36 answers

Alternative to Birthday Party Gifts

I was wondering if anyone had any alternative gift ideas for a birthday party. Both my kids birthdays are 4 days apart, so we are having a joint party this year. Two years ago we had a joint party with family and friends and they got so so so many gifts it was crazy and at the time they we're turning 1yr and 3yrs, so it was too much. This year they will be 5yrs and 3 yrs and we are having a party with family and friends from their preschool. So I wanted to some how suggest on the invitations to not bring a gift, but rather maybe a favorite book or something, if they want to get something. I looking for ideas and also ways of phrasing it on the invites. I want it to be left open for the guests to decide, no obligation to bring a gift, but if they want to get something maybe have a simple theme (like the book thing). Any suggestions would be great, thanks, love this site! Jennifer

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Thanks so much to everyone and their advice. The kids' birthdays aren't until the summer but wanted some early planning. I really liked everyone's ideas and there was an overwhelming suggestion to do a charity so I think that is what we will do. I am not worried about the kids not getting presents, because they have 2 sets of grandparents that totally spoil and a few other relatives that always get something. So they certainly won't be left out. They'll have more fun with having their first party with friends from preschool over. I appreciate all your thoughts thank you! Jennifer

Featured Answers

You could try a gift exchange. I did this instead of treat bags. My husband and I were students for my oldest sons 3rd b/day and we had very little money. We had everyone bring a gift and we put them all in a big bag and everyone got to pick one out. (we told them this in the invites). In England we have something called a "lucky dip". Its a big barrel filled with sawdust and you reach in an pick a gift out. They usually had a barrell for boys and a barrell for girls. It was always lots of fun and it doubles as a game too.

A friend of mine had just recently told me about a party her children went to that the invitation asked for everyone to bring $5.00 that was donated to a special charity of the family. I thought was a great idea. It teaches the children the inmprotance of charity and that others don't have as much as some.

I have been to a party (albeit for slightly older people!) that instead of doing gifts had people contribute to Habitat for Humanity. The way they did it was to say that they were "having the party to buy a goat" or something similar to that - it was pretty clear from the wording (sorry, I can't remember what it was), but kind of like... "giving the gift of a goat" to someone less fortunate via HfH's website. It was cute and clear.

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J.,

I love the idea of a book party. You can phrase it in a way that it won't sound like a tacky request. My family's mantra is that you never can have too many books. My kids always loved and still love getting books.

Just remember that children your kids' ages, especially Emma's age, love receiving presents, so if you do something other than tangible gifts, the kids may feel a loss. If you ask for all donations, your kids’ disappointment might overshadow whatever good feelings they might otherwise have about helping people with their donations!

Different things that my kids and/or their friends have done over the years, starting when my kids were about 3 and 6, or 4 and 7:

--A donation to a special fundraiser at our congregation, where hand prints were cast, and now their names and hand prints are on a special wall. (This was from grandparents.) If your congregation or future schools or neighborhood playground are having fundraisers where the kids can feel a part of them, this may be something to look into, especially if there is something tangible for them to view after-the-fact.
--Theater tickets. This is one of my kids' favorite gifts to receive. Again, this has been a grandparent gift. For young kids, this can be a Blue’s Clues or Dora show, etc.
--Donation to a charity with some meaning for the kids...if you take them to a soup kitchen or to help at a place that stocks food for the less fortunate, etc., then that could become a pet charity for them and the donation will mean something
--Adopt a pet at the zoo or aquarium. We've adopted pets for years, or have had family members do the same. This would be pricey for one friend to give, but family or a few friends going into it together might work
--As they get older, and depending on their interests, tickets to other types of things, like sports games, orchestra concerts for kids, American Girl Place, or the more local American Girl Fashion Shows, etc.
--Any other type of special event or place they might like to visit, like a trip to the Battleship NJ or the Please Touch Museum with their best friends, just as an example, or a trip to another town or city for a fun meal.
--Donate a certain number of their presents to a local charity that service families. If there are 20 gifts, for example, have the kids designate, in advance, how many to give away.

Have fun with it! Good luck!

A friend of mine requested that in lieu of gifts for her 3yrs party, that everyone bring new items to be donated to an animal shelter. Then her daughter got to pack everything up and take it into the shelter herself and place the donation in her name. She loved it! She loved knowing she was helping animals who didn't have a home.

It was a GREAT idea!

We love turning holidays and birthdays into fundraisers. Toys for Tots is usually the most successful. Some folks will still bring gifts which is fine - my parents taught us to donate a gift for every gift received, we plan to do the same with our children.

