Birthday Dictatorship — The Gift Registry

birthday wish list

Good Morning America recently asked its loyal Facebook fans to weigh in on whether or not “it’s ever OK for parents to request gift cards or create registries for their kids when hosting a birthday party.”

Kids, of course, would love this. My own son would be at Target with his portable scanner beep-booping over Magic cards, phone supplies, video games…and then he’d want to go do the same at Dick’s Sporting Goods too.

birthday wish list

One parent, a mother of 5, was onboard. “[A] gift card allows the kids to pick out their own stuff and also shows them money sense,” she wrote. “They know how much they have to spend and they can spend up to that amount, or use their money and add to it if what they want costs more. Gift cards are a godsend if u [sic] ask me.”

Plus, she has five kids. Think of all the junk that would otherwise fill up her house after a birthday party!

Another respondent, though, made an equally good point: “A child should learn that any gift is OK…It’s the thought that counts. Too many spoiled entitled kids today.”

GMA asked an etiquette expert too. Elaine Swann said, “The bringing of gifts is a gesture of goodwill and when we start to set standards and ask for gifts in this particular instance, I think it’s setting the wrong precedence in terms of entitlement.”

A Generous Alternative

One of the respondents suggested what has become my favorite alternative to birthday gifts — giving to charity instead. I am happy to report it is becoming increasingly common for me to see a news story about a young person:

  • Doing a pet food donation drive
  • Sking for donations to a charitable organization in lieu of gifts
  • Donating their presents to a homeless shelter or Ronald McDonald house.
  • Getting people together for a birthday party where they make sandwiches for a homeless shelter.

Young people are using their birthdays as an opportunity to do acts of generosity for others!

I was able to get my son to take this approach for a few years, but then he got older and realized his friends were getting gifts, and he wanted the same thing. I suggest the alternative each year, but I’m not going to foist it upon him.

In the meantime, I’ve become one of those Moms who provides a gift card instead of a present. Yet, I won’t be allowing my child to openly ask for cash or register for gifts any time soon.




Birthday Surprise for Military Son

birthday surprise

Image source

I’m a fan of creative gift-giving. My friends did a scavenger hunt for me to find my present in college, and I loved it. I have aunts who sent the same plastic figure back and forth to each other embedded in other gifts. I’ve done the big box of empty to faux disappoint a child. Plus, a lump of coal for my husband one Christmas.

So, I get the idea behind the birthday gift prank played on the boy in this MilitaryKind video I saw shared on Facebook:


Birthday Prank

The boy is given a big box with more boxes inside of it. At one point he opens one to find a letter, which has him in tears reading out loud how his Dad won’t be able to make it home for his birthday. So sad. Then, he keeps on opening more boxes…Finally, he hits a note that says “Surprise” and out comes Dad — home after all.

Perhaps not as surprising is the mixed reactions on Facebook. Some people thought the whole thing so sweet — Father and Son reunion after all. Others were upset about the cruel trick played on the little boy.

One wrote: “Why put the kid through the emotional trauma of the first part of this surprise by first lying to him??? Cruel.”

I appreciated this response to that perspective: “…guess all of you saying how cruel this is have never done anything to tease anyone in your lives.”

Still, the comments made me view the video again in a different light. I’ve decided taking out the letter part, where the kid’s hopes are crushed, could have had the same surprise impact and softened the blow.

What’s the cruelest/cleverest thing you’ve done to celebrate a friend’s birthday?

Top 5 Ways to Spend $300K birthday present

Birthday lottery winning

Photo credit: Infomastern via / CC BY-SA

It’s been a family tradition for years for family members to send Ervin Smolinksi scratch-off lottery tickets and chocolate for his birthday. This year it paid off.

The 94-year-old man made the news when he won $300,000 in the Michigan Lottery. His daughter-in-law bought the winning ticket as a gift for the World War II veteran.

“I’ve seen a whole lot in my life, and I don’t get worked up easily. I think my son-in-law was more worked up that I was,” Smolinksi said. In the CNN coverage the former sailor said, ”

I’m pretty frugal, I always shop sales and take care of my money and that won’t change.”
“The only thing that will change is I won’t have as much stress in my life worrying about money,” the former sailor said, “I’m pretty frugal, I always shop sales and take care of my money and that won’t change….The only thing that will change is I won’t have as much stress in my life worrying about money.”

