National Bank of Mom Celebrating Birthdays

Celebrating Birthdays Without All the Presents

J will be 9 in a few months (!) and we’re having a swimming birthday party at the Y. For his last party, we went mini golfing with his friends, and we came home with more presents than we knew what to do with.

This time around, we’re going to scale down a bit, starting with presents.

Problems with (so many) Presents

I have a few issues with presents.

  • The amount of STUFF. When hosting a party, you get a ton of presents. Hauling all that stuff home, storing it, maybe getting to play with some of it. We definitely don’t need so much stuff.
  • Along with so much STUFF comes the unspoken expectation that parties and celebrations = STUFF, when really, parties and celebrations (should) mean spending time with family and friends and having fun.
  • The cost of STUFF. Buying a present for every party that we attend can really add up. J has attended six parties in the last six months. Let’s say we spent $25 on each present — that’s $150. In six months. $25 per month. Not a small amount. You may also care about how your gift measures up to other gifts, so you might find yourself spending even more so that you don’t look like a cheapskate.

Gift Alternatives

So what can you do instead? Here are a few things you can try.

  1. Ask that your guests not bring a present. You could phrase this as “Please, no gifts. Your presence is the present.” The drawback is that some guests will still feel obligated to bring a present. If you’re attending a party and don’t bring a present, you may feel bad if other guests do bring something.
  2. Ask for a present that will be donated to charity. The kids will still get to hang out with their friends and have fun while giving to those in need. (A friend of mine tried this last year. They asked for gifts that would be donated to underprivileged families with special needs children. He said it didn’t work out too well. Some people brought multiple presents (one for charity and one for the birthday girls) and some were confused on exactly what to bring.)
  3. Ask people to donate to a suggested charity on their own. They may or may not, which is fine, but they may also still come to the party with a present because they don’t want to come empty-handed.
  4. Have a gift exchange. Ask each guest to bring a gender-neutral gift (if a co-ed party) or a book or favorite movie. At the end of the party, exchange items and each guest will get to take something home. You could ask for gifts wrapped (for the fun of opening something) or unwrapped (so that you know what you’re getting).
  5. Don’t mention that the party is for a birthday. People may feel less obligated to bring something if it’s just a general get-together.
  6. Limit the number of kids invited. This in turn limits the number of presents that you may receive.
  7. Ask people to bring a party snack instead of a gift. People might be happy to bring something, and a snack may be cheaper than a full-on gift. Plus it’s useful!
  8. Have a Toonie party. This is my absolute favorite idea of all, however I can’t really see this translating well in the US. Let me explain. A toonie is a $2 Canadian coin. Each guest brings two of these. One goes to the birthday child and one goes to charity. If 20 kids attend, the birthday child would receive $40 ($2 * 20) and the same amount would go to charity. This teaches kids that a celebration doesn’t mean loads and loads of presents (however the birthday kid still gets a little something — to save or spend!) and people still get to bring something without breaking the bank.
  9. Or you could just not say anything and let people bring what they want to bring. We’ve all heard the old adage that it’s impolite to mention presents.

Here’s a great thread from reddit with a lot of ideas.

We’re going to try #2 at our upcoming party. J has decided he wants to ask people to not bring a gift for him, but if they want to, they can bring something small for a local animal shelter. I will match anything he wants to donate from his giving money, and we will take our donations to the shelter. (I’ll let you know how it goes.)

What do you think? Gifts or no gifts?

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