Don't let your child's birthday invites bust your budget

Fun, Affordable Kid's Birthday Gifts

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Kid's Birthday Gift Ideas

I need to know what other parents do about birthday party gifts for other children. We have been giving our daughter five dollars to put in a computer created card but it really doesn't measure up to what the other children are giving. What do we do? We really need the help.

Rave Results!

We have done all of the following over the last 5 years or so with raves and very positive results.

For children under 5:

  • Tub toys (can often be found at garage sales in "like new" condition)
  • Sand toys (cheap at the Dollar Store)
  • Board books

For children 4-10:

  • Selection of coloring and puzzle books, new crayons and markers
  • Art set - I buy an inexpensive carry-all with a handle for $1-3 at WalMart or the Dollar Store. I fill the carry-all with child's crayons, markers, water colors, scissors, glue sticks, Elmer's glue, a small pad, pack of pencils and erasers, small pencil sharpener. Usually, all of this can be had for between $5-10 including the carry-all.
  • Children's classic story books (paperbacks sometimes at WalMart for $.50-1.50 and hardcover for $2-4/each)
  • Craft kits - For girls, I use several fabric remnants, scissors, 2-3 spools of thread, pack of needles and pins, pincushion and maybe a simple pattern or two. For boys, I use wood scraps, nails, small hammer, sandpaper OR simple stuff to make kites (plywood strips, thin fabric or paper, glue, tail stuff, string).

For older children:

  • For girls, a selection of bath products, soaps, shampoos, scrubby, nail clippers, clear polish, nail file, etc.
  • For boys, pocketknife (with parent's approval of course), book and some supplies for woodworking projects, carving , making simple bird house, feeder, etc.

The main thing I do is to shop all the time, buy and store stuff for the most likely children my children will attend parties for. I can buy on sale, at the Dollar Store when the merchandise is a great deal or even at garage sales or consignment shops. I've gotten like new wooden puzzles, books, craft supplies, games, etc this way.

One last idea is to give tote bags. I buy canvas ones at craft stores on sale. I then use fusible web to fuse fabric cut outs on them. The raw edges I cover with fabric paint. I have made these for girls of all ages and boys up to about 8-9 and they are well-received and used often!
Loren in GA

Craft Ideas

I think a great idea would be to offer some buttons, bits of yarns and ribbons, pretty papers, etc, and have a craft sessions, where each child can make their own magnet (magnet sheets are very inexpensive). They will walk out with something they are proud of, and you will continue to save.
Heather M. C.

She Uses Avon Sale Books

My best plan has been to get friendly with the AVON lady and ask for the sale books. Many AVON ladies don't give these out because often by the time the order goes in, the product is no longer available. But if you already know that, it's worth the wait--I got the $29.99 flashlight radios for about $7.50 (mainly given by my boys to friends), the $19.99 clocks for $3.75 for my girls to give, and the $9.99 double-decks of cards for $2.99, I believe. The trial size hand creams and lip balms go on sale as well as nail polish, purses, perfumes, and facial items for older girls. The trick is to watch the price go down, buy 3-5 and have them on hand for the next invitation!
Cyndi K in Sierra Village, California, USA

Stickers...and Stuff!

Depending on the age of kids, most kids love stickers of all kinds which are inexpensive and they are thrilled to get. At the bible bookstore you can also find kids songs on CD and you can find CDs for around 4-5 dollars. It is their own music and so they generally like that idea.

Kids also like different colored shoelaces (mostly for girls) practical and inexpensive. Many times you can find sets that come with beads they can also put on their shoes.

You said most kids don't like homemade things so I don't know what you have tried. But recently I have made jewelry pins out of old buttons, broken jeery, scraps of lace and fabric and they come out looking like a store bought piece of jewelry. You can make earrings, pins, and necklaces very inexpensive and they don't look it.

Also if you sew you can make hair bows and scrunchies out of your old pieces of material and scraps for next to nothing.

You could buy squirt bottles for the kids, sidewalk chalk, sniffy markers that have fruit smells, etc.

