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How Much to Spend on Kids' Birthday Gifts

Kids' Birthday Party Gifts: How Much Do We Really Need to Spend?

Before I had kids, I heard through the grapevine that they were expensive. Believing the warnings of friends and family who were already parents, I braced myself to spend a small fortune on diapers and child care and the new wardrobes my kids would apparently require every three months in their infancy, then every six months well into their grade-school years. What I didn't expect to have to spend hundreds of dollars on every month: birthday presents. Not for my own children . . . but thanks to the copious amounts of birthday parties they'd be invited to for their little buddies.

These days, it seems like I'm at Target at least once a week, scouting the toy aisle for something that one of my daughter's classmates might like. I always ask her to do some research on whether Joey likes Legos or Charlotte thinks L.O.L. Surprise Dolls are cool or lame, but usually I'm just shopping blindly and including a gift receipt in case I miss the mark.

Not only am I spending my hard-earned dollars on toys for kids I barely know (does my kid even know them? Sometimes, I'm not sure), but I'm also paying a sitter to watch my little ones while I shop for other kids because lord knows that if I take them with me, I'll be manipulated into buying them toys, too. And honestly, I can't afford to.

Is it a fair system? No. But it's my money, and therefore, my rules.

I try to stick to a $20 limit for each kid, slightly less if it's a child I really couldn't pick out of a lineup, slightly more if it's a kid I know and like, and slightly more than that if I like the kid's parents, too. (Is it a fair system? No. But it's my money, and therefore, my rules.) But factor in the sitter's hourly rate, a gift bag (no way am I also spending time wrapping for an unknown kid), some tissue paper, and a card my own child will deem cute enough, and I'm probably inching toward $40 per birthday gift.

So last weekend, when my daughter had not one but three birthday parties for classroom friends, I found myself spending more than $100 on birthday gifts, and that's when I realized things had gone off the rails. I was even more certain that this gift-giving system, one which every parent I know was also using, was screwed when I found myself complaining to a fellow mom, whose kid was also attending all the same parties as my daughter.

She laughed, then revealed to me that at her own daughter's last birthday party, she returned every gift that was accompanied by a gift receipt and kept the cash herself. Her daughter never noticed the missing presents.

"Man, this week's parties really broke the bank. I hope these kids appreciate how much time and money I'm spending on their birthdays," I moaned. "If not, I guess there's always that gift receipt." She laughed, then revealed to me that at her own daughter's last birthday party, she returned every gift that was accompanied by a gift receipt and kept the cash herself. Her daughter never noticed the missing presents.

Sure, it seemed kind of wrong, but on the other hand, it's probably the only way I could ever recoup some of the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars I've spent on other children's birthdays, so maybe it's also kind of genius. So, please, if you're invited to one of my kids' birthday parties, include a gift receipt from a store that has cool mom stuff, too. I could really use the cash.

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