So you recently got an invitation to a birthday party and it says “no gifts please”. What do you do? Do you come to the party empty-handed or do you bring something just in case? What does it mean? Is it obvious or is it just trying to be polite? Here is a breakdown of good etiquette when it comes to getting invitations for children’s birthday parties when parents request that no gifts be purchased. And yes, it’s absolutely ok and their prerogative to request no gifts at the party.
When a birthday party invitation asks for no gifts, it really does mean no gifts. Most parents are not trying to sugar coat anything, make anyone feel better, or even upset you. When I tell someone I don’t want gifts for my kids, it means I don’t want anything else in my house. I spend all year trying to declutter, manage toys, and weed out stuff that doesn’t get played with anyway. On my daughter’s first birthday card, we said “no need to bring a gifty, but if you insisty, please something wooden, thrifty, or nifty” to encourage our preferences, not buying new, and something made.
In trying to live more minimalistically, this also means teaching our children to not expect things at birthday or Christmas, but also that there is no need to buy into the consumerist mentality. We can get what we need when we need it, we can get some things we want on occasion, and we can celebrate without a pile of presents. In fact as parents, we have only given our daughter one present each year at her birthday, and strive for gifts she will never forget versus the ones that get broken and lost.
1. Respect their wishes
Seriously. Don’t bring a gift. It doesn’t matter how awesome or not awesome the gift you were considering is. Just don’t bring one. Most parents aren’t thinking “I am going to ask for no gifts just to be convenient for other parents”. They are truly wanting what’s best for their child and their family.
2. Consider bringing a fruit & veggie tray or Drinks
Call up the parents and see if you can bring some sort of food platter for the party. This means you are contributing and helping offset the costs of the party in general and a way you can help without directly getting the child anything.
This can be like the food platter idea or it can mean bringing a cooler of adult beverages if the host(ess) agrees it’s a great idea. Maybe even buy a bottle of wine for the parents. Especially if it’s a first birthday, make it a little celebration of making it through the year.
3. Donate in the child’s name
You can buy a toy and give it to a benevolent organization collecting gifts for under-privileged children, you can make a donation to an overseas mission, and you can even donate money in their name to help homeless children have birthday parties.
4. Take a card
When an invitation asks to not bring gifts, it doesn’t mean you have to show up empty-handed to the party or without a card. You can write a heartfelt note to the child that can be read in years to come. And if you’re really pushing the envelope on no gifts, you might include something like a sheet of stickers, a coloring sheet, or something else that fits inside the envelope.
5. Get a gift card for the parents
Get a $5 Starbucks card, $10 gas card, or even just a grocery card. It’s something that says “I want to be a blessing to your life, without cluttering your house”. It’s also a great way to encourage parents, especially newer moms. From needing coffee and energy, gas to drive their kids to every attraction, and the high price of feeding little mouths, it’s unlikely the parents will be upset you did this to celebrate them.
6. Ask if pass would be acceptable
If you know many of the attendees or just have a bunch of extra money sitting around, see about getting a science museum, children’s museum, zoo, or something similar pass. It would be a way to contribute to something the memory-making the family would already do and won’t contribute to the mess.
7. Make a wishing tree
Again, talk to the parents, but a nice idea might be to make a wishing tree for the child. Each guest can write their name on a designated piece of paper, shape, piece of wood, or whatever medium you choose and then they write a favorite memory and/or a wish for the coming year for the child. Then they hang it on the tree.
The tree can be a part of bedroom decor, or each memory can be taken down, read, and saved in a memory box. A picture of what we did for my daughter