I personally try to shop sales when toys-R-us has their clearance merchandise and they are changing their inventory and generally get some neat things at a fraction of the cost. Then I have things on hand and don't have to run out and spend extra money on a gift because I feel pressured on time. Generally actually buying a gift hides the cost of what you spend. You can still spend $5 but it doesn't look like it and no one really knows what you spend.

For boys you can buy some neat polished rocks fairly cheap and they look expensive and it is something they can collect. Also collector baseball cards/football cards are usually liked depending on the kid and are usually sold with gum.

Decorated cookies that look neat are also a good treat. Kids generally always like sweets.

The Always Ready Box

For kids party presents, I keep a box filled with all sorts of things, gifts that weren't suitable for us, as well as things found on sale. (I got puzzles last week for $1 at a toy store on clearance-bought 3 for the box and $2 piggy banks at the stationary store) Then there are always presents on hand for gifts. Things bought on a schedule (as in "have to get something for Jane for tomorrow) will always cost more. This way a nice present would be a puzzle and pack of stationary, but still only cost $3.

Plan Kid's Birthday Gifts Ahead of Time

2 ideas for Kid's Gifts:

  1. Buy gifts in advance when on sale. I try to figure out who I will need to buy for and buy sale items after Christmas. One sale item I found was originally priced $17.97 marked down to $5.
  2. When a gift is needed that I didn't plan for, I try to buy consumable gifts (age related) like fancy pens/markers and notebook/diary. At least I will not clutter up the toy box and it is still in my budget.


Related: Fun, Inexpensive Gift Wrap

Movie Tickets

This is for the lady looking for a last minute gift for kids birthday parties. I've been purchasing movie tickets at a discount through AAA or my place of employment. I usually include two with a bag of microwave popcorn! The kids love it and it costs less than $10.

Art Supplies

A good gift idea that is inexpensive is art supplies. Almost all kids enjoy crayons, markers, stickers, colored pencils, special papers (tracing, poster board), and special scissors. Keep an eye out for bargains at discount stores, supermarkets, and dollar stores. Gather a bunch together in a bag for party time.
A.B. in Okeechobee, FL

Books for Little Ones

This idea would work for most ages. (My daughter is 4; this is certainly appropriate for at least the 1-6 year olds). At my daughter's pre-school I have the opportunity every month to buy "firefly" books, (the pre-school division of scholastic). I love buying them partly because I love books. My daughter's school also benefits, (they get free books when students order). And they are very inexpensive. Some cost as little at 95 cents. The most expensive ones are about $5.00 and that's not the norm. So, I almost always buy something, and not always for someone in particular. I always have a pile of books on hand to give as gifts. You can give 2 or 3 for well under $10.00. Most of the books are paperback, but it still makes a nice gift, I think. And it certainly reflects more appropriate values than mass produced toys. (In my opinion, anyway).

One other idea is something called "Wicky Stix." One package costs $5 or $6. They are appropriate, i would say, for ages 3-9. They are like pipe cleaners, but the texture is like wax. They can be molded, bent, shaped, into anything. They are a great indoor, quiet activity, great for restaurants, car rides, waiting rooms. There is absolutely no mess, can be stored in a zip-lock bag, can be used anywhere. You can't find them in Toy R Us type stores. I have only found them in teacher supply stores and better toy stores, (Noodle Kidoodle or Zany Brainy chains or one-of-a-kind stores).

Hope these ideas help. I also hate giving another toy that's going to end up getting tossed aside. (Another thing I often do is ask the kid's parent if there is something the child really wants, so if you do end up with a mass-produced toy, at least it's something he/she wants and not something he/she has).

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Kid's Birthday Gifts for $5

We buy non-specific gender presents or parts of gifts i.e. soaps,gourmet mustards etc.(to be used in "new wicker baskets" picked up at yard sales) I keep a birthday box and do my birthday cards on the computer so I rarely have to buy anything or rush around . Typically the cost runs around $5.00. I have even picked a theme for a child's basket and made it up of smaller toys but in the basket with perhaps some candy it looks like so much more. Anyway necessity is the mother of invention, so have fun with it and remember its the thought that counts and get your kids involved with it and they will enjoy giving the present more.

