It was a journalist’s query on a media list I’m on that spawned this question, but they wanted to know whether “the amount you feel obligated to spend on preschool/elementary age birthday presents for your kids’ friends started to rise?”
It’s an interesting question because with three kids, well, there are a lot of birthday parties throughout the year. In fact, with average classes of 25 kids, that’s basically a birthday every 5 days or so, though they aren’t, of course, evenly spaced throughout the year.
My rule of thumb has always been a budget of $15 for 10 and under, and $20 for anyone older than that. By the teen years (my oldest is 14) I figure she should be able to earn money doing chores / babysitting / etc and at least contribute to the cost of a present, and in all cases if they are motivated to buy something more expensive, they can pay the difference.
What’s amazing is just how much you can buy at that price range. Since we like to frequent more “boutique” style toy stores in the area (e.g., not Target, not Wal-Mart) we often find that with a bit of ingenuity we can have a two or three part rather fancy gift assembled.
Most recently my 7yo had an invite to a party and while we went in with her repeating again and again “she really likes babies…” when we checked out the babies they were either alarmingly cheap or way more than our budget. Dilemma?
Fortunately right next to the babies was a huge stuffed animal display and, really, what 7yo girl doesn’t love stuffies, even if they already have a ton of them? So we looked at the bears, the horses, giraffes, camels, penguins, eagles, dragons, cats, dogs, and finally settled on a cute little black puppy that was in its own little purse (think “Paris Hilton”). Total cost was about $12, including free wrapping paper.
Still, it can be hard to keep things at a rational level and with best friends in particular it’s easy to want to splurge and get them something wonderful, some $50 game or a lovely new shirt that’s on sale at Macy’s or similar. But for my family at least, if they want to go down that road, it’s up to them to make up the difference between my standard birthday present budget and the cost of that “just so” item.
Unsurprisingly, it’s often not quite as “gotta have it” when my kids have to put some skin in the game, and that’s cool. Indeed I think that’s the lesson of birthday present shopping, that there’s not an infinite budget, but with some planning, they can certainly do chores and otherwise earn some extra money so they can upgrade the present to be something they’re more happy with.
The question is whether we’re an outlier and most parents just buy whatever their kids pick out — which can definitely get expensive! — or whether I’m smack in the middle as a typical rational parent who seeks to both have cool presents my kids can give their friends and impart a lesson or two about finances along the way?