Birthday Gift Etiquette

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • I was invited to a friend's birthday party and the invite made it clear that it is a get together and that everyone is paying for themselves (dinner, drinks, etc.)  I'm not sure, but will assume, that the cost will be divided among the guests so the birthday guy won't have to pay.  No complaints on that, and I'm ok with that arrangement.  How do you handle gifts in that situation though?  Do you still bring a normal gift (I usually do about $100 check or gift card for birthday parties for adults) or just bring something small?  It seems too much to both pay for myself and bring the usual gift, but i also don't want to insult a friend by bringing a small gift.  I would usually ask the host of the event, but this time the birthday guy is the one organizing it. 

    Seems to me like you (along with others) are throwing him a party and that is the gift.  I don't think another gift is required, but if you want to give him something, you could.  You might want to check with the other guests. If they aren't giving him any gifts besides the party that all of you are paying for, then it might be better if you didn't. 

    I do not give my adult friends birthday presents. It's just overwhelming and ridiculous. I will bring a birthday card if I remember to buy one and I'll bring a nice bottle of wine or something to a house party. Unless your friend spends a lot for your birthday every year, I'd stop giving such large gifts. The best gift that I received at my 40th birthday party was a tiara that I gladly accepted and wore all night. I always say "no gifts" on my invitations but let people know that they can bring something to contribute to the party. And I think that it's incredibly tacky to throw a party and expect others to pay for it. I was raised that you pay for the parties that you host. I've never understood this tradition of inviting a bunch of people to a restaurant and expecting them to pick up the tab. If the friends want to take me out to dinner I'll certainly let them. But I was raised that if you do the inviting, you do the paying.

    I don't think I've ever heard of bringing a gift to an adult's birthday party, except for family birthday parties. I would totally assume in this situation that a gift is not expected and would just bring a card. A gift shouldn't be expected anyway, even if the birthday person were paying for everything. Gifts are supposed to be at the discretion of the giver. 

    I would bring a card and possibly a small gift. With adults, I think "your presence is the present," especially if it's dinner and drinks with all costs shared. 

    I’ll be curious to see the responses to this. Truthfully, I don’t really give adults beyond my immediate family birthday gifts. If there is a party at someone’s house I would bring a nice bottle of wine (but I would bring wine anyway to someone’s house, birthday or no). If I happen to think of something small and special to a person I might gift that, but I would consider that an opportunistic one-off. If the party is at a bar/restaurant I would just kind of assume I would pay for their stuff if the situation calls for it, and make sure their drink is never empty kind of thing. 

    On the flip side, I do not expect birthday gifts from my friends, even when I get people together for my day. I’d actually rather people didn’t get me anything, so I didn’t feel like I needed to get them something later on their day. I just want to see my friends.

    Maybe I’m a Scrooge though?

    A hundred dollars? I have s birthday party I’d like to invite you to. 

    But seriously- who gives gifts for adult birthdays? In my early twenties, I was given a small bouquet or a bookmark or fun (cheap) earrings with a card, but mostly it’s the company that is given and valued. Now I’m my thirties, and it’s weird to even have a birthday party outside of immediate family at all. Turning forty might be different, but then you wouldn’t have guests pay. 

    Do people give their grown-up friends birthday presents? I've never heard of this and I've been to a ton of birthday celebrations for friends over the years because I am old. I can't think of a time I've ever seen presents being given at a get-together for a friend's birthday. You're there for the celebration. A bottle of wine or some flowers or a card might be OK, but even then, it's a little precious unless it's a close friend. Even for milestone birthdays (40 - 50 - 60) I've been to when there is a formal invite, they will say "no gifts" or "gag gifts only" on the invite.  Cash/check/gift card seems weird to me - like you are trying to help them out with their finances? Maybe this is something common in some groups and I can't speak to the entire Bay Area but I've never heard of it, and it would seem very odd in my friend group. So I would say go to the event and enjoy yourself but don't take a gift. Take a card if you need to take something. Definitely do not give cash. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Must we give a present if we can't attend the party?

