I dread children’s birthday parties. There I said it.

What I really struggle with is what to spend on a gift for other children and what put in our goodie bags for our guests.

What is the appropriate amount to spend on a child’s birthday present? You can’t even get an action figure for $10 anymore! I generally set a budget of about $20 for school friends and more if it’s a close friend, but I’m afraid this is very low compared to some of the gifts I’ve seen. But I have to draw a line somewhere because $20 times 2 kids with at least 10 parties a year adds up! I have A LOT of sympathy for parents with larger families!

birthday party batman cake

We’ve been to a few parties where they’ve asked for cash in lieu of gifts (kid gives half to charity, keeps the other half to spend). This practice struck me both as a little tacky but also pure genius. We give cash at weddings, why not at birthdays as a way to help the child learn the value of money and of giving? So while I was uncomfortable with this notion at first, I have come to accept that it’s a unique alternative to a plethora of presents. But even this is problematic from a frugal point of view; I can save money when I find a $20 item on sale for $10, but if I only put $10 in a card doesn’t that look cheap?

birthday party gifts

And then there are the ubiquitous goodie bags. Kids love them, parents hate them. Usually full of candy and dollar store toys that are broken before they get home, it’s just more stuff that no one needs that frequently end up in the garbage. I am in awe of those imaginative parents that come with with very unique parting gifts: at one party the kids got to decorate a t-shirt to keep, at another party with a circus theme the goodie bag was a circus coloring book and cup. They probably spent slightly more than if they’d done ‘goodies’, but these items got more use and didn’t go to waste.

Do you have any unique and affordable ideas for birthday party gift bags? What is your gift budget and how do you stay in line? And what do you think about cash in lieu of gifts?