I had dinner with my friend Sally the other night, who is also a working Mum and has 3 kids. We were discussing how weekends are full of kids’ birthday parties and she mentioned that the last thing she feels like doing in her lunch break is using it to buy birthday gifts for girls and boys.
Sally told me the story of how she had asked her daughter what she thought her friend would want for her 7th birthday. Her daughter said that her friend liked pigs. So Sally spent her whole lunch break looking for a t-shirt with pigs on it. Amazingly considerate to do this, but also very time consuming.
I shop for kids’ birthday presents completely differently and believe it has saved me hours upon hours over the last few years. I learned this trick growing up with one of my best friends, Martha, who is one of 12 kids. Every weekend without fail, one of the kids in Martha’s family was going to a birthday party and needed to bring a present … enter “the present cupboard”! Martha’s Mum would keep a cupboard in the house stocked with some age appropriate presents, wrapping paper and cards. The kids knew it was their job to pick an age appropriate present and card out of the present cupboard and wrap it before heading off to their birthday party. No heading out to the shops every time a party invite landed on the fridge door.
How “the Present Cupboard” works
I stock up on presents by category, with the first 2 categories below being used the most in our house:
1. Category 1: since my son is currently 9, I buy 3-4 generic presents at a time that are appropriate for 9-10 year old boys. I buy these based on what he likes and I know his friends like e.g. Lego is still a winner
2. Category 2: is similar but based on my daughter who is 7. I buy 3-4 generic presents appropriate for a 7-8 year old girl based on what she and her friends like e.g. anything arts and crafts by Smiggle is a winner at the moment
3. Category 3: I usually have 2-3 beautiful candles or soap / hand cream packs in the cupboard. These are for close friends’ birthdays or other occasions
4. Category 4: when my friends were all having babies I had 1-2 baby boy and 1-2 baby girl gift sets on rotation in the cupboard. Now that most of my friends have had their kids, I usually have time to buy a specific present these days (I’m given about 6 months’ notice by my pregnant friends!)
5. Wrapping paper: I’ve taken Martha’s Mum’s idea one step further. I buy gender neutral wrapping paper (usually green or red with spots or stripes), and gender neutral “happy birthday” and “congratulations on your new baby” cards. I also keep a few generic “thank-you”, “congratulations” and “deepest sympathy” cards in the cupboard. All this reduces the risk of not having the “right” paper or cards at the last minute
6. Specific presents: I still have many people that I want to buy specific presents for. My trick with these ones is to buy the presents when I see them in a shop, no matter what time of year it is e.g. I saw a present I knew my sister in law would love (a micro-herb garden she could keep on her window sill). This was in March so I bought it and put it in the present cupboard. Her birthday was 6 months away!
How do you make buying kids’ birthday presents work?
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