How Much to Spend on Kids' Birthday Gifts

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  • I'm sorry if this is a repeat question -- I looked through the archives but the most recent answer I saw was from 2013.

    What is an appropriate amount to spend on a gift for a 4 yo? Is it still $10-15 for someone you don't know as well and perhaps more for someone you know more like $15-20.  This is what the archives suggest.  My friend in Chicago says $15-20 is standard and possibly more in California!  Really!!  For a 4 yo?

    I'm one that doesn't believe more is better but I just don't know what is "appropriate".  Up until now, almost all the 4 yo parties we have attended have requested "no gifts please" and this is the first time we've been invited to a party where this is not stated so I assume a gift is in order.

    Also because I don't know what kids have in terms of toys and what they like etc., I like to purchase "experiences" such as a gift certificate to a local ice cream shop.  Is that appropriate? 


    Color me the most boring parent on the planet but I buy books -- I go to the local book store and buy something age appropriate or a little older. Books are easy to pass along, don't break, and you can take them anywhere. They are also easy to return if you ask for a store receipt to be included inside the book. I don't worry about the price tag but it is seldom over $20. Our local bookstore (A Great Good Place for Books) also wraps. I'd rather get a book than hunt for the "perfect" toy that will likely sit in a corner never to be used. 

    We just celebrated my son's 4th birthday a few days ago. We didn't bother to explain on the invites whether gifts were necessary or how much it should be but we did mention on our FB event page that they could choose to contribute to a single large "group gift" my partner and I were getting for our son anyway. Honestly I don't believe you need to over think this one as the point of a 4 year-old birthday party is for the kids to have fun. You can choose a gift of experiences or food or even cash and gift cards of any value you're comfortable with but I'm sure that's not the priority for the hosting parents. As the saying goes: it's the thought that counts.

    My kids are 9 and 12 now so we have been to many parties. We have a tradition of making " treasure boxes" using a cute cookie tin or cigar box or nice gift box. However old the child is turning, we put that many dollars in the box, as well as confetti, shells, pretty rocks, marbles, key chains, dice, a domino with the age of the child, any other trinkets my kids find around the house that they want to pass on- if you know something the child likes, such as Lego, then perhaps a few Lego pieces....these are all things we find around our house but if you don't have these items, the dollar store has marbles or glass beads, etc...we also usually decorate the box with stickers and their name, and magnets if its a tin. This was a fun activity for my kids and they would sweetly pick nice things they were ready to give away. More fun than just buying something impersonal! Many times the parents would tell us later how much the child loved it!

    Four-year-olds don't need a lot of expensive anything. A good book (can be paperback) and a certificate for an ice cream cone should make any little, or big, kid pretty happy. Melanie

    Experience gifts and gift cards are all appropriate and as a parent I really like them though my kids prefer regular gifts like toys or books since it is more tangible.  Gifts for my kids' friends and kids in their preschool classes are usually about $15 or so, $20 if it is my kids' actual friend.  Now if I consider the parents a friend and those are kids of our family friends (and not just kids my kids know from preschool) I usually do $20-40, and if the party is at an expensive location then sometimes even $50 or more.  So it all depends. 

    My policy is no more than $10; I shop Target and always include the receipt taped to the item so the parent can return it if they don't like it, already have it, or would prefer to spend that $$ on socks! (lol) Also for my own kids' 4th birthday, I was still able to get away with saying "no gifts". Now they won't let me do that! - but it's still my preference, both as the host and guest.

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How much do you spend, preschool to elementary school?

Oct 2013

How much do you spend on gifts when your child (say, preschool through elementary school) is invited to a birthday party of someone who is not a close friend? What is a reasonable amount to spend? My family is likely less well-off than most other families at my daughter's school, and while I want to make sure to give nice gifts, I would also like to keep the costs manageable. Are there any gifts that you have given that are big hits that are not super-expensive? -cinderella

I spend $20 and that's it. anon
Interesting question and one I have struggled with. Seems that the cost of gifts is going up these days (at least what my children are receiving). When they were younger, I assumed $10-12.50 unless I could find something cool for less. Now it seems my kids are getting gifts $25-35 which seems over the top to me.

