Ask Miserly Moms
Kids' Party Gifts

by Jonni McCoy

Q Do you have any great ideas for gifts that my kids can take to their friends' birthday parties? I'm looking for things that are cheap but don't look cheap. I feel like a party-pooper because I almost cringe when my kids get invited to parties, but the gifts, cards and wrappings can really strain our budget. Also, since all 3 of my kids have summer birthdays, I would love some ideas on making their birthday parties low budget.
Sincerely, Elissa Cooper, Chandler, AZ

A When it's time for a special occasion, sometimes we throw the budget out the window. We think things like, "Oh, it's their birthday," or "But it's Christmas!" I think we try to make ourselves feel better about not being creative at times like these.

There is no harm in limiting the size or expense of a birthday party. We don't get everything that we want as adults. We shouldn't give our children the message that they can have what they want - especially if we can't afford it. That could inspire them to later use credit to meet their impulses.

So, how do we keep the gift and party madness from putting us in debt? First, I plan what we are going to spend. I list all of the people that we usually buy gifts for (birthdays and holidays) over the entire year, and the parties that we usually throw (birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, monthly church potluck, etc.). Then we decide the maximum amount that we will spend on each person for each occasion. We factor in a rough idea of how many extra parties our kids may be invited to. We then add up the year's total and divide by 12. This gives us the amount that we need to set aside each month in order to achieve those goals. If it's too much for our budget, we then scale back on certain events or gift giving, and stick to it.

I keep birthday parties as simple as possible. A homemade cake, a few close friends, and some inexpensive activities are adequate. What kids enjoy most is playing with their friends and family. If more is desired, you can add simple games such as bubble wands, charades, homemade pinata's (paper-mache around a balloon), potato rolling with a spoon, or catching water balloons. Other party ideas are to sleep in the backyard in a tent with a few buddies, or have a pizza party-where they make the pizzas. There are numerous books in the library on fun, inexpensive birthday party ideas, including cutting cakes into shapes.

If you like to give gift bags to the guests, scale those down, too. Buy colored lunch sacks and let the kids decorate them with stickers and markers. Buy bulk candy or bulk tiny toys at dollar stores.

I realize that as my kids become teens their taste will change. Sometimes teens don't want parties anymore. Some would prefer to go to the movies with some friends, or go miniature golfing. A friend of mine has two teens. She tells them the budgeted amount for the party, and lets them decide if they want a small party, or use the money to go out with a friend.

When I give a gift to another child for their party, I try not to be cheap in what I give. If I wait until the invitation arrives, I will have to run to the store and pay full price for some toy. I keep an eye out all year for great buys for kids and friends, and keep them on hand. I stock up on wrapping paper from the dollar stores.

Another creative idea is to buy the wooden baking tool set (roller pin, small board, knife) when they are on sale during the "dollar days" events at local grocery store. Buy several for future parties. When the event arrives, make some homemade scented play dough or "slime" and wrap it with the baking set. This gift costs $1.50.

Jonni McCoy is the author of "Miserly Moms-Living On One Income In A Two Income Economy" and "Frugal Families-Making The Most Of Your Hard Earned Money!" Visit the Miserly Moms Website at

The advice given in this column is based upon personal information and experience. For further information on the disclaimer, please visit this address:

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