Unique Activity Ideas

I'm not a parent, but when I was a kid, we always gave art supplies as gifts. I don't mean just crayons and markers but slightly more unique stuff like sidewalk chalk, big rolls of paper, water colors, homemade rubber stamps, "how to draw" books calligraphy instructions, pen, and paper or origami instructions and colored paper. There are numerous benefits to this. First, most other kids won't know how much this costs anyway. Second, it encourages creativity and productivity. Finally, you can pretty much bet no one else will give the same gift and even if someone does, it get's used up and they'll need more. Hope this helps!

Books Do the Trick!

Boy, do I ever agree with you! My kids' rooms are filled with junk they don't want to get rid of, and the source of a lot of it is birthday parties. I have always wondered why we didn't have this problem when I was a child in the 50s. I also feel embarrassed when someone brings my children obviously expensive birthday presents, like a video. For a long time I kept children's birthday gifts to $8. I feel like I have had to gradually go up, partially because my older child's friends want things like CDs or sets of sports cards (11-yr old). However, he does get invited to fewer parties - at this age, they seem to do parties at expensive places that limit the number of participants, so the kids only invite their really good friends. I do try to keep it to $12 or $15 at most.

I do a bit better with my 8-year-old. One thing that is really popular with this age is American Girls. AG paperback books are $5.95, and many bookstores offer a discount. One thing I think is a really good play value is the AG paper dolls at $5.98 - book stores again, and they spend a lot of time cutting them out. Actually, I like to give books in general. I feel better about giving them than a piece of disposable plastic junk.

However, I would not be surprised if the kids really liked your current idea. My 8-yr old really has little idea of the value of things and she loves to receive money she can spend on whatever she likes. Now, I will admit one of her friends gave her $15 for her last birthday - but I'm not all that sure she would notice the difference in that and $5, and I really don't think at THIS age she would know the difference between $5 and the presents she received.

A Child Learns to Give

When I was a "starving" single parent/full time student, my 5-year old was invited to his little friend's birthday party and we had NOTHING to take. My son gathered up a boxful of his little toy cars -- some of them dirty, worn out and beat up. I was mortified, but allowed him to put a ribbon on it and take to the party, because it was a gift from his heart and a sacrifice of his own stuff. The birthday boy opened all those expensive, flashy toys from all the other kids and I was getting more embarrassed and humiliated by the moment. Then he finally opened my son's gift. His eyes lit up and he smiled ear-to-ear and hugged the box of cars to himself and immediately started playing with them, ignoring all those other new things. It brought tears to my eyes.

Since then we have not been so poor, and my children have had an allowance to take to the "Dollar Store" or discount store and buy something for their friends. But these gifts are usually junk, and don't have that much of an impact on the recipient. I have decided to start encouraging/helping them to MAKE gifts for their friends. I have recently read some good ideas for inexpensive, hand-made toys for smaller kids in Dollar Stretcher. My son is now 13 and enjoys arts and crafts. I'm going to help him make a small, padded photo album, start it with a snapshot or two of times he's spent with the "birthday" friend, and have some blank pages for the friend to add his own photos to the album later. I'm not sure how these ideas will go over, but they're worth a try! If nothing else, making them can be good, quality time together with my kids. The only caveat: you must plan ahead for these birthdays.
Norma L

Non-Toy Gifts

One idea for birthday gifts is to go to a non-toy store (Toys R Not Us?). If the kid is old enough, real tools can be good and s/he probably doesn't already have them. A tape measure. A flashlight. A good screwdriver or pliers--maybe vice-grip pliers.
Bonita K

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A Whole Bunch of Ideas for Kid's Birthday Gifts

Here are our favorite inexpensive birthday gifts for children in elementary school:

