Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Birthday Party Gift Dilemma

Cheetah racer tag was a big hit! 
The kids took home their tails
as a party favor.
Focus on the Fun!
Last year we held our first official birthday party for our son with all his friends from preschool.  It was a blast.  I loved planning it since I had done birthday parties for kids at a local art center before he was born and it was even more fun to do a party for my own child.  But when it came to gifts I had a dilemma.
Like many American households we suffer from an overabundance of stuff.  I struggle to keep the toys from overwhelming our modestly sized home and the thought of bringing more toys into the house seemed distressing.  So we opted to have a “no gifts please” policy, figuring that we needed to establish this for his first party so that he and his younger brother would expect that to be the norm for our family.  I would have loved to have him choose a charity and ask for donations toward that in lieu of gifts, but he didn’t really warm up to the idea and I didn’t want to force it on him so instead we just did “no gifts”.
We had the party in the early afternoon and followed it with a family gathering at our house where he opened gifts from mom and dad and Grandma and Grandpa etc.  You get the picture, the kid was not deprived.  I included him in all the party planning; he helped choose the theme, plan the games, picked out cupcakes with plastic ring decorations he loved, and had a piƱata that he desperately wanted. 
I had a few conversations with parents reassuring them that yes, we really did mean no gifts and we really were okay with it and so was our son.  Some thought it was great and wished they’d thought to do it too, others felt awkward.  Some slipped us gift cards which was nice of them and yet, it wasn’t that we wanted to pick out the stuff he got it was that he really didn’t need anything.

I created a "spot $5" graphic in the style
of the theme for the party to go on the invitations.
Then I had a conversation with a friend who had struggled with the same thing and done something different.   She’d seen in a magazine something called a “Spot 5” birthday.  Party guests were asked to bring a card with a five dollar bill inside.  The money given at the party was then split and half was given to a charity and the other half was combined for the birthday child to spend at a toy store.  They sent out a thank you card with a picture of the child in front of the store holding his new toy and a picture of him handing a check to the woman at their local pet shelter, which was the charity he had chosen to give to.  How smart is that!  The guests don’t have to feel guilty for not bringing a gift, the child is not deprived and my house doesn’t explode at the seams!  My friend said she actually had people thanking her since in early grades kids often invite the entire class and going to 20 or even 30 parties in a year can add up to a hefty amount. 
click here for my tutorial on making personalized postcards
We planned a spot five birthday party for this spring and it went wonderfully!  No one questioned our request; no one felt pressure to slip us gift cards.  My son and I decorated a shoebox with a slot in the lid where his guests slipped cards that they had made or bought.  My son had a blast opening his birthday cards, adding up the money and splitting it between his spending fund and his charity.  He chose to make a donation to nothing but nets which provides bed nets to protect families in Africa from contracting malaria carried by mosquitoes.  The trip to the toy store was a blast.  He perused the aisles before selecting a variety pack of hot wheels track and several race cars for it. 
This was a wonderful alternative to asking for no gifts; allowing guests the opportunity to come to the party with something to give to the birthday kid, preventing an influx of toys and giving an opportunity to teach your child about giving to a worthy cause. 
I hope more people hear about this awesome idea so spread the word and perhaps plan a “spot 5” party for your child!  If you do, let me know how it goesJ