I ask my kids for inputs and sometimes ask the parent of the other child for areas of interest...then look for something useful (and preferably on sale :0)...we gave a lot of great books when they were younger, soccer balls, cool/different frisbees, etc. Often I tuck in something I have bought in bulk that the kids will love (though parents may not :0) like ''fart cushions'').

Next year, I have to figure out how to get us out of this a bit as my kids are lucky ducks and have way too many toys and I hate to see them go unplayed with. Another mom

Mom of a first grade boy here. I feel like I have this one down pretty well. My birthday gift price point is usually under $12, often less, and I think we give nice gifts. I (more or less) stick with one kind of go-to gift each year - it sort of changes with the age and yearly trend. Starting in Kindergarten, we've been gifting Legos, which have been well received. There are some sets that cost $10-12, and those are just fine. The price comes down if you find a good coupon or sale and buy a couple in advance. You could do this with klutz press books or craft kits or any other well-loved kind of toy. The main thing is to have a couple on hand that would be good for a boy or girl. Fewer and less urgent visits to the toy stores will likely save money. In preschool, our family's birthday gift-giving theme was super-hero capes (I loved that year). I had made my son a satin two-color cape and he loved it so much. So when the fabric went on sale for $4/yard I bought about $20 worth, plus a little velcro, which was enough to make at least 5 more 2-color capes. Yep, $4 birthday presents, and everyone - boys and girls - loved them. I'm not good at sewing, but can sew in a straight line, which is all you really need for this. Birthday cards are hand made by my child.
I really relate to your post, as in addition to the expense, I hate giving gifts to add to the explosion of unneeded toys that so many kids have. Here are some ideas that have worked for us. One, remainder books can be purchased at a great discount and often you can get really beautiful, hard cover books at a big discount. Books Inc in Alameda or Berkeley has a nice selection (I am guessing Barnes and Noble in Emeryville too). We have stocked up on these and parents always are happy to see a book as a present!

Kids' activity books or crafts are also nice. Parents always appreciate something that entertains kids instead of just adding to the clutter. We love the Melissa and Doug oversized sticker books -- they are really inexpensive (like $6) but a big size so they feel substantial. Kids can dress up figures in costumes or create a sticker ''dinner.'' Really fun! We get them in Alameda at Beverly's. Beverly's has monthly 40% off one item coupon so you can get reduced. Melissa and Doug also has nice craft sets, like to paint your own piggy bank. I am sure there are other toy and craft stores to get the Melissa and Doug stuff.

Other good options - nice card game sets like Go Fish. You can get really cute ones at places even like Walgreens and kids love them. Also, activity books and or magnetic play sets - you can find at the toy store.

You can add to the gift with little goodies from the 99c only store. They have Disney character brand activity sets, pencils and other trinkets that are only 99c.

I probably end up spending $6 or $7 -- maybe a bit more-- but doing the above, I always end up with something that looks like more than what it costs. That is the key. By the way, you will see other presents that look fancier or more expensive than what you brought, but that doesn't diminish the thought and with a big party for a child you don't know well, it is just madness to go overboard on the expense. Good luck! bargain gift giver