Oct 2008

We are invited to numerous parties each month and can only make a few each year. Are we expected to give gifts to those children whose party we don't attend? I know that you're supposed to send a wedding present if you've been invited but would that same etiquette apply to preschoolers. We just tranferred from a small family daycare to a large preschool so it's happening quite often now. Just curious... Don't want to be a cheapskate

If you do not attend the party no gift necessary. However my child has some very close friends and when we couldn't make their party we gave a gift anyway. Nice for my child the other family hosted a special play date which included an outing to the Zoo. Anon
I had to write, because the issue of gift-giving just never seems to cease getting more outrageous. No one is EVER *supposed* to give a gift under any circumstances. Gift giving is completely voluntary, NEVER compulsory, otherwise, it's not a gift, it's extortion. You do not have to give a gift even if you DO attend, whether it's a wedding, or a birthday party. Give only if you feel called to give. Birthdays and weddings are supposed to be celebrations, not excuses to demand presents. Your Welcome To My Party With or Without
If you do not attend a birthday party, you are not required to acknowledge the event with a gift. If you go, you are not required to bring a gift. Either way, it's a birthday party, and the one giving the party should not be expecting that their attendees bring a gift (at least I don't). I think Miss Manners would agree that an invitation to a party does not ever necessitate an obligation to bring or sent a gift, whether or not you attend, unless of course, you really want to. Anon
Are you close to the family or is your child close to the birthday child? If so, then send a gift. If not, a card acknowledging the milestone is sufficient.

I would deviate from this if I happened to know that the child/child's family was going through hard times in which case I would send an anonymous gift - something useful or special. Gift giving comes from the heart and is not an entitlement as it has become to be known for everything now. BTW, you are not required to send a wedding gift just because you are invited to the wedding per Emily Post. Etiquettegal

No, you do not need to give a gift for a birthday party you don't attend. The rules are different for weddings... Just say, ''I'm so sorry, we'll have to miss the party. I hope you have a great day!'' And that's it. Berkeley mom of 3
No, you're not required to give a gift unless you go. anon
No, you do not need to give a gift for a birthday party you don't attend. The rules are different for weddings... Just say, ''I'm so sorry, we'll have to miss the party. I hope you have a great day!'' And that's it. Berkeley mom of 3
Only give gifts to kids whose parties you actually attend. If you can't make it, no need to get a gift. Andi
You do not need to get a gift when you don't attend the party. That is the same rule for a preschool party, a grown up party or a wedding. emily postit
Receiving an invitation to a party does NOT obligate you to send a gift. This is true for weddings just as much as it is for any other kind of party (although there is something of a presumption that anyone close enough to the bride or groom to merit an invitation will also be close enough to want to send a present) and given that so many children no longer open their gifts AT their party, bringing a gift isn't really obligatory even if you DO attend the party.

(The only reason that traditional etiquette dictates bringing a gift to a child's birthday party is that the birthday child is traditionally expected to open the gifts with guests present. Same rule applies for showers. In the case of the birthday party, the entire ritual serves as an etiquette-training opportunity for both givers and recipient, which is why the gift- opening is considered appropriate for that type of party and not for most other types of parties.)

In any event, no, nobody expects you to give a birthday gift to a kid whose party invitation you declined. You might choose to do so anyway if the child is your kid's particular playmate, but it's absolutely not expected. Not a Cheapskate

We don't give or receive gifts for unattended parties. Naomi
No, you do not need to send a gift, or even a card to your child's friend if he/she cannot attend their birthday party. I think parents are most grateful if you RSVP in a timely way and let them know if you are coming or not. Mom
no. we buy gifts for a child whose party we could not attend if they are a very close friend (whose birthday we would acknowledge regardless of party) and not otherwise. chris

OK to request books only for 4-year-old birthday party?

March 2007

My little guy will be turning 4 in a couple of months. We'll most likely have a party in a nearby park. Would it be rude to request only books as a gift? I know books can be purchased for as little as a few bucks. Many thanks! Bobbie

