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Birthday Party Etiquette Q&A

Birthday Party Group Present Etiquette

By Amalah

Hiya Amalah,

This isn’t a deeply pressing question (although I could probably write you a novel about my MIL), but I’d be interested in hearing your common-sense-etiquette take. How are you supposed to handle the birthday gift situation when you have multiple kids attending the same birthday party? 

I have three kids (9, 7 and 5) and while most of the birthday parties they’re invited to don’t include siblings (which is fine!), there’s been a couple lately that have extended the invite to all three of them. Which is also fine! It’s nice when no one feels excluded and they’re all (mostly) at an age where I can (mostly) count on good behavior and manners from all three. 

So…when all three are invited, is it expected that we’ll show up with three separate gifts? Is it rude to just bring one? If we do bring one gift, should we make sure we spend a little extra on it to reflect the fact that they’ll be consuming extra pizza and cake and whatnot? Does it make any difference if the party is at a price-per-head venue vs. a casual at-home party? 

Or am I just completely overthinking this? I admit that sometimes it can get super pricey when there’s multiple parties in a single month. We usually spend around $10-$15 on a gift, maybe $20 if the child is a really close friend. We’ve yet to be invited to a single party with the mythical “no gifts please” on the invitation, so while I don’t want to be a rude birthday grinch, I also wonder if sending multiple gifts is overkill?

Advice needed,
Balancing the birthday gift budget

We usually send one small gift per invitee, or one larger gift that reflects what we would have otherwise spent on individual gifts. (We also aim to spend about $10-15 per gift on average, but I am sneaky sometimes, so more on that in a bit.)

I don’t know if this some kind of across-the-board birthday party expectation — it’s just what feels polite and fair to me. Birthday parties always have a per-kid head count cost, and just because my children are all related doesn’t mean they aren’t three separate party guests consuming food, drinks, treats, party favors, etc.

That said, when we’ve thrown birthday parties, I’ve never taken ANY notice or offense if siblings show up with one gift. Who cares! Look at all those gifts! It’s all too much already! And we usually get one singular thank-you note after parties we’ve attended, no matter if we show up with one present or three. And 99% of the time nowadays, the gifts stay unopened until after the party so there isn’t the pressure for your kids to show up with multiple versions of The Coolest Best Present, or to get singled out for bringing something small and inexpensive. So it probably doesn’t matter all that much, and the best guideline would be: Do what feels polite and fair to you.

(And remember, if your budget is creaking under the stress of half a dozen $30-a-pop birthday parties in a single month, you don’t have to RSVP yes to all of them. And you absolutely don’t have to accept the “siblings welcome” offer if the birthday kid is basically a stranger to two of your own kids. Yes, it’s a nice gesture to include siblings, but I don’t want my kids to feel entitled to invites to every single party their brothers get to attend.)

That said, to offset the cost of this etiquette, I’ve built up a helpful stash of go-to, mostly gender-neutral birthday presents that I keep hidden in a closet. They’re primarily duplicate gifts that my children received for their own birthdays or Christmas that I keep instead of exchanging — extra Lego and Snap Circuit, some books and board games. I also have stuff that my kids just weren’t that interested in — action figures from shows/movies they don’t watch, equipment for sports they don’t play, etc.

(They get sooooo muuuuuch stuuuuffff. I feel absolutely zero guilt when it comes to selectively trimming the haul.)

(Of course, the etiquette downside to regifting is that I can’t always send along a gift receipt. But I assume it can usually be exchanged for store credit OR regifted yet again like the SNL Christmas Candle.)

When the pile of duplicates starts to dwindle, I try to get smart enough and snag Stuff Most Kids Seem To Enjoy when I see it on sale — oh, 30% off board games? Let’s grab Hungry Hungry Hippos and Pie Face Showdown. End-of-summer outdoor toys on clearance? Time to stock up on Stomp Rockets or bubble machines! A sparkly princess tiara craft set or Play Doh mega-pack marked down to $5? SOLD. It helps to just have something when a birthday party invite from a random classmate shows up and my children stare at me blankly when I ask what that child likes. Plus if I do send one gift with multiple children, it can be a really nice gift that nobody needs to know I’m regifting or didn’t pay full price for.

(Except for everybody reading this column. Hmm.)

If anything seems to sit in the go-to gift haul for too long (like, say, we’re not getting invited to preschooler parties anymore so we’re unlikely to need Candyland or the two extra copies of Knuffle Bunny), we donate it to a holiday toy drive or the local family shelter.

Related Alpha Mom articles:

1. Joint Birthday Party Invite Etiquette
2. The Politics of Birthday Parties
3. I Love My Children’s Birthdays But Not All the Gifts! So I Decided To Try Something Different.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

Oh my goodness, I would NOT want siblings to bring their own gifts! It’s enough pressure on families to pick out one present, let alone multiples, and my kids most definitely have enough stuff. We stick with small cake-and-backyard-games type parties, but my answer wouldn’t change if we were paying per head at an outside venue–if your whole family is invited, it’s because you’re important to the birthday kid (or because it’s important to me to make it easy for you to attend!), and I’m not looking to recoup the cost. I may be an outlier because I am firmly… Read more »

Laura
Guest
Laura

i hadn’t thought of this at all! I typically just bring books anyway because we get so many toys!

Just putting out my daughter’s second birthday invite and it’ll say “no gifts please!” I know the etiquette on that is also mixed, but I don’t care. We just want her to have a fun time and cake.

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

When I throw a birthday party, my concerns are:

1) Will enough kids come?
2) Will too many kids come?
3) Will they have fun?
4) Will they get injured?
5) Will my kids throw fits like the little ingrates that they are sometimes?
6) Will the helium balloons escape completely destroying my self conception as an environmentally conscientious person?






1,000,000,000,000) Will the rapidly/instantly depreciating cash value of the gifts that my child receives be roughly equivalent to what I’ve spent on this party?

We don’t do “no gifts” because of 5) above, but if anyone manages to sneak by without bringing a gift, seriously…god’s speed to them.

Scarlet
Guest
Scarlet

I do just do a little bumped up birthday present, in other words, spend a little more than usual but still just one gift unless I happened to know two smaller things the child may want. I would say, don’t stress it much. I doubt if anyone will worry about it the number or price of the gifts. The whole idea is to have the birthday child have fun!