The Stocking Up Principle, Part 4: How I Handle Birthday Gifts

birthday gifts in bulk

I’m back talking about stocking up in advance again! Whether it’s toiletries or tomato sauce, stocking up when prices hit rock bottom is one of the best ways to lower your out of pocket expenses over the long run.

Today I wanted to show you how I have applied this principle to gifts. Specifically, I’m referring to the gifts your kids give to their friends at the parties they are invited to. But really, the idea of stocking up in advance can be applied to any gift: birthday, Chanukah, housewarming, anniversary, host/hostess, etc.

No Gift Policies

Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of the “no gifts, please… your presence is our present!” sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I get really anxious when my house is too cluttery and I’ve found that post-birthday parties amp up the clutter factor in our basement about 100-fold.

Second, but along the same lines, I truly believe that having fewer toys of simpler materials and higher quality encourages imagination and open-ended play. Of course, good luck telling your friends to only bring American-made wooden toys to your kids’ next party.

And third, I really do mean it when I say that celebrating with us and our kids is indeed a gift. The shiny wrapped things can easily distract from what’s really important.

But…. as my kids get older and into more collection-type toys, I see that wooden blocks are no longer cutting it for them. Plus, after four years of a no-gift policy at our own birthday parties, my oldest was truly bummed about always giving gifts, but not being allowed to get them in return.

I toyed (no pun intended) briefly with the idea of just not giving gifts for all the reasons above. But ultimately, social norms, plus my kids’ incessant complaining calmly presented arguments, won out.

Gift-giving philosophy aside, I was also troubled by the expense. Even if I got an “inexpensive” gift, we are talking about spending a minimum of $10 per party in my area. And based on the value of gift cards my sons (1st grade and pre-K) have received from some of their friends, I think $15 might be even more common. Even if we only go to five or six parties a year — a low-ball estimate for sure — that’s still $60-$90 a year. For some of you $10 – $15+ a pop may not be a big deal, and if so, more power to you! But for our budget, there just isn’t that kind of flexibility.

Buying Ahead in Bulk to the Rescue

Once I accepted my “fate” of gift-giving at a half a dozen or more kid birthday parties a year, it was time to roll up my sleeves and get creative. First, I tried making themed goodie baskets — like pool toys for an early May birthday or snow paraphernalia for a December kid. I shopped at the Dollar Store and threw in a few homemade items. But I still was spending way too much, plus, honestly, I’m kinda lazy and it was a lot of work for the steady stream of parties.

Then one day, I read about a great sale on the game Connect 4 at Target. The game was normally priced at $10, but was on sale for $5. Then there was a $3 manufacturer’s coupon, so I printed out as many as I could. I ended up getting five coupons, which meant I could afford to buy five games for what one game would normally cost me without the sale and coupons.

Suddenly I had a five completely respectable gifts, which were worth $10, but only cost me $2! Which by the way is my target price for stock-up gifts.

Recently I’ve added to our gift giving tub by buying two Dora DVDs ($2 after coupons – again, at Target), three Toy Story figurines ($1.99) and three Bakugan brawler thingamabobs ($2.49) at the CVS 75% off  summer clearance sale.

Target Dora DVDs $2

Finding the Best Deals: Where to Look

To find appropriate birthday gifts, keep your eye on Target clearance end-caps, as well as sales and markdowns at grocery stores and drug stores. You can even find great deals at ToysRUs on occasion.

Hasboro and Crayola often have printable coupons, which, when coupled with a sale, can make for really inexpensive board games or arts & crafts sets. In fact, here’s a link for a $4 coupon good for Monopoly, Life, Sorry!, Operation, Guess Who?, or Connect4!

And finally, don’t be afraid to shop garage sales and thrift stores. I’ve bought new with tags puzzles, block sets and baby clothes for $.5o or less.

If you are looking for more ways to keep the gift-giving and birthday party-throwing expenses to a minimum, stay tuned for a post next week (hopefully) about frugal celebrations.

And P.S. My apologies if your child received or will receive any of the above gifts, and you are now bummed to read how much I really paid. Remember: It’s the (fore)thought that counts!

Do you also keep a stash of gifts to give for any occasion? Or do you think it’s tacky and prefer to buy with the recipient in mind?


  1. I totally agree with your ways, I do the same thing. I have stuff up in my closet right now, waiting for a birthday of some sort. And also I will have to admit that I ‘regift’ sometimes. Maybe if its not good for me, it great for someone else, so why throw it away. I also do that for hostess gifts. I look at the clearance food and sometimes get lucky, i once got jelly bellies for less then $3 once in a nice tin! Please let us know if there is any good deals on toys:)

  2. I stock up on seasonless gift wrap and gift bags–also found at Target, walmart, and Biglots, on clearance of course. It makes a HUGE difference using a clearance priced gift bag than having to run and buy one for 4 or 5 dollars at the last minute. I definitely need to get a gift bin and hit the link you posted for the coupon! Great tips!! God bless.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Victoria! These are great ideas. I did the same thing last year at Target’s after-Christmas clearance when it was 90% off. Total money saver.

  3. Absolutely, I stock up when I see something on sale that my kid really likes or that I think will make a good gift for someone we know we’ll be giving to in the future. I have gotten good deals on some of our favorite games by buying a case, which was only 6 or 8 sets.

    If I have a lot of identical items, I put a list of the recipients in my “future gifts” box, to avoid repeats.

    Here are my tips for saving money on gift wrap.

  4. My mother always had a gift drawer. I have a shelf in the closet for birthday gifts and Chanukah/Birthday gifts for nieces and nephews. And, like you, I have no issue buying on sale or finding great things. I just picked up a very nice, pricey gift for an older niece for $5 at a consignment expo. The tag price is probably closer to $25.

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