  • A plastic mug filled with miniature candies, nuts, cookies, crackers, etc. Tie it up in a clear cellophane wrap with curling ribbon and attach a fancy pencil or pen. Mugs are easily found at dollar stores or sometimes garage sales. Pre-teens like this gift, too.
  • A small sticker collector book and some new stickers (try Wal-Mart or K-Mart stationery section)
  • One doll outfit or toy car wrapped in a homemade card
  • Hobby accessories such paints and brushes for a budding artist, balls or sports socks for the junior athlete
  • New markers, crayons, water paints with a coloring book or pad of paper (the stamp markers are a big hit right now)
  • A giant homemade chocolate chip cookie with the child's name on it
  • If the child has a computer at home, a simple drawing or art program (check the closeout bins at large computer stores)
  • For younger children, a book and tape set
  • Of course, we re-use all the gift bags we receive our presents in so there's no cost for wrapping paper, just tissue paper to stuff inside which is cheap.
  • A good source of simple gifts (you buy them in quantity) is Oriental Trading Company. They do have some plastic junk but we have found some nice things, too.
  • One final thought, If you have to buy a "trendy" present, check in your area for a consignment store for used toys. I found a Barbie, still in the box, for HALF the toy store price. No one knew except me.


Something Different

I thought of a few ideas for birthday gifts.

  • Beads. Kids love to string beads and make jewelry. They are quite inexpensive, especially if you can find them on sale at a craft store.
  • Gift certificates for movie rentals, or passes to the movies.
  • Gift certificates to your favorite fast food place.
  • Hair ribbons, bows and scrunchies. These are easy to make with scrap cloth.
  • Jewelry. You can buy it fairly inexpensively at discount chains or make a necklace yourself with ribbon (or chain) and charms bought at craft stores. Pierced earrings (if the child's ears are pierced) can be an economical option too.


Handmade Items

Hi there! Don't be too quick to dismiss handmade of my daughter's most memorable gifts was a little chalkboard a friend's mother had "personalized" with cute decorations and Ginny's name at the top. She told me later that the whole thing had cost her less than $3, and that included the chalk! Ginny is now 18, and still uses her chalkboard as a message center in her room. She's even planning to take it with her to college.

My son, Robbie, also received a wonderful handmade gift as a child - another friend's mother knew of his passion for photographs and decorated a book to keep his snapshots organized. She kept it cute without it being too obviously "young" and he uses it still today - he's 24 and married!
M. Stella

Stocking a Gift Closet

TO the reader concerned about birthday gifts..... I am not sure of the age of kids involved, but there are some things that I have found helpful over the years. I have always(even now when our youngest just graduated from university) had a "gift closet." As you shop throughout the year, there are always things that have been reduced greatly, some as much as 75% or so. There is a lot of junk, but also some neat things and I always snapped these things up and spirited them away. With 2 boys and 2 girls of varying ages, I could acquire a broad scope of things. I also like to find neat little things to use as little thank yous or remembrances for friends of my husband's and mine as well. Our children loved to check out this closet when an invitation came and very seldom were disappointed .

Books are always a great gift for any age. It is possible to get a paperback for a reasonable price. I remember being invited to a neighborhood coffee session just before our first child was born. The women were discussing what they were buying for their children for Christmas. No one was mentioning books and I made comment about it to one mother who was seemingly having trouble finding a gift. When I suggested that she might buy a book, she informed me that little Johnny didn't like to read. If there are no books around, it is not surprising. Sorry to have gotten off the track.

Any children of my acquaintance always like paper of different sorts. The many fantastic Fiskar scissors of approximately 20 different cutting edges are often discounted at about $4. A pair of those and some colored paper would be a great gift, in my book. I have probably rambled on long enough. Hope that some of these ideas are useful.

This Is Different!

