Although my wife and I may not be the most social of couples, our kids more than make up for our willingness to miss parties. My kids have always been popular with their peers and, when they were younger, routinely received one or two birthday party invitations per month. Sometimes, they received invitations from their friends. Sometimes, they received invitations because everyone in the class had to be invited to the party. Sometimes, they did not even know the child whose birthday was being celebrated because the entire grade was being invited to the party (and yes, they attended a small school).
By about the year 2002, the “going rate” for birthday gifts in our community had risen to about $20 per child. In that year, my wife and I easily could have spent over a thousand dollars on birthday gifts for children who our own children never saw outside of school. That seemed a bit excessive, both in terms of cost and in terms of the number of Saturday afternoons that we would have to spend going to parties that seemed to be the “money grabs” Indeed, in one instance, my elder son was invited to a party at a classmate’s home only to learn that he was one of over 300 invited guests and in other instance, my younger son was invited to a party at a local park with over 100 invited guests.
Rather than tell our kids that they could not go to parties, we told them that if they wanted to go to a party, they would need to pay $10 towards the gift. My wife and I would throw in another $10 (sometimes more if the birthday boy or girl was more than an acquaintance). This system immediately cut back on the number of parties that my kids attended. My older son would much rather spend money on himself than on other people, so he would only attend parties that were given for people he really liked or, in a mercenary way, if he knew that the party would be “worth the cost of the gift.” My younger son is a much more giving person, and views any opportunity to have fun with his friends as an opportunity worth spending his allowance, so he cut down less on his party going.
My older son did resist our policy at first, because none of the other kids were required to pay for gifts for their friends, but he finally gave up his resistance. He also learned that if he wanted to go to parties, he needed to budget his money, a skill that he has never willingly embraced. My younger son, in contrast, is always good with his budgeting, and quickly learned that if he was paying for the gift or even part of the gift, he had much more leverage in negotiating which gift we would purchase.
At all of the kids’ birthday parties we have attended, we have found very few other parents who have admitted that they will make their own children contribute to birthday gift costs. At the same time, most have admired our willingness to enforce a regime of fiscal responsibility on our kids.
What do you think? Should parents foot the bill for all of the birthday gifts that their children will have to give to classmates and friends? Or should the kids have to pay some or all of the cost? Is it more important to ensure that your child attends all of the parties to which he or she is invited, or should children be taught that attending a party comes with a cost? How would you approach this with your own children?