"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich. " - Napoleon Bonaparte

Why I Force My Kids to Contribute to Birthday Party Gifts

By , December 9th, 2008 | 16 Comments »

Although my wife and I may not be the most social of couples, our kids more than make up for our willingness to miss parties. My kids have always been popular with their peers and, when they were younger, routinely received one or two birthday party invitations per month. Sometimes, they received invitations from their friends. Sometimes, they received invitations because everyone in the class had to be invited to the party. Sometimes, they did not even know the child whose birthday was being celebrated because the entire grade was being invited to the party (and yes, they attended a small school).

By about the year 2002, the “going rate” for birthday gifts in our community had risen to about $20 per child. In that year, my wife and I easily could have spent over a thousand dollars on birthday gifts for children who our own children never saw outside of school. That seemed a bit excessive, both in terms of cost and in terms of the number of Saturday afternoons that we would have to spend going to parties that seemed to be the “money grabs” Indeed, in one instance, my elder son was invited to a party at a classmate’s home only to learn that he was one of over 300 invited guests and in other instance, my younger son was invited to a party at a local park with over 100 invited guests.

Rather than tell our kids that they could not go to parties, we told them that if they wanted to go to a party, they would need to pay $10 towards the gift. My wife and I would throw in another $10 (sometimes more if the birthday boy or girl was more than an acquaintance). This system immediately cut back on the number of parties that my kids attended. My older son would much rather spend money on himself than on other people, so he would only attend parties that were given for people he really liked or, in a mercenary way, if he knew that the party would be “worth the cost of the gift.” My younger son is a much more giving person, and views any opportunity to have fun with his friends as an opportunity worth spending his allowance, so he cut down less on his party going.

My older son did resist our policy at first, because none of the other kids were required to pay for gifts for their friends, but he finally gave up his resistance. He also learned that if he wanted to go to parties, he needed to budget his money, a skill that he has never willingly embraced. My younger son, in contrast, is always good with his budgeting, and quickly learned that if he was paying for the gift or even part of the gift, he had much more leverage in negotiating which gift we would purchase.

At all of the kids’ birthday parties we have attended, we have found very few other parents who have admitted that they will make their own children contribute to birthday gift costs. At the same time, most have admired our willingness to enforce a regime of fiscal responsibility on our kids.

What do you think? Should parents foot the bill for all of the birthday gifts that their children will have to give to classmates and friends? Or should the kids have to pay some or all of the cost? Is it more important to ensure that your child attends all of the parties to which he or she is invited, or should children be taught that attending a party comes with a cost? How would you approach this with your own children?

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  • Leslie says:

    I have not done this yet but I really like the idea. My daughter is too young yet for this (almost 3) but my son is 6 1/2 and probably ripe for the idea. If nothing else it would help to cut down on the number of parties we have to go to if my son was forced to chose if it was worth it in this way.

    Of course, I am the mom that refuses to do goodie bags at parties so I am going very against the grain as it is…

  • lizajane says:

    I was born in the early 60s, and I can vaguely remember going to just a few birthday parties when I was little. Either my memory stinks, or they have become much, much more popular over the years. We never hosted one either, for that matter. Maybe that was how my parents solved the problem. Don’t host and don’t go! LOL

  • Alice says:

    I never allow gifts to be brought to the birthday parties I give for my children. Having a friend over to play is gift enough. My DS2 has often chosen to spend his allowance on his friends with no party involved. He is very generous. I like this idea as they get older. I have been helping them budget college savings and tithe but he is having trouble with the short term goal concept (he’s 5 I’m not worried) but I like the idea of him starting to help pay for presents. i think we will start that wen he turns 6. Thanks for making me think of this.

  • princessperky says:

    I think it is an excelent idea, currently our children do not receive an allowance, nor have jobs so I have not charged them for gifts (but then with the oldest at just 6 and us homeschooling we have only been to one or two a year)

    If we faced such an enormous number of invitations we prolly would do the same.