Good luck :)

I think your idea to pick a book theme sounds awesome. I know what you mean about way too many gifts!!! If you leave it open and tell people they don't need to bring a gift, they always do anyway. Giving a definite theme is a great idea. You could even say "Used Books Most Welcome" or something since books can be expensive-which is often why people opt for the cheap bang for your buck toys. Have a great party!!!

Hello. People are well-meaning, and your children are lucky to have so many people who want to celebrate with them. I love your book idea.

I have a similar issue, as my son's birthday is 4 days after Christmas. Since he turned 5 (he's now 16) I've taken to suggesting gift cards. Some people like to give a little gift, which is great -- especially when it is time to open presents. But the gift cards can be used year round: toys (including a pool and summer toys), movies, entertainment places (like Chuck E Cheese's and there are others like this), clothes (especially the 5 year old, let her pick some things out).

You could also find out if there is a place where you could plant a tree. If so, have people give a small tree that can be replanted.

Have fun!

How about something like "Gifts are totally optional and not expected...if you are looking for ideas, they love books so a small book or gift card to help build their library would be great!"

Hi J.,

My daughter was recently invited to a birthday party in which they requested in lieu of gifts we bring canned goods to donate to a local shelter. I thought this was a fabulous idea!

B. D

Since my daughter's birthday is less than a month from Christmas, we have a similar gift overload issue. I always encourage gift cards verbally if people ask because once they understand shopping they love to pick out stuff all year long and this makes it easier. I also encourage crafts because they're great for rainy days and through school breaks--a craft a day makes the time go away. I think the garden thing is cute as is the book party. My son has a rare disease so donating to a cause that is personal to YOU is always great. One thing you may not have thought of is to donate some of the new toys to your local children's hospital--the Hemotology/Oncology Dept. At AIduPont Hospital in Wilmington, DE it is on the 3rd floor. You can call ahead of time if your child wants to distribute what they have in their wagon or as I suggest to bring it to the Infusion Room where they will stash it away. They have a bucket of small toys (unopened happy meal toys, note pads, hats, games, etc.) that kids get to pick one after their IV stick. They also stash bigger toys in a closet. Sometimes a child is getting chemo or a transfusion on their birthday and then the nurse goes and pulls a toy from the closet to brighten their day. Keep in mind that children of all economic backgrounds are there so many times, that IS their only birthday present. You can also ask people to bring $1-5 items for that toy barrell I talked about. I promise that those toys will bring many smiles even if you're not there to witness each one. I stash some birthday toys away and donate duplicates to the hospital and small things. Even books are great. Good luck on your decision.

I came from a large family and have a large family, so I'm going to suggest something different: Please don't have "joint" birthday parties.

Every child needs ONE day to be the special person. It doesn't have to be a big party if you follow the "one guest per each year of age of the guest of honor" rule. A 5yr old and 5 special friends can have a whale of a special day, and it doesn't have to be big in adult terms - just special. And there's no reason you can't have all those adults over on another occasion just because you like their company, is there? Use all your fancy china for a dinner party. They might appreciate not having to go to a children's party. And your child will feel special when that adult says, "Hey, birthday guy, I heard you had a great birthday party - tell me about it!"

One time I raided the local thrift shop for used party dresses and we had "an evening of fashion and beauty." The birthday girl is 18 and still talks about it.

A friend of mine had just recently told me about a party her children went to that the invitation asked for everyone to bring $5.00 that was donated to a special charity of the family. I thought was a great idea. It teaches the children the inmprotance of charity and that others don't have as much as some.

Well depending on what your childern like. You could have it that your guest could bring a book that would get donated to the local libary. Or maybe something like a $ growing tree. Or thoughts or adivce for the childern as they grow.

My daughter when she turned 1yr old, we had a piggy bank that we had people sign and they could put some change into it. Something that she will have as she gets older.

Maybe set it up that they get cloths. I know that it is no fun but it can limit the toys. I have seen some people do it where they don't open all the gifts that day, but spread out the gifts. over weeks.

Times are hard when it comes to this.
Best of luck with it.

Hi J.

I have always gotten questions from people after invitations about what do you need/want etc. This year I actually put on my son's invite, " any gift is appreciated, if you are looking for idea's Anthony would love some new books!"

I don't think it's tacky or unacceptable, I think many people understand the overabundance of toys and like to know what you could use for the birthday.

Hope that helps.

I have twins, so I run into that problem too-people think they have to bring the same toy to both of them, lol. I asked that no one bought presents, but it happened anyways, lol. Good luck. Maybe you can ask parents not to label gifts and you can have each kid recieve a gift...

