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Local love: Set up a gift registry for your child’s birthday

When my boys were younger and having a birthday party, my husband and I added “no gifts necessary” to the invitations.

Books on the SquareToys and gifts seemed to come into our house all year long from loving relatives, so when it came time for my sons’ birthday, we asked their friends to just come and play at their party. This worked well in terms of avoiding an influx of unnecessary toys and extra expense for the guests at the party. That is, until my boys were about five years old and started noticing that friends were receiving presents at their parties.

I usually do not cave to whatever my kids want, but at the the same time I could not come up with a good enough reason why friends could not bring gifts other than “because I said so” or “because I think it is a good idea”–especially when there is so much fun surrounding the idea of gift-giving–so we dropped the no-gift rule.

Gifts started multiplying in our home again, and at the same time my boys started developing very specific tastes of what they liked and did not like. This left many unused and unplayed-with toys to deal with.

I decided for their seventh birthday to try something new: set up a gift registry at a store where guests could contribute to a joint gift certificate for the boys. Since the boys LOVED books and had become voracious readers, I picked our favorite independent bookstore, Books on the Square.

The folks at Books on the Square, who had never done anything like this before, were very receptive to the idea and set up a sheet to track the contributions. On the birthday invite  I mentioned that the boys loved books and wanted to support their local bookshop. I included the phone number and the store’s website, suggesting in lieu of buying a gift, friends and family could make a “small contribution” to a gift certificate for the boys.

The gift registry was a huge success! The boys’ friends’ parents loved the ease of shopping and supporting a local business. Even out-of-town family called in with their credit card numbers and added to the gift certificate. The gift certificate was split in half and each boy received their own copy with the names of everyone who had contributed.

This gift turned out to be a teaching tool for the boys in ways I never expected in terms of planning, negotiating, prioritizing, independence and understanding money. They treated their “money” as something valuable that ought not to be spent all at once. They decided they wanted the “money” to last until their next birthday, so they rarely bought something impulsively. Sometimes after seeing a desired book, the boys waited days or weeks before they went back to buy it or negotiated with each other to split the cost of the book. Now with just over two months until their next birthday, they each have over $50 left to spend and are the proud owners of several small paperbacks and big beefy hardcover books. I asked the boys if they regretted any of their purchases and they both said no.

I think setting up a birthday gift registry could work at any store(s) your kids like. Guests could even be asked to contribute to a class, a special event or a membership to The Zoo or Children’s Museum.

Share your gift ideas and tips in the comments below.

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  • I made a deal with my boys when they began school–if they wanted a “friend” party, we would suggest no gifts, with the understanding that celebrating with friends IS the gift. They get gifts from family members for their birthdays, and I feel, especially in the early grades, that the best thing to do is invite the entire class–but I didn’t want a dozen gifts flying in. So on the invites, we suggested a donation instead, some place the boys wanted to support. They received some gifts anyway, and some parents asked me about it, and to that I said that if their child wanted to give something, of course we didn’t want to squash the giving spirit. (And those who gave gifts took a modest and thoughtful approach.) The donation really is a suggestion, not a requirement (and some folks did neither, and that’s okay too!). My boys were required to write thank you notes to everyone regardless, because, like I said, it’s a gift to celebrate a birthday with friends. And they both had really great birthday parties! 🙂

  • Brilliant as always! I find it interesting that as parents who don’t want many gifts, when we go to a party we feel the need to buy gifts. My friends and I have started to think about gifting experiences instead which is fun. And books are always my go to.

  • Wow, that’s a good idea. I don’t know if I have the cojones to do it. I hope it becomes a trend I can latch onto without being a pioneer. I hate little boy birthday presents of every type, but a gift certificate to the bookstore would hit the spot, and maybe I could sneak a little something for myself in at the cash register.

  • Love this idea! Wish I had heard about it sooner, my son’s birthday is at POW!Science in a few days and wish I could have done something similar with them…oh well, next year!

    thanks for the great tips all year round!!

  • What a great idea! We also love to give and receive donations from Heifer International. You can buy a flock of chickens or a hive of bees that go to a family in need, so they can start their own business. You get a fun, colorful card and it’s never too early to talk about giving even while receiving.

  • Love the idea. My friends and I have run into the same gift problem after the first 4 years -in addition to the fact that while we may not want so very much STUFF in our home, others love to give gifts and it doesn’t seem fair to deprive the giver. Thanks!