Birthday Money

His win got me thinking though, as I probably too often do, what I would do if I won the lottery. Considering I don’t often play the lottery, it’s really a ridiculous game to play in my head. Yet, I enjoy the mental game. So, because this blog is often about giving, let me give you my top 5 ways to spend lottery winnings:

  1. Travel the world. Truly. Buy a tour package that has a travel agent set it up for you to get to every continent and live it up in luxurious hotels along the way.
  2. Pay off (or if you’re renting now buy with cash) house. Think of the joy of having a home that’s all equity. Come time to sell it, or pass it on, you’re sitting on value.
  3. Build up the college fund. With just one kid it’ll be easier for me to top up the account with some of these extra dollars, but putting it in his account in advance gives my family the benefit of accrued interest.
  4. Throw a massive — and I mean massive — par-tay for everyone I know and love in a destination location and with me footing the bill for hotels and travel and all that. Sort of like a wedding party, but I pay for it and we don’t have to say “I do” again.
  5. Donate. Find a few causes that you truly care about. Do the research about their credibility and give, give, give.

Those who are good at math might realize something here…I’ve probably overspent the $300K. Especially after the government takes the taxes out. Still, it’s fun to imagine isn’t it? Do you have a different top five? I’d love to hear other suggestions.

The 7 Ages of Birthday Gifts

Birthday gift ideas

Photo credit: jessicafm via / CC BY-ND

Social scientists have long been interested in the exchange of goods as a moral rather than economic exchange. Yet no academic has been able to argue that there is an age at which we stop gleaning joy from giving or receiving gifts. As with Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, we might also divide our reaction to gifts into seven stages:


…Our response to gifts having seven stages. At first the infant,

Drawn only to the shine or crackling sounds of wrapping paper;

And then the curious toddler, with a stack of gifts behind him,

More interested by far in the cardboard boxes they came in.

And then the enthusiastic schoolboy, ripping through the present

pile only needing to see what’s inside before moving on to the next.

Then a teen, full of strange ideas and ripe in smell, looking up from

Texting only long enough to acknowledge the cash or gift card,

Seeking an excuse to escape to the anonymous freedom of the mall.

Then the independent young man, full of book learning but burdened

By student debt, playing the part of gracious recipient while downplaying joy.

The sixth age shifts into the responsible adult, with claims of disinterest

In gifts and consistent embrace of his age as the youthful, well-saved 29.

Last scene of all, the milestones-only man more focused on making

Great plans for strange eventful trips when his age ends in 0, before oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


This bastardization is offered without the limitations of iambic pentameter, but with copious apologies to the Bard.

The Gift of Experiences

birthday gift ideas

Photo credit: torbakhopper via / CC BY

The blogosphere is riddled with parenting pieces. One that caught my eye recently was entitled: “Why I Won’t Be Giving Your Kid a Birthday Present.” The title sounds more antagonistic than Victoria Fedden’s actual piece actually is. Her article tackles materialism and suggests that experiences matter more.

As the mother of “an extroverted 5-year-old,” she writes, about going often to “pretty over the top” events that net the birthday child “an avalanche of abundance.” She states: “Children today have too much stuff (my own included)…I’m not ungrateful, but I strongly believe that all of this excess breeds a terrible sense of indifference.”

On the heels of my own son’s 9th birthday, I heartily agree. In his younger years I was able to bring him onside with the idea of a food pantry or animal shelter drive instead of presents. But as he got older, and saw the loot his friends were bringing in, he resisted. Yet this year some of his presents remain unopened weeks later! He enjoyed the unwrapping part, but hasn’t actually taken the items out of their boxes!

Meaningful Experiences Matter More

Fedden’s point is that children remember the playing with their friends more than the presents. So her vow now is to gift kids “with something a lot more important: meaningful experiences.”

She suggests she will take a child to a picnic with her daughter, or the zoo, or a movie — creating a memorable experience for both the birthday celebrant and her own child. She writes: “Above all, the greatest gift we can ever give our kids is to teach them to build lasting relationships with others — relationships based on laughter and good memories and delightful experiences.”

I tried this idea of favoring experiences over goods on my son’s birthday this year by giving him a coupon book of experiences such as:

  • Going to a store for his favorite dessert
  • Inviting a friend over to watch a movie
  • Time at a trampoline park
  • Playing Frisbee golf with a parent

The one he was dying to use was playing one sport of his choosing in our cul de sac with both parents. We all went out and kicked the soccer ball around — and I think it’s safe to say we all had fun.

Favoring experiences over items is something I want to keep trying to value.

My confidence in the choice was only helped when I overheard my son showing his friends (over for a birthday sleepover) the gifts he’d already received and raving first about his cool coupon book of experiences.