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These Gifting Hacks Will Make the Hell That is Kids’ Birthday Parties a Breeze

Kids’ birthdays are trying under the best of circumstances. They usually involve some combination of melted ice cream, cloying music, and the screeches of other people’s children. While there might not be a way to get rid of chocolate ice cream stains and unsettling clown performances, there is one thing in your control that can get better: the gifts.

Because the last-minute mall run for a kid gift is a near-universal parenting experience, we asked real moms how they manage birthday gifts. And, yes, a lot of them use a “gift closet.” But their real tricks are the easy ways they keep it stocked. You’ll never have to run around trying to see what “gifts” Walgreens has — or debate if a seven-year-old would like a Starbucks gift card — again.

When in doubt, call.

“Always remember: You do have the option of checking in with the parent to find out what their child might like, want, or need. A quick text is all it takes. Don’t have their number? Check the RSVP on the invite — 99% of the time it’ll be there, or if not, an email address will be in its place. This will help you avoid the risk of duplicating a toy that their child may already have, and it saves you the time and money of purchasing any unwanted gifts. Plus, there’s nothing worse for the gift-giver than giving a gift that gets tossed to the side as soon as it’s opened, or…hearing a comment from the gift-recipient that they ‘already have that.’ ALL kids enjoy getting something they really want, and it’ll bring a smile to your child’s face when they see that their gift is well-received and appreciated.”

— Courtney Elmer, life coach

Create a “gift pool.”

“As a mom of a first and fourth grader, I field a lot of birthday invitations. Every time I let my kids choose the gift, we end up wandering around Target for an hour before they finally make a decision (with a cart full of other stuff to boot)! I have simplified the gift-giving process by buying something from a small pool of ideas that I change up each year as the birthday kids repeat and get older. This year it’s usually a nice coloring book and gel pens for friends of my youngest, and a Target gift card for friends of my oldest. My kids add their own personal touch by creating a handmade card to go along with each gift. While it would be nice to stock up on gifts ahead of time, I purchase them when the invitations come in so there are no issues with return periods ending, in case anyone receives something they don’t want.”

Kelly Rupiper, Content Director at Upparent

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We are always looking for fun gift alternatives around here! This party lended itself so well to a "bring a book" party. We included a bookplate with the invitations and asked guests to bring their favorite bedtime story in place of a gift (with their signed bookplate inside). We still enjoy reading the books and remembering all of our friends who came to the party! . . . What do you guys think of alternatives to traditional gifts at a party? We are always on the lookout for fresh new ideas. What are your thoughts on a Fiver party (where each guest brings $5 instead of a gift to contribute to one large gift or experience?) We have a little one turning 5 next year so it feels like the perfect time if ever, but I've read some strong conflicting feelings about it. Do you like having a suggestion to go with or does it feel totally tacky? . . . #giftalternatives #fiverparty #popcornandpajamasparty #bringabookparty #movienightparty #nighttimeparty #sleepoverideas #slumberparty #sleepunder #partysigns #partykids #partyideasforkids #kidspartyideas #partyinspo #kidspartyinspo #diyparty #partydiy #partyplanningideas #etsypartyshop #prettiestprintshop

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Stock up on sales.

“I’m a mom of five kids, so I feel like we are always getting invited to some sort of party. To simplify things, I keep a box of gifts stocked in our closet that our kids can go and pick something out of for a friend. I stock up on Black Friday and other big sale days on cheap gifts that appeal to a wide age range and are gender-neutral. Some of our favorites to gift are Rubiks Cubes, card games, and outdoor toys!”
Jessica Averett, Bring The Kids

Start a trend.

“The absolute best way to make present-buying easier for kids’ birthday parties is to throw a ‘Fiver Party.’  Here’s how it works… On the party invite, list all of the party specifics (time, date, location, etc.) At the end, add a section and title it ‘What not to Bring’, followed by ‘a gift’. [Instead, explain to guests that if they] feel inclined to do something special for [the] birthday kid, make it a fiver. Then, he/she will have a nice pile of cash for something special after the party.”

Nicole Cline, Not Quite Super Mom

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My oldest boy turned 9 last week and we have been celebrating it for over a week between family and friends . I find birthdays to be a lot these days with expectations through the roof for kids parties . We kept it fairly simply and took the kids from his class to @jumpapex which was a great energy burner . Best year I would love to try out @stokedcentre. I am not sure what happened to the days of inviting kids over and having a money cake but apparently those days are gone ! Another thing I absolutely hate is birthday 🎁… one, I never remember to pick one up in time and second, I hate buying junk . We decided to have a FIVER party instead . Instead of gifts kids brought $5 instead for jack to put towards something he really wanted. I had parents thank me for this as it’s such an easy ideas and cuts down on clutter so much . The coolest thing was the hand made cards he received from friends !! Oh and I don’t do treat bags because I find them a giant waste of time and money. Nobody needs dollar store stickers and candy in a bag in my opinion . Am I the fun sponge mom or what ???

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Get the kids involved.

“Whenever my kids receive a party invitation in the mail, I hang the invitation on the fridge and pick a day that week to go gift shopping. I make it a fun adventure with my kids where they get to help pick their friend’s gift (and they usually get a little treat too!) They also watch me wrap it and help sign any cards or tags. That way, they’re involved and feel ownership of the gift when their friend opens it. By putting the gift-shopping on my calendar and having it be a special time with my kid, I feel like I’m ahead of the game. We all know I was going to Target this week anyway…”

Ashley Rowland, Attempts At Domestication

Re-gift without shame.

There’s no shame in regifting. Think of it as recycling. If you get two of something, put a sticky note on the item that says who gave it to you (so you’re sure not to give it back to the same person), place it in a closet or drawer, and you’re ready to go!”

Amber M. Shimel, MSW, Amber Likes


Wrap it immediately.

“I have 3 kids ages 4, 9 and 13, boys and girls, plus lots of children in the wider family, so we have lots of parties to buy for. I visit a big store every few months and stock up on gifts, wrap and cards for the birthdays I have in my diary for the coming few months. I wrap presents and write cards in advance so I’m fully prepared when it comes to the day of the party. For friends and family that live far away, I order presents online to be delivered straight to their homes in time for the big day.”

Rachel King

Give experiences.

“I do keep a stash of toys ready year-round in my office closet — I stock both birthday presents that I find on sale (Lego kits are a favorite in our house), and one-of-a-kind creative gifts that I know others would like to receive (items like Unicorn play dough and classic books).

Another favorite way to make a birthday kid (and parent’s) day is to give an experience gift instead of a thing. Think: Zoo passes, Audible memberships, swim lessons, trampoline zone gift cards or a flower-planting kit. These gifts are enjoyed much longer than cheap plastic stuff, and often create lifelong memories that far outlive the shelf life of an object.”

Liz Tenety, co-founder of Motherly

When all else fails: Amazon Prime.

“Using Amazon Prime for all birthday purchases saves me so much mental load! I often have one go-to emergency gift on hand, something anyone in my son’s age group would enjoy. Since I tend to select toys that are educational or encourage movement in some way, they are gender-neutral and inclusive. As soon as we get an invitation, I make sure I have an acceptable gift or order one right away. I also keep wrapping paper on hand so I can quickly wrap up the present and put a label on it. Simple is the best way to go when you’re a busy working mom of a very busy preschooler.”

Julie, Fab Working Mom Life

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