Kids birthday party gift buying survival guide

It’s chaos. It’s Saturday morning and I’m flying through the supermarket, snatching at birthday cards and silently praying that they have something ‘good’ in the toy section that would make for a nice present. There’s maybe an hour till the birthday party my child was invited to (three weeks ago) starts.

It’s not a look I’m proud of and it has got worse. These days both my kids are now being invited to birthday parties and they seem to come thick and fast.

Parties Every Weekend!

When we first started going my budget was around £10.00 for a nice gift. Then came a cost of living crisis and two children one or the other (or horror of horrors, sometimes both) of them at a birthday party pretty much every weekend. Every. Weekend.

Usually it’s Thursday before I’ve clocked there’s a birthday party happening, leaving limited time for me to squeeze an order in with Amazon. I also seem to struggle making decisions on Thursdays, so even if there’s a possible gift I could buy, I dither about it for so long it’s often Friday and frankly too late. Back to the supermarket in the morning then, I think, a little part of me inwardly dying.

Birthday card buying hack

It has taken me 6 years to realise a simple birthday card buying hack. My kids turned 4 and 6 respectively this year, so I could simply buy a bundle of 4 year old and 6 year old birthday cards. Keep them gender neutral (rainbows, who doesn’t love a rainbow?!) and Bob’s your uncle. No more panic card buying.

I nearly always have a roll of wrapping paper and I have no scruple about gifting anyone items wrapped in pink unicorns, so that’s one thing less to worry about. Last weekend though, I came perilously close to running out of Sellotape (note to self: order more Sellotape after writing). It’s all so stressful.

Birthday present buying on a budget

There are other ways of doing it however. Here are some top tips I’ve sourced from mums who are so much smarter and better organised than me:

  • Bulk Buy in Advance – Bulk buy generic age-appropriate birthday presents (like the card epiphany I recently had) and look out for multi-buy deals. Argos for example often have two for £15 type deals on, bringing down the price of a £10 gift to a more reasonable £7.50.
  • Buy Second hand – An even cheaper version of the above is to check out second hand sites and pick up lovely gifts for super reasonable prices (and sometimes even free). Take a look at Facebook Marketplace for example, Vinted, Gumtree and eBay for toys. For Christmas this year we bought our own kids second hand toys that were in great condition and only a percentage of the original price. Many people have toys that are still boxed and either haven’t been used or barely.
  • Activity packs – One way to create a nice gift for under a fiver is to buy activity packs, colouring books and stickers from places like The Works. What child doesn’t love stickers? And activity books can be the saviour of many a dull rainy afternoon or long trip in the car, making them the gift that keeps giving long after the party is over.
  • Gift cash – It’s incredibly simple and doesn’t take all the time and energy that the options above can do. One of my children received a £5 note in her birthday card this year and was overjoyed with it. So overjoyed in fact she won’t spend it, but that’s a different issue!
  • Start a no-present buying trend with your own kids. I went to a birthday party of a child whose mum is a brilliantly cool eco-warrior type. The invite said no presents, just to bring a book to put into a book exchange pile.
  • Stock pile duplicate gifts – Keep any duplicate presents given to your own kids to one side. This is increasingly difficult as my children get older, more eagle-eyed and elephant-memoried about the gifts they’ve been given but I have had some success with it.
  • Don’t sweat it so much – Honestly, no one but you is counting how much money you’re spending. And absolutely no one wants you to bankrupt yourself over a birthday gift. If you can afford a little something, that’s perfect. But there really is no need to go overboard. I promise. This is a permission slip from me on this one.

A couple of other small ways to keep costs down include getting your children to make the birthday cards they are giving, rather than buying them. You can also use brown paper instead of printed wrapping paper and get your children to decorate it themselves – by colouring pictures on the paper or adding stickers, stamps, glitter etc.

How to get ahead

One of the big questions I needed answering when researching this piece was how on earth people manage to be ahead of the curve enough to pre-buy etc., to which most mums I chatted to had their own particular methods: From on spec buying of a second gift in the two-for-fifteen pound type deals, to having a specific time each week or month that they spend shopping around online. Other methods included having a ‘children’s toys’ search set up in the various online apps, so they are alerted when toys in a given price/age range/condition were listed.

I’m feeling pretty smug as I write. Next to me on the desk is a birthday card and a crafting kit that I picked up in the sale all ready and waiting to go to our next party this weekend. No crazy Saturday morning supermarket dash for me this week. Not only is this a total win personally it’s also a flame of hope to you all – if I can be better prepared AND save money on kids birthday gift buying then so can anyone!

Read my super popular post on five ideas for childrens birthday parties rated by cost, hassle and enjoyment here.

This is an article created by Rebecca Megson-Smith. A writer, writing coach and feminist, fuelled by books, tea and time by the sea. You can find her on her website, Instagram @ridleywrites and lurking on Twitter @ridleywrites.


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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

I write about personal finance made simple, lifestyle choices that will save you time and money, as well as products and services that offer great value.

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