. Before we'd spent much money at all, the shoebox was full, wrapped in aluminum foil with crazy colored ribbons we'd saved, and a $.50 birthday card from a dollar store to finish things off. (Well, that was my concession to pleasing a tween-aged girl.)

How did the birthday shoebox work out? It was a big hit and Katie loved it. Whew… mission accomplished. If you are shopping for another age group, the same idea can apply. All you do is vary the contents a little. You might want to include bath toys, sidewalk chalk, Matchbox® cars, etc. You're only limited by your imagination…and the size of the shoebox. Know anyone who has a baby with size 3 feet?

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