My son, Owen, turns 3 this month. This year we are doing "Owen's Garden". In our birthday invite I put this

This year, we are planting Owen's Garden. Instead of a toy, please donate a vegetable or fruit seedling to be planted in the backyard. As his garden grows, so will Owen.

It's something that we can do all summer long, everyday. It's a great learning experience and we get to eat what he grows!

I think this would work well with 2 kids, since it's something they can both do.

-D.

For my daughter's 1st birthday, I sent out an email (we didn't have a party and we have a lot of friends and family far away) asking them in lieu of gifts to think about something they could put in her time capsule. You could also come up with a charity and ask for donations in lieu of gifts. Finally, you could offer to do a "Yankee Swap" or white elephant trade. Ask everyone to bring a wrapped toy or book they don't want anymore (not broken, just tired!), and every kid picks a number. Number 1 picks the first gift and opens it, Number 2 picks the second, etc. The adult version is to swap (Number 2 can take Number 1's gift up until Number 3 opens their gift, etc.).

I'd suggest having a theme party. Like what you're saying...that it's a book party. or something educational. You could have a wiggle (book) worm race where the children can only move like worms. or maybe have the children dress as their favorite storybook character. I'm from Bloomsburg too. that's crazy.

Buying the children bonds or giving them cash that you can put away for their future :)

I have four children all under the age of 9. We to get so much stuff that is not nessary. That I now have my child pick a chariety ex: humane soc.,childrens hospital, toys for tots. That has gone very well.

what about gift cards..maybe to chuckie cheese,gyumboree or gymnastics or something on that line...arts and crafts are good on rainy days...T.

I haven't done this yet, but I have two girls who both have summer birthdays 3 years apart. We often combine parties, and have been thinking of alternatives to presents. Some we have heard of are:

Everyone brings a pet supply and you donate them to your local shelter (have the kids bring their favorite stuffed animal as part of the theme to play with, and then take home again).

Or, a new book to dontate to your local library

Or, school supplies/art supplies to ship overseas to children who don't have what they need. A craft for the party could include coloring cards to send along for the children who receive them. Check with your church or school for possible receipients.

Have a great party!!!

Hope it works out for you

Since this is a party for family and friends from preschool, maybe there is something that your preschool could use. Book donations for their library? Or if you have a particular organization you'd like to help out, you can name the organization and what is needed. One year for our children, we asked everyone to bring new or gently used children's clothing which was then donated to a battered women's shelter.

I don't remember the exact wording on the invitation, but it went something like this: Our children are so blessed in many ways. Having you in their lives is also a very special blessing, and truly there is nothing more that they need except the opportunity to celebrate and spend time with you. Therefore, it is not necessary for you to bring a gift to the party. If, however, you would like to pay forward some blessing to someone less fortunate, a donation of (name of item) may be made to (name of organization), or to any other organization that you prefer. Instead of a gift table, we will set up a collection table at the party, but whether or not you donate, what you donate and how you donate is entirely up to you.

You get the picture! Have fun at the party!

Great idea! You could simply write:

Gifts not required!

But for those interested, books would be appreciated.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

I've heard one idea I found intriguing. If your kids like animals, have your guests bring items (cat litter, food, etc.) to donate to your local animal shelter! (I've also heard similar ideas for a local food bank.) Regardless, have lots of activities to keep the children entertained. Good luck!

Hi J.,

When my son was 4 I had the same problem. I had a "book party". I wrote on the invitations something like "Gifts optional; books only please" and part of the party favors were little books. But otherwise it was a regular party. My son wasn't thrilled beforehand, but he got a great variety of books, some we wouldn't have chosen otherwise but really enjoyed. He didn't feel cheated because he still got toys from relatives.

also, the same year one of his friends had a party where gifts were requested to be a donation to their favorite charity. They got the kids involved and excited about it.

good luck and have fun, patty

You could try a gift exchange. I did this instead of treat bags. My husband and I were students for my oldest sons 3rd b/day and we had very little money. We had everyone bring a gift and we put them all in a big bag and everyone got to pick one out. (we told them this in the invites). In England we have something called a "lucky dip". Its a big barrel filled with sawdust and you reach in an pick a gift out. They usually had a barrell for boys and a barrell for girls. It was always lots of fun and it doubles as a game too.

Hi J. - I live about an hour south of you in Auburn. Last year I made a cd of my daughter's favorite songs for a preschool friend of hers who was having a birthday party. They loved the idea, so maybe you could ask your guests to make a cd or give them some music ideas - music that you won't mind listening to ... regarding the request for no gifts, on an invitation we recently received, the parents simply wrote on the invitations, "No gifts, please," or "Your presence is your gift."

C.

