Friday, December 24, 2010

Stocking the birthday gift closet

The following is cross-posted at

With both girls enrolled in school (1st grade and Montessori preschool), the birthday party invitations are rolling in like never before. I'm fortunate that Z and A are well-liked children with a lot of friends in their classes, in the neighborhood--and, in Z's case--from her days at Montessori school. It all adds up to a lot of invites, a fair amount of car pool negotiations and a lot of birthday presents.

Although I'm sure purchasing a well-considered, beautifully wrapped gift from Oak Park's own Geppetto's (voted best toy store in Chicago) might help me win mother of the year, I don't have the time, money or inclination to do so every week. And yes, there is a birthday party nearly every weekend. Sometimes two.

So I've been stocking and restocking the gift closet, using the 33, 40 and 50% off coupons Borders sends to its Rewards members to buy Klutz books, Alex craft kits and Pop Bottle Science kits from the well-stocked toy selection in the children's department on State Street, a block from my office.

Other gift closet stocking strategies include checking Kids Woot! for attractive deals and buying 3 or more of a particularly appealing toy. In the past, I've purchased gardening kits, car games and Disney MP3 players from Woot--all of which seemed like much more expensive gifts than they really were.

And on the last day of my free Amazon Prime trial, I choose a couple of art sets that were marked down for Christmas and hit the buy button. One was specifically selected for a little girl who is turning 7 in January, but if one 7 year old girl's likely to like it, why not buy it for a few 7 year old girls?

For the younger set, I keep my eyes out for deals on Play-Doh and Playmobil sets at Target and scoop up a couple whenever the price dips into the $5-8 range.

My goal in keeping a gift closet is to give gifts in the $12-20 range without spending more than $10 a pop. I further save by forgoing cards and wrapping gifts in recycled gift bags or brown craft paper that the kids can decorate and personalize. While I'm sure I could save a lot more by declining more invitations, I see how much my children enjoy their friends' parties and how much it means to those children to have them there. And as long as I can keep the cost of the gifts down, I'm getting a decent deal on 2 hours of entertainment and a snack.