Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Go-To Gifts for Kids' Birthday Parties

With three kids, we spend most weekends chauffeuring them between their friends’ birthday parties.  They love a good party, whether at someone’s home, a commercial venue, or a park, and we enjoy socializing with the other parents.  However, these frequent appearances on the birthday party circuit mean that I have to always be prepared with a present.

As a working mom, I have little time or inclination for last-minute shopping trips to brick and mortar toy and book stores (my apologies to such merchants, but schlepping three kids around in a gas guzzling SUV in our town’s heavy traffic and hot weather is not conducive to maintaining my sanity).  I also strongly prefer to give personalized gifts, as most kids narcissistically love to receive things with their names on them, and presenting something personalized conveys a subtle sense of thoughtfulness, which a hastily purchased toy usually doesn’t.  I also don’t want to buy junk that will get thrown away or garage-saled immediately.  So, I employ some organizational strategies to plan and buy gifts ahead:
  • I keep an updated list of the kids’ closest friends and classmates on my iPhone, along with their birth months.  Since my iPhone and I are inseparable (unlike a paper list, which I would lose), I always have a gift recipient list handy.
  • I spend no more than 5 minutes, once a month, here, looking for can’t-miss deals on personalized kids’ stuff.
  • When I find a deal, I hop on it and order enough for all of the children on our gift list, for the coming year.   
  • I also take advantage of Amazon’s 4-for-3 deals and purchase budget-friendly and kid-pleasing items like Melissa & Doug sticker books and puzzles, to give as presents for acquaintances and unexpected party invitations.
  • I then store all of these gifts, personalized and stock, in a spare bedroom closet along with wrap.  It’s not well organized, but at least it’s all in one place.

And voila, I’m done with birthday present shopping for the year, usually in one or two quick and inexpensive online shopping sprees.  No frantic, last-minute, pre-party trips to the toy store on Saturday mornings!

Examples of my purchased-in-advance personalized presents:
  • Three years ago, I used the “secret sale codes” at Pottery Barn Kids and scored over two dozen kids’ beach towels for $6.99 each, including shipping and personalization.  They normally cost $31.  They were a hit each time, and my oldest daughter loves it when she often sees the recipients with their towels at swim lessons or a pool party.
  • I took advantage of a similar short-term sale at Williams-Sonoma and bought ten personalized pink kids’ aprons for $1.99 each, again, including personalization and shipping.  These normally retail for $26 each.  At the time, my oldest daughter and her friends were all taking weekly cooking classes at their school, so they made for timely and appreciated gifts, especially when paired with pink spatulas and signed cookbooks from our favorite local kids’ culinary expert.
  • This year, taking a cue from my oldest who loves to write her friends letters on her personalized stationery, I bought all the older kids on my list personalized notecards from Shutterfly during one of their awesome sales coupled with a free shipping promotion.  Because I ordered so many sets, the total cost was around $5 per gift recipient for a dozen personalized cards with envelopes.  I wrap each set in pretty ribbon and include a sheet of stickers.  Simple and easy. 
  • For younger kids, I buy personalized piggy banks in bulk during Nordstrom’s anniversary sale (which is obviously an annual event) for $10-11.  Nordstrom clerks personalize them on the spot, in the store, and do a lovely job.  I’ve bought so many dozens over the years that I am now referred to by name as “the piggy bank lady” when I walk into my local store.  There are worse nicknames, I suppose!
  • For parties where there is an express no-gifts request, or where charitable donations are preferred, we either donate online to our favorite local kids’ charity or arrange for a symbolic adoption of a dolphin or other popular animal through an environmental organization.
  • Finally, we often give close friends and family personalized storybooks (like these or these) or photo books.  Again, I wait for special promotions, and then buy as many as possible in advance of when I need them.  Next year, I’m considering giving personalized placemats or plates. I've also seen great ideas on Etsy, like personalized super-hero capes and library bags.

You may be wondering: Do I ever buy personalized gifts for children who end up not inviting my kids to their parties?  Yep, but because I’m judicious with my advance purchase birthday gift list, it’s only happened twice.  And both times, we just gave the birthday child the gift anyway -- after all, presents shouldn't be tied to parties, and vice versa.

Because I love to save time and money, I’d love to hear your gift-giving strategies, too!

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