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The Argument for No-Gift Birthday Parties

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Bethany Sanders: I want my daughter to appreciate the value of a good gift. My solution? No gifts at all.

girl with birthday cake
When my daughter recently turned 7, she wanted to invite her entire class to her birthday party. Is this a new thing, inviting everyone? Because I found myself totally overwhelmed -- not only at the potential cost, but also at the idea of 21 extra presents to put away.

It's no secret that I think our kids have too much stuff -- stuff that clutters their rooms and stuff that clutters up their imagination, too. And birthday parties are a big culprit. I'm not about to leave anyone out, but when I see 21 gift bags piled up in a heap of ribbons and bows, my hands get a little clammy.

That's why I'm a big advocate for no-gift birthday parties. I realize that I have, um, "issues" when it comes to clutter, but it's also an economic issue. If there are 25 kids in your child's class and even half of them have big birthday parties, that's 12 gifts you have to buy every year. Let's just assume you spend $20 a pop -- that's $240 a year. With parents out of work and families living on tighter budgets than at any time in recent history, that's a lot of money. has some great tips for keeping gift-giving under control, including:

• Create a family/friend dividing line. Family can give gifts, but "friend" parties are just for fun.
• In lieu of gifts, ask friends to donate to a charity of your child's choice, or to bring a favorite book to be given to your local library, shelter or literacy council.
• Ask friends to bring a smile, their presence (not their presents!) or a birthday wish for your child. Seeds for a garden or photos of friends together are nice, too.
• Remind family members that your child's college savings account needs a donation more than your child needs yet another stuffed animal.
• Be a good role model. Buy one coveted item to unwrap, or give the gift of experience
-- a small vacation, a class, a one-on-one day with Mom or Dad.

There are lessons to be learned in gift-giving. Children learn to really think about another person when they're asked to choose a gift; recipients learn how to be gracious when receiving a gift. Children do deserve (at least now and then) the sheer joy of staring into a pile of presents and knowing it's all for them. But even in today's consumer-driven culture, we can teach them limits without spoiling the fun.

My 7-year-old did end up inviting her entire class to her birthday party, which we held at a local sledding hill. Afterward, just our family joined us at our house for presents and cake. She never missed the presents from her friends and went to bed one happy kid.

How do you feel about no-gift birthday parties?

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Louise McCloud April 20, 2010, 3:51 AM

No, this is not a new thing, actually it’s very sweet, my son wanted to that, every year until he was about 11. And every year, I would explain to him that it just wasn’t possible and the reasons why, but I also listened to his reasons, the reason he wanted to invite everyone in his class is because “he didn’t want anyone to feel bad”, he liked his classmates and couldn’t decide which 10 to invite.

He understood why we couldn’t invite all his classmates, be honest, children need to know why it’s not possible, especially in these tough economic times, they know a lot more than we give them credit for, so what I did was make a batch of cupcakes, one for everyone in his class even his teacher, I contacted his teacher and told him about his “dilema” she thought my cupcakes were a great idea, so while everyone in his class couldn’t be invited to his birthday party, he was sharing a part of “his special day” with all his classmates.

Lauren April 20, 2010, 5:57 AM

I think a no gift party for friends is a great idea, for all the reasons you mentioned! However, inviting everyone is not a new thing- I’m almost 30 and my birthday is in May and for several years when I was young, we had a pool party and invited the whole grade. It was a really fun open party so if you’re planning on inviting a bunch, I’d suggest something open like that with kids free to play instead of having to do activites etc. but a no gift party sounds like a great idea (I love the “we want your presence not presents” line!) andit seems like it would make the child appreciate the family gifts even more.

Danielle April 20, 2010, 11:19 AM


Nikita April 20, 2010, 12:25 PM

You mothers are pathetic! Its her BIRTHDAY and I’m sure if you said “hey honey, you can have 10 gifts that you’ll REALLY love OR you can have none” the child will obviously choose the latter. There’s never a guarantee that everyone will bring presents anyways. My best guess is its the “stay at home” moms that have a problem with this. Quit being cheap and quit denying your child a wonderful birthday. Or prepare to bust out the vacuum one extra time that week. That is what you do right? Clean, cook, and moan. And they wonder why no one takes them seriously. And yes, I am a parent, I have a career and I also persuing my Masters. If I can pick up a little wrapping paper then I’m sure you can too.

Misti April 20, 2010, 1:33 PM

I wish I knew how to get people to take the no gifts request seriously, Bethany.

After several years of some people showing up with big, showy gifts, making everyone who had listened to our request feel bad, we moved the party.

Now birthdays are celebrated with only family, but on half-birthdays, we have an “I love my friends” party.

We have cake and candles and games and funny hats … and everyone is asked to bring a pre-loved book wrapped up as a gift, and then each kid gets to pick a gift to open and take home.

somebody's momma April 22, 2010, 6:53 AM

As a kid the only thing we did was have a meal I picked with cake and candles. maybe two gifts. no friends or balloons or fun.It is so sad. I am happy to bless my kid and his friends each year. We do birthdays with all his friends, cake, candles and pinata with candy to take home. Some seem selfish and cheap or pious with their comments. The birthday celebration says we are happy you are alive. You could save up all year. Or make the party smaller.

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