Rude is not the word for it: it's incredibly rude (you asked). You are telling people to only bring you what you want? We call that having huevos! Either 1) have a book exchange; 2) accept what people give you; or 3) say ''no gifts please'' and buy your own books. By the way, when you come to my house for dinner, I don't drink cheap wine, so please, only Opus One. -- Ms. Manners
I think proper etiquette forbids making any precise gift suggestions outside of gift registries for weddngs, showers, etc. That said... We went to a party one time where they requested only a wrapped book. When we got there, all of the books were placed in a basket. When it was time to go, each child got to pick a wrapped book - no peeking - to open at home. No goodie bags needed and no unwanted toys to the birthday boy. Just the one book that remained. (And, some people brought two books, so he got those as well.) Seemed like a great idea to me. -Happy Birthday!
It is generally considered rude to specify the type of gift you would like to receive from an invited guest. Although, you can make your son's party a ''book theme'' party and maybe your guests will get the hint. CC
I think Miss Manners would say ''heavens no! you can't request or specify gifts.'' Perhaps you could do something that would allow all kids to enjoy books, like do a book exchange where each gets to pick out a wrapped book. Some of the more aware parents might end up getting a separate book for your child. I would. Mrs. Tact
I wanted only books for my daughter's 3rd birthday because she loves them. I created a wish list on Amazon and anytime anyone asked what my daughter wanted or needed I sent them the wish list via e-mail. Most people took the list to their local book store to buy the books rather than purchase them on Amazon. It worked pretty well. Although we got a lot of dupes, I exchanged them for other books on the list and we ended up with 20 or so new books for my daughter which we still read all the time. I was relieved to not have to deal with all the plastic toys and ugly clothes we usually get. Of course, some people will not ask and there is nothing you can do about that. I don't think it is appropriate to request books on the invitation, if that is what you are thinking of doing. AV
This question - can i tell people what to give me? - gets asked over and over, but there is only one answer. No, it is not polite to dictate what other people give you as gifts. It doesn't matter if your intentions are high-minded, it isn't ok. I understand where you are coming from - we would prefer to receive books as gifts, too. I only give books as gifts. But sometimes people surprise you with things you didn't know you and your child would enjoy. That's the beauty of gift giving. etiquette stickler
I am really annoyed by people who dictate gifts they should be getting. Even though you have good intentions (books are cheap), it just strikes me as you trying to control everything. I'm sure people will tell you it's ok, but I just think it's impolite when you have a party to make any indication that you are expecting gifts and will not be grateful for any gift someone bestows upon your child. So, I say don't do it. If someone asks for suggestions, you can tell them, ''our child really loves books, any books'' but only if they ask. The ONLY time a registry is acceptable is for weddings and baby showers, and registries are supposed to be suggestions, not requirements.

And please send thank you notes for any gifts you get! tired of bad etiquette

Some might think it's rude, but I think it's a great idea. I personally think it's always good to make it clear that presents are OPTIONAL. But that's always touchy too. You can try something like, ''if you'd like to give a present, we'd love a book! New or used! old favorites!''
Nah, that's a great idea! Not only does it give a nice theme to the party, but it makes shopping on the guests' side easier. Eva
No, I don't think requesting books is a bad idea! You could always write, ''Gifts not necessary, but if you must, Alex loves books!'' or ''Gift suggestion: a book, please!'' heidi
I just read the posts on this question. Seems there are lots of etiquette junkies out there. Etiquette is a constantly changing social construct. To say that it is ALWAYS impolite to suggest what gift you want, and then to point out the exceptions (wedding, shower) only emphasizes that etiquette is just a lot of nonsense. And that those of us who strictly adhere to such Miss Manners Madness probably are also hypergrammarians. Just kidding. Just having some fun here, okay so please don't respond that it was impolite of me to poke a little fun. Guilty as charged.

Anywhooooo, I love and hate picking out gifts. I love giving when it is not expected of me and when I know the person well and so am able to ''come across'' a wonderful gift that speaks to me saying, ''Your brother David would loooooove this book on the history of differential equations.'' I hate finding a gift for someone else's child whose name I can barely keep straight from the descending hoard of miniture party-goers. So I love a parent who says, ''You there, you get this for my child at this store at this place at this time.'' Ahhh, so easy. Thank you Mister Bosy Parent who ignores Miss Manners whenever he can, thank you for making my life easier.

Let's change the Miss Manners imaginary standards and all demand specific gifts at all times, and that will become the new nonsense standard. ''Shocking really, Old Chap. He simply reee- fused to assist me in procurring a suitable gift that would tittilate his fancy. I suppose he thinks I'm a mind reader, the cad.'' said with an overblown British upper class accent. sean