I like to buy gift cards for either ice cream/frozen yogurt, movies or books (esp from local bookstore). I never spend over $10. Sometimes I'll have my child help decorate the package with candy (a few pieces of Jolly Ranchers, or even various leftover Halloween candy, or one chocolate bar). It looks special, the gift is an ''experience'', not another toy or junk, and the outlay is minimal compared to the future joy the outing will bring. Mom of Two
I stock up on stuff on sale at Target and dole it out as parties come up. Nothing over $10 (at most). For my kids, we say no gifts because we don't want or need more crap.
I don't think you should worry about it too much. Although I can only offer the perspective as a mother of pre-k and K, maybe it's different as the kids get older. When we finally threw a party, I was surprised at some of the more expensive gifts that some guests brought. Even though we could afford it, I had been buying simpler, smaller gifts, as a matter of philosophy. I think many parents really don't need their houses more full of big toys, and who knows what the kid is going to really like? Frankly, it's pretty hard to keep track of who gives what anyway. There are a lot of smaller gifts that are pretty cool. Little kids love getting presents and new stuff and don't care that much what it is. I think there's enough diversity of financial means and philosophies that pretty much anything you give will be accepted and appreciated. One of my kids was given home-made playdough - that's about as cheap as it gets and that was definitely appreciated by both me and my dau ghter. anon
My limit for birthday presents for friends is $15. For a really close friend, or a particularly well-suited gift that that my child is excited to give, I might go a few dollars above $15, but not often. My kids often pick a small Playmobil or Lego set, or figurines (e.g., Schleich). --
Mom of a middle schooler here. I'd say most of my son's friends spend $15-20 including both lower income and upper income families. There is always that one kid who brings an inappropriately expensive gift, and there are the kids whose parents buy bday presents in bulk on sale or at Costco and bring the same gift to every party! Until 4th grade the most common gift was a $12-15 Lego or Bionical or Transformer. Starting around the 5th grade, we started seeing a lot of $20 gift cards, and the rest would be Nerf guns, which will run you around $18. I don't know how I feel about gift cards. On the one hand, by this time my son had so many Legos and Nerf guns that the small and flexible gift card was a welcome relief. On the other hand, a gift card just seems like a financial transaction.

I don't like getting all these presents. My son has so much already, it just makes no sense. He does not mind a reduction in the number of presents, but once he has opened a gift, he can't bear to save it for someone else's birthday gift, even if it's a duplicate. I have tried ''books please'' on the invitation and also tried a gift exchange a couple of times. My son was fine with these, but they were very unpopular with the guests. Next, we started limiting the number of guests to 6, mainly so that we'd get 6 Lego sets instead of 20. Last year my son agreed to try a white elephant exchange. I thought this would be fun - the kids love the family Xmas gift exchange. Each kid was told to bring a wrapped anonymous gift - something they no longer play with, that someone else might like. They drew numbers and then took turns either choosing a new gift or stealing someone else's that was already opened. The parents were excited to have this chance to recycle old toys. It somewhat backfired though. It turned out there were a couple of loser gifts that no one wanted and the kid who brought it felt terrible. Also, most of the kids knew each other's toys already, so the surprise element was lacking. And, a couple of the kids were rudely vocal about their disappointment with the gift they ended up with. Ugh. Luckily we are now moving into the age where for their birthday they just have a couple friends over for a movie and a sleepover! local mom

I submitted a prior answer to this question and have a couple more thoughts to add. Many families in this area have smallish homes, and any home, regardless of size can easily be overtaken by toys. Therefore, many practical parents actually appreciate when birthday gifts are somewhat modest or at least small in size. As for ideas, things like books, card games, art kits that get used up, and the smaller (and less expensive) kits of Polly Pocket, Littlest Pet Shop and Legos are often appreciated (though be sensitive re: small parts if there are babies/toddlers in the house). You can ask your child about their friend's interests, and she might clue you in to sticker collecting, pokemon, japanese erasers, unicorns or mermaids - you just never know. A $2-$10 gift, beautifully wrapped, can be a wonderful treasure. Keep in mind that after the thank-you notes are written, the birthday kid will remember that they had a great party, they felt special on their birthday, and there were gifts. Much of the specifics will be forgotten. Also, some families state ''no gifts, please'' on the invitation, especially when kids have indulgent relatives and the parents are genuinely afraid of too many toys - in that case, a home-made card is just right. - Signed, a mom who fears ever-multiplying stuffed animals and gifts in big boxes!
We usually spend about $15-$20.

The gift that I have found is welcome for both girls and boys, and is also pretty classy IMHO, is a pad of good-quality, heavy-weight drawing paper (Bristol is a good brand - you can get a pad of 20 sheets for $8 or so) and a box of either pastels (Cray-Pas makes a good kid's version for around $4 or $5) or high-quality colored pencils if the child is older (Sanford Prismacolor pencils are excellent but expensive, though if you buy the small box you'll only pay about $8).

