Why We Stopped Bringing Gifts to Kid Birthday Parties (and what we do instead)

Is it just me, or have kids birthday parties gotten totally out of control? I read an informal survey that found parents spend $500 – on average – per kid per birthday party. And that doesn’t even count all the gifts. Add two or three kids to the mix over 18 years and that is a huge expense — especially for consumable items like cheap gifts, party favor bags, decorations, disposable plates, etc. – that all end in the trash.

If you’re thinking I’m being a big party pooper, stick with me. First off, we love (LOVE) to entertain and put on a good party for our kids. And we love to celebrate our friends’ birthdays, too!

But when I think of traditional birthday parties, I also think of how they will result in more stuff accumulating that my kids don’t really want — stuff that our friends and family spent good money on – and stuff that will eventually get donated or tossed. I also think of how much money we spend on gifts to friends and family that ultimately end up in the donate or trash pile, too.

So, how can we celebrate each other in an authentic way without all the unnecessary stuff?

While it may seem like a “no brainer” — just cut out the expense or say no to the party (or just don’t be friends with those types of people) – the topic of gifts and birthday parties comes up so often when I talk to other Mustachian families.

Because whether we like it or not, there is social meaning with gift giving. We feel we need to reciprocate or show our affection with a gift. There is also an unspoken rule – we throw this big party with food and gift bags; you bring a gift. Blunt but true.

So, how can you handle birthday parties and gifts without being total party poopers? 

Here’s our policy.

“No Gifts” Parties

When it comes to birthday parties for our kids, we ask for no gifts on the invitations. For family members we know will still bring gifts despite our requests, we offer suggestions of non-stuff items like memberships or a coupon for time together.

Presence over presents.


Little O turning one in September 2015

Give Experiential or DIY Gifts

Invited to a birthday party? Instead of saying no because you don’t want to buy or give a gift, think outside of the box.

Have your kiddos make a card or picture for their friend, give an experiential gift (my favorite is a Hike it Baby membership or gift card to the children museum), or give a “coupon” for a hike or playground meetup date.

Being Okay with Being Different

Earlier this year, our second grader was invited to a classmate’s party and he decided to make her a necklace out of beads. He worked very hard on it and wrapped it up with a handmade card.

I was so proud of his hard work but you could tell the birthday girl was a bit confused by it – it was the only handmade gift she received. The parents also looked a little confused, but I hope they appreciated the thought that went in to it. The point is, there often is social stigma that goes along with the gift you bring – be okay with challenging that. Even better, don’t have your kids open gifts around the other kids. It just feeds into that cycle.

Surround yourself with like minded families

Finding a community of like-minded families makes these situations so much easier. You can’t control who your kids make friends with at school, but you can help them nurture relationships with friends who wouldn’t roll their eyes at a homemade gift.

Simplify Your Own Parties

In some classes or groups of friends it’s common to invite EVERYONE to everyone’s party – even if you don’t know them that well. That’s 20 kids at your party and in return, you have 20 parties to go to that year.

So here’s a challenge, this year simplify your parties. Have your kids pick just their best friends and do something they really love. Also be okay with saying no to some parties.

Little I is turning 8 next month and he’s inviting 4 friends to our house to play Minecraft and have pizza. No gifts from friends. Just time together doing what he loves.

What is your take on kids birthday parties? How do you handle it? Do you agree or disagree with our policy? Leave a comment below.


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