Friday, December 31, 2010

Birthday Gifts that Give and Get

Down with "Junk" Spending
What is the first thing that comes to mind when your kid gets an invitation to a birthday party? If you are like me, then it's the gift. And, if you really are like me, nine times out of ten you don't know much about the birthday boy or girl and can't count on your child for any direction whatsoever.

So, shopping for the right twenty-dollar present usually costs ten dollars in gas and an hour or two of your life that I'm quite sure is not being well-spent. Really, I'm feeling quite done with this whole ritual, the spending for no-good-reason ritual. And yes, I know that we just finished Christmas and that I'm perhaps hyper-tuned in to "junk" spending, but hear me out. I have a great idea that could revolutionize the birthday party as we know it.

Now, those of you who read about my attempt to kibosh chocolates in my daughter's advent calendar are probably cringing at what's about to follow. But I assure you that while I am certainly not a candidate for mother of the year, my daughter has actually found some pleasure in her money-conscious mom's newest crazy idea.

Ten Dollars, Please
For better or worse, my daughter's birthday is just a few days before Christmas and every year we do a big party with between twenty and thirty guests. That means at the end of every party my daughter has a mountain, literally a mountain, of gifts to unwrap. For six years I have allowed her to enjoy the madness. But for her seventh birthday, I wanted to do things differently.

In October, over her mountainous haul of Halloween candy, I suggested that she do a fundraiser for her birthday. She was aghast at the idea so I left it alone for a few weeks and then broached the subject again, this time while we were planning the theme for her party: pets. I suggested that we ask her guests to bring a cash donation, half of which could go to the local animal shelter and half of which she could keep.

She was still reluctant (mountains of presents loomed large in her imagination) until we crunched the numbers: 30 guests times $10 equals $300, of which she could keep $150. Plus, she could buy whatever she wanted with her part of the money. And, when we talked about the not-really-her-thing presents she had received at past parties, the deal was done.

Then it was my time to worry. How would parents react to our request for cold, hard, impersonal cash instead of some lovely toy wrapped in those familiar ribbons and bows? What if some of them still brought gifts?

Getting and Giving
As it turns out, I was worrying about nothing. Many parents appreciated not having to do the gift runaround. Others liked putting ten dollars in a card because it gave them a chance to talk to their kids about what a donation is and why it's important to share your money.

As for my daughter, she was happy too. We had twenty-four generous guests who gave a total of $305, $155 of which my daughter logged, tallied, put in an envelope and delivered to the animal shelter. She was very pleased to find out that the money will go toward paying vet bills for some sick cats.

As for her portion, she is saving $120 and spending $30 (on what yet, I'm not sure). And I should mention that someone from the animal shelter came to the party and did a twenty-minute dog safety program with the kids that was informative and enjoyed by all. This was so much better that the mountain of gifts and my hope is that other families in our circle of friends and classmates will adopt this new ritual of blending giving with getting.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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  1. Off to a birthday today and now that we've set the tone with my daughter's party, I'm feeling confident about putting $10 in a card for the 6 year old birthday boy. In fact, I spoke with this young fellow yesterday and asked if he would mind getting cash as a present. His reply: "No! Money is more important than gifts!"

    Also, I recently had a parent come up to me at school and say that she is going to "copy" us for her daughter's upcoming 8th birthday. Yippee! Another $10 in a card instead of schlepping around toy stores!

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