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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So What Happened?™

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.

More Answers


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.

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