Hi J.,
I completely understand about the TOO many gifts problem. I have 6 children and our birthdays and Christmas' are crazy. I have asked people to buy one gift for all the kids like a game! They love to play together and the ages of your children sounds like they will be playing games soon if they don't already. Ask for crafts and books are great! Crafts are a great way to interact with children and have them play together. Plus you have fun being a part of what they are doing. I love your THEME party idea. I think I will use it myself.
W.

You could have people make a donation to one of your favorite charities.

My mother works for a pregnancy center that provides abortion alternatives, and lots of items to help support new/unexpected moms that choose life for their child. Every year my two children and I walk in their annual "Walk for Life". At this point, the fundraising is up to me. We are asking that instead of bringing more toys or clothes they bring baby shower type items to be donated. I included a copy of the list that the center sends in their newsletter I have several relatively small round laundry baskets that I will arrange things in. The kids and I will deliver them personally to the center. We are all so excited about being able to help the babies, and decorating will be easy ~ pink and light blue balloons, napkins, plates, etc.
A friend of mine has a lot of relatives from out of town that often send things that end up being duplicates or wrong size, etc. for their daughter. She opted to include a photo of an outdoor toy that they are planning to purchase for their daughter, with a note that says something like ~ if you feel the need to "give" something, we are hoping to get this for her, as we know she'll love playing with it outside this summer. This way the suggestion is there, while hopefully not sounding like they're asking. Good luck & God bless!

I like the idea of leaving it up to the guest. I've found that a lot of my daughter's friends' parents will call to ask what Elena likes or mention it at pickup at school (she is now 8). We don't ask for gifts but she loves to receive them.

If the guest asks you what your child wants or needs, then tell them something like "Well, we have a lot of toys at home but we love to read. Perhaps you could get them a copy of a book your child loves or a gift card to our favorite bookstore." I know that my son loves to go to the bookstore (he is 3) to play at the train table and the little reading stage area and to pick out books. (He is currently into reading about what is inside the body. I know that sounds a little advanced and strange but he really wants to know about blood cells, lungs and the brain.)

If you find you have too many gifts, I have a heard of a lot of parents who leave the gift opening for after the guests have left. I personally liked my friends idea for her sons party though. As the children opened the gifts from their friends, she took a picture of each child with her son and the gift that they brought him. Also, if you find that you have too many toys after the party, then you can take the time to go through their toys to weed out the broken ones or the ones they no longer play with. When I do that, I usually put them in our basement for a week or two. This way, if they really start asking for a toy then I know to pull it back out of the bag. If after a couple of weeks, they haven't asked for the toy. Then I take the bag of unbroken toys (having thrown out the broken ones) and donate it to a charity.

Anyhow, good luck with the party. I hope that my ramblings helped a little.

Have you thought about asking relatives to contribute to a college fund for your children or purchase savings bonds instead of a birthday gift? Or they could purchase a small gift for each child and a contribution to a college fund. It is nice for grandparents in particular to see their grandchildren opening gifts. Another idea would be to have guests (family as well as friends) contribute to a charity in honor of your children. I like the idea of the boook theme also. If your family enjoys books why not have the guests bring your each child a small book for them and then make a donation of a book or money to the local or school library. If you look around online I am sure you can find places that need book donations. Hope that helps!

For my son's 6th birthday (a pool party at our local rec center) we asked friends and family to bring gifts (optional) that could be donated to our local animal shelter. We included a "critter" wish list in the invitations. My son had a great time filling up a huge laundry basket and then taking it to the shelter. We also had a little prize for the first person to arrive and put something in the basket - that was in the invitation too!

Have fun!

Maybe you could say that your beautiful kids are blessed with fabulous clothes and toys but are already planning for college! Books or something they could tuck away in their college fund would really help them smile for years after their birthday! I imagine if you gave it thought you could come up with a great way to say it. Good luck!

I have twins, christmas and their birthday is less than 3 months apart, the toys were getting out of control. We open up a pa tap account(buy college credits at today rate), we put the account number on the invites and suggested they send a check to help them in the future with college tuition. You could also suggest savings bonds.

Good luck!

What about something like "wishing well gifts only" and do a book themed wishing well....

i love the idea someone wrote below about having a charity to donate to - like animals - and have everyone bring something to donate to an animal shelter or rescue!!!!

I have been to a party (albeit for slightly older people!) that instead of doing gifts had people contribute to Habitat for Humanity. The way they did it was to say that they were "having the party to buy a goat" or something similar to that - it was pretty clear from the wording (sorry, I can't remember what it was), but kind of like... "giving the gift of a goat" to someone less fortunate via HfH's website. It was cute and clear.

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