My favorite birthday party gift ideas do not come from the toy section. Several times, my little girl has given a roll of sugar cookie dough (bought on sale), along with a couple of cookie cutters, and a rolling pin made from a 10 inch section of a 1 1/2 in. dowel. With the warmer weather, she gave a friend a gardening kit with a couple of small pots filled with potting soil, some seeds, and a plastic watering can. Another favorite was a jewelry making kit with several colors of beads, and some thong on which to string them. Children also like a special box with new crayons, markers, special scissors, etc. in them. These gifts have always been a hit with both mothers and children, and the appeal lasts much longer than the average life of a birthday gift. The children are happy with a fun project, and the mom's are happy with something other than more toys to pick up. Just venture out of the toy section, and you will find many other creative ideas.
Julie T

Closeouts, etc

I have found a solution to the birthday gift dilemma. I buy inexpensive gifts as I find them, and store them in a box. I buy closeout books, mail order, that are very, very nice ($20-$30 books for $3 and $4) and I buy toys and purses, videos, etc. as I find them. To decide what is worth buying as a gift for one of my children's friends, (I have 5 kids) I first determine if it would be fun for my own child to receive, and then I think about how many friends that particular child has, and how many birthdays could be coming up within the next few months. It really has helped, and saves me a lot. I also try not to worry about what other kids are giving. Someone needs to bring a little perspective to the materialism in our culture!

A Basket Full of Fun

Why not get a basket or other fun container, maybe a pail for kids and fill it with fun, cheap stuff. For instance, silly putty, a water gun, that slime stuff you spray at people, a deck of cards, etc... If you have a dollar store near by, just wander around, they have tons of cheap, tacky stuff that kids would find fun. You can put easter grass or something else on the bottom of the pail or basket so it looks more full than it is. With boys you can add some of those little cars and girls throw in some nail polish. Just finish off with some candy or a pez dispenser and you have a fun gift. If you find some fun small things that most kids think are neat, pick up a bunch so that at any time you have a supply of items to mix and match for a birthday.

Why not next time your kid has a birthday party, tell the other parents to please limit how much they spend to $5? It is important for you to set an example so that it doesn't look like you are giving cheap gifts and expecting expensive ones for your own kids.

Also, sometimes it is in the attitude too. If your kids act embarrassed about the gift, the other kids will pick that up.

I hope this is helpful. On a personal note, my husband and I limit all of our gifts to each other (Christmas, birthdays, valentines day, etc) to $10. This forces us to be creative and thoughtful and not create a "who can spend more money" contest. My husband even suggested after last Christmas that we wait and exchange our Christmas presents in January so that we can take advantage of the after Christmas sales. He has come a long way!

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Remainder Bin Hardback Books

My favorite cheap-that-doesn't-look-cheap gift is a really nice children's hardback book (or two) from the remainder bin at the nearby Borders bookshop. I've seen remainder bins with children's books at Walden and B. Dalton also, but Borders' is definitely the best. I have picked up boxed sets of 4 books for $3.98 (mini-hardbacks), book & cassette tape combinations for $1.98, and any number of gorgeous color-illustrated hardbacks for under $3. I will often buy two (for a really special friend), which looks like a really extravagant gift (a large hardback plus a paperback/cassette set) and spend less than $6.

We also have a couple of surplus/discount stores (MacFrugal's and Bud's Warehouse) which have some great toy bargains mixed in with the junk. The selection varies widely from week to week so I stock up on really good buys ... I've bought buckets of Duplo for $4 that started out at over $20, Disney soundtrack CD's for $1 - I could go on all day. The trick is to buy several of these when you see them so that you have them in a closet all ready to wrap for that no-notice party. Right now in my closet I have two junior scientist kits (on seashells and rocks/minerals) that cost me $1 each, two gorgeously illustrated children's books ($1.95 each), a doll with several changes of clothes ($3), still in their original packaging and all set for the next party one of my kids gets invited to.

And don't forget to stock up on cheap birthday cards and wrapping paper, too (or make your own)!

Invitation for a Play Date

How about an invitation for a play date? If you are already planning to take your child to the park for a picnic or to the zoo, etc., invite the birthday child to come along. His/her parents will love you for giving them some free time! To make it more special for the birthday child, you could bake cupcakes to celebrate their birthday AGAIN! Maybe other parents will take your cue, and you'll get some free time too!
Debra B. in Montgomery, AL

Reviewed February 2018

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