    As it is we request our own parties be gift free, we like to have fun and cake, not paper covered stuff fests. And never a treat bag (though often crafts are taken home)

  • Catherine says:

    In a sense, it sounds like punishing a child for being invited to a party. I like the idea of helping children to see the value of money, etc. but in this case it’s almost as if they have to rate the people they know and decide whether they’re worth $10 or not!

  • Anne says:

    Another way to go, especially if your child does not have personal spending money, is to budget a certain amount of money for the year. Then sit down with the child & talk about what that means- do they bring a smaller gift to each party, go to fewer parties, etc?

  • Ann says:

    I think the whole party thing has gotten a bit out of hand as lizajane said. I like your idea or the budgetting idea or the no gift idea.

    I have one friend who gives her kids just about anything they could possibly want. She started, at an early age, telling them that any birthday gift they received had to be donated to the less fortunate. Doesn’t quite fit in to your idea of helping to make your kids fiscally responsible, but I always thought that the concept was interesting and helped to make her boys aware of just how lucky they were.

    I also remember, when I was a personal financial planner, being asked by a relatively newly divorced mom to sit her two young teens down and explain the financial facts of life to them. Their father was getting paid under the table to avoid paying child support, their house needed major repairs and designer anything or the latest electronic toy was no longer an option. Tight budgetting wasn’t an option; it was essential, if there was going to be food on the table. Boy, were they shocked! But their mom told me that they understood, started helping out and stopped whining for things they didn’t need, but which their mother felt guilty for not being able to give to them. I have the feeling that a lot of parents are having that conversation with their kids these days!

    Too many young people are raised with no sense of what money really is or what effort a $100 pair of jeans represents. I’m a firm believer in starting children young with chores tied to an allowance. They learn that they get paid for their efforts, not just because they exist. Also, if they want something that is outside the family budget, they know just what it’s going to take THEM in order to buy it. By their teens, parents ought to be sittng them down and explaining how credit cards work and why they’re generally not a good idea and simple taxes, too.

    Dang! Got a bit off track! LOL

    Basically, I agree with my first statement at the top.

  • ang says:

    I am right there with you Leslie, #1 poster. I refuse to do goodie bags and we do nothing fancy for our kids. Most of the time we just do a family get togehter with family only and as my kids get older they can have one or two kids over. As for them attending other parties, my solution this year is EVERYONE is getting $10 g.c. to the Ben and Jerry’s.

  • Topwaystosave says:

    My little one is only 15 months, but when she is older I love the idea. Great article.

  • Ifedeji says:

    Wow! I don’t have any children yet, but honestly I believe this is a fantastic idea!! When I do have children, I am definitely going to do it.

    This teaches several different lessons and also allows you to maintain some type of relaxation on weekends – I can’t imagine it being too extraordinarily fun to work all week and then spend part of almost every weekend at kiddie parties.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Persephone says:

    This article reminds me of a birthday party my teenage son attended. Over one hundred teens were invited. The birthday girl asked that each attendee bring an inexpensive children’s toy to the party. Several of the teens brought all the toys to a local chidren’s charity the day after the party. Lovely!

  • Spicoli says:

    i think it is improbable to have a child that is of the ages 1-9 to pay for their own party gift on account of, kids that young cant get jobs.

  • Carl says:

    I like the concept. We have decided to restrict the amount we are willing to pay for a gift. We too find that $20 seems to be the going rate. I think now that my daughter has become a bit older, she can purchase the entire gift with her own allowance or earned money. I salute you Mr. Mitchell

  • bank deals says:

    We make a halloween tree each year that everyone admires. The nice thing is it’s fairly cheap and easy to make. Get about ten of those plastic jack-o-lanterns that cost about a buck each and string them up around a tree at different lengths. String blinking/chasing christmas lights along and into each of the pumpkins. It looks fabulous. It’s great for trees in the front yard for when your guests arrive or if you have one you can see in the backyard. You could probably do this inside your house as well, hanging them up around a spooky room and dim the lights


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