You can also print out a Michael's coupon (or better yet, get the Michael's app and then you never need to print out their coupons again) for 40% one item and this gift will be even cheaper. Michael's will also occasionally have sales on drawing paper and/or pastels/pencils, so you can always be on the lookout for when they're half off, and then stock up for several birthday gifts.

This gift works well from preschool on up, I have found. It's also good because it seems nowadays you never know if a household eschews certain toys or items (electronic toys, princess stuff, etc). You won't be stepping on anyone's toes with drawing paper and pastels/pencils! It's generic, but in a good way. And yes, everyone has crayons and construction paper, but fewer, I think, tend to buy the 'good' stuff since it's more expensive than Crayola and often necessitates a trip to either the craft or art store.

Hope this helps! veteran of many birthday parties

I buy clearance toys at Target. Just find things that would please a generic girl around your girl's age and stash it away. I routinely find things for $5-$8 that were originally $15-$20. They're no different than the full-price toys, just being phased out or end of a promotion or something. The things your kid would like (even if you wouldn't buy it) are a good way to go. It's also nice to have two or three things in the closet, so you don't have to make a special trip before a party. Add a home made card, and you're done. Perfectly fine things are on clearance and you don't know these kids that well, so it's not like you know they love horses or designing jewelry and are shopping accordingly. It doesn't have to be something that becomes an heirloom -- just that a kid will likely enjoy opening and playing with, at least once or twice.

For kids of reading age, there's a remarkable gadget called 20 questions, about the size of a baseball. In 20 questions, it guesses what you're thinking of. I think it's under $10. At $20 (for a good friend or family you like), the perplexus is a 3-D maze. another cheap mom

My general rule of thumb on this is spending $10 on acquaintances and $20 on good buddies of my child. Kids seem to enjoy gift cards these days, though they are the least creative of gifts. The best one I ever gave was for a little boy, age 5, who liked to make things out of cardboard, etc. I went to Home Depot and got him three rolls of duct tape in different colors, and packaged them in a neat little tin box. His mom told me it was the best gift he received. A little bit of money and a lot of creativity can go a long way thoughtful gift giver
I think spending $10-$15 is reasonable. $15-$20 for a closer friend. Target or Walgreens always have some good deals. Arts and crafts games/activities for girls, small lego or ''toolbox'' for boys.. of course this could vary depending on the children's age. If I find a good find on sale, I buy a couple and save for upcoming birthdays. Books are nice too. The Disney Store has some things you can buy for even less than $10 (princess ''jewelry'', plastic cups/plates with favorite Disney characters etc). Consider ''investing'' in a nice roll of paper to package gifts nicely and nice note cards (makes it look more ''expensive''), and you can use it multiple times. anon
I think spending $10-$15 is reasonable. $15-$20 for a closer friend. Target or Walgreens always have some good deals. Arts and crafts games/activities for girls, small lego or ''toolbox'' for boys.. of course this could vary depending on the children's age. If I find a good find on sale, I buy a couple and save for upcoming birthdays. Books are nice too. The Disney Store has some things you can buy for even less than $10 (princess ''jewelry'', plastic cups/plates with favorite Disney characters etc). Consider ''investing'' in a nice roll of paper to package gifts nicely and nice note cards (makes it look more ''expensive''), and you can use it multiple times. anon
I already posted about remainder books, but I had a couple other winners for all ages/genders that I thought of afterwards:

- Book - ''Life Size Zoo'' - about $12 on Amazon. Huge photo book with life-size pictures of animals close up. Photography is incredible with lots of amazing animal facts.

- Book(s) - ''I Spy'' series -- about $11-12 on Amazon. This is a series... each has photos of beautiful, complex collages with poems leading you to find different objects. This is one of those things that can be captivating over a long period of time. When you finish the initial pages, there are lists of more objects to find on the back.

- DVD - ''Schoolhouse Rock'' - about $13 on Amazon. This has all the Schoolhouse Rock videos. Parents will be nostalgic, and kids just love them too. Fun, education and nostalgia!

Finally, a great discount book site: Have not ordered from them in a long time, but they have great deals and if you get on their email list they have periodic specials. bargain gift giver, part 2