Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Birthday Gifts and Frugality

Don't you just love birthdays? Ok, maybe at some point you stop appreciate growing older, but nearly every kid loves a birthday. Birthdays: a day dedicated just to you and a celebration of your life. A day everyone shows how much they love you and how much you have improved their life by being a part of it.

Birthdays are definitely a big deal around here.
Spending Money On Birthdays
I'm a big believer in doing something special for a person's birthday, especially when the person in question is a young child, as those are the years in which we're able to instill in a kid a sense of self worth. When we show a kid that he is important to us, it helps him realize that he is a valuable person. What better way to show someone that they mean a lot to us than by giving them something we do not have in abundance?
If someone is a busy, wealthy man, it probably means much more to his child if dad gives Junior some of his precious time and spends an afternoon or weekend with him doing something the kid enjoys than if he merely showered him with expensive gifts that didn't require sacrifice because money was no object.
On the other hand, if money is tight for parents and they're still willing to part with some of their cash to get their kid something special, I'd wager that that would mean a great deal to a child.
Both the wealthy man's time and the poor man's money being given as a present is another way of saying "Child of mine, you're so dear to me that I'm willing to part with a precious commodity for you. You're worth it!" That has got to do wonders for their self image and self esteem.

I've seen parents with little money that end up putting birthdays on the back burner. If they do something, it is something small at home, and if they buy a present, it's a little dollar store prize that breaks within a few minutes of opening. I can just imagine what this makes a kid feel- that he is only "worth" a 50 cent crackerjack prize. I do understand that in some situations there is no other option, but a large chunk of the time, such is not the case.

We probably spend more on birthday gifts than you would expect from a family with our income level and especially one who preaches extreme frugality, but I do think our first priority is to have the best for our kids emotional development. Don't worry, we have strict parameters on where and how we spend money on gifts to ensure that we get the most bang for our buck with these presents.

Birthday Gifts- Frugally

No Junk. If you're going to be spending money on something, it is a shame to spend it on something that will break within a few minutes. Cheap plastic dollar store toys end up being both landfill fodder and money wasters, because at the end of the day you have neither a working toy nor the moderate amount of money you spent on it. Sometimes it pays to get things that are a little better quality because you'll get more use from it. Money spent on junk is usually money down the drain.

Good Knock Offs. Yes, cheaply made toys are a waste of money (not to mention very "un-green") , but that doesn't mean you need to spend hundreds on name brand merchandise. The best bang for your buck, in my experience, are the good quality knock off brands. Do some research before purchasing and test out the product if possible. You can often get toys that are just as sturdy and nice at less than half the price just by avoiding the trap of the "name brand is always best" myth.

Gifts That Grow With You. Some toys, after seeing them flash their lights and hearing their music for a little while, get old quickly. They lose their appeal and sit on the shelf unused because your kids have already tired of that toy. Bells and whistles are boring after a bit; the best bet with a toy is to get one that is meant for all ages and has many different uses...

Multi-Function Gifts. This overlaps the last parameter somewhat. Toys that can be used in more ways than one are vastly superior to that blinking, beeping toy. When you can use the same toy for 10 or more types of activities, then you know that you hit the jackpot, because your child gets 10 toys for the price of one, making it a very worthwhile purchase.

Educational Gifts. As a homeschooling mother, this is an important one to me. When a gift can be used both for play and also for learning, the gift is a frugal one, as money spent on educational toys is money that doesn't need to be spent on homeschooling curriculum.

Get Good Prices. To be able to get toys that fit the parameters above but not break the bank, you may need to make your purchases wisely. Shopping during sales times are a good way to stock up on gifts for the family. Clearance racks and coupons are good ways to lower the prices of your otherwise expensive toys. You might also be able to get these gifts from garage sales, thrift stores, or ebay. Know your child though, because if a second hand gift will make your child feel uncared for or unloved, it may be worthwhile to spend a bit more on getting new items. If you use Swagbucks, you can use the Amazon.com giftcards you earn free via searching to buy these expensive items without spending a cent.

Worthwhile Gifts

What gifts make the cut on my list of worthwhile gifts? What are the most frugal and good toys that I've either bought or received so far?

Wooden Blocks. Your kids can enjoy these toys all the way from infancy through kindergarten, perhaps even beyond. At a young age, they'll be stacking one or two, but as your kid develops more and his imagination grows, he can build intricate castles and cities. This is a worthwhile toy because they're good for many ages, and they last a long time. They've got many uses so kids don't bore from them quickly, they're educational, and they're usually not so expensive. No wonder they're classic toys. Every home should own at least one set of blocks.

Lego. Name brand Lego can be quite pricey, but even so, they're a worthwhile toy. They're nearly indestructible, multi purposeful, educational, and you never get too old to play with Lego.
We managed to find knock off brand Legos that are indistinguishable from the originals aside for missing the Lego logo. Be careful when buying these, because not all knock offs are the same quality. Some are pure junk, while some others are perfect replicas like the ones we own.
I do suggest getting the regular Lego and not Megablocks, because kids quickly outgrow the latter. If you're unsure because of small pieces, only get Lego when your kid is old enough that he doesn't put toys in his mouth and/or play with the Lego together with your kid until he is old enough to be trusted with them on his own. Lee especially loves his father-son bonding time playing with Lego with Mike.

Balls. Again, these are toys that have so many uses and are for so many different ages. The right ball can be enjoyed from infancy on through early and late elementary- perhaps even beyond. (I remember playing ball games at recess all the way through 6th grade and played dodge ball in high school gym class!) Rolling, kicking, tossing, shooting hoops- all can be done with the standard air filled soft rubber ball.

Moving Vehicles. As a mom of boys, these get lots of use in our house. While the dollar store cars and trucks have gone straight in the trash, the good quality ones like Fisher Price and Little Tikes have survived much mistreatment and lasted years and years (we have hand me downs from when I was a kid!) and have gotten so much use.

Lee's birthday gift. We have so many toys, so any things that I get Lee, I want to make sure that they absolutely fit all the criteria above. This year, I bought Lee a game that was 9 in one. Its an educational game that has all ranges of difficulty, so it is suitable for 3 year olds through 7 year olds. Its a little hard to explain, but its matching/bingo style with a board and cards and teaches patterns, numbers, likes and differences, opposites, etc. Its name is "Preschool University". Lee loved it so much that he played with it for a good hour this morning and even fell asleep holding his brand new toy. I not only consider it a birthday gift, I also consider it an investment as part of our "homeschooling curriculum".
Best of all, this game was on sale, so I only spent 8 dollars on it even though I got it from an expensive store- Toys R Us.

What do you think about birthday gifts? Do you think that they are important; do you agree with me that not making a big deal out of a kid's birthday can negatively affect their self image?
What do you think are the kids' toys that are most worthwhile financially to buy? What would you add to the list? What are your criteria when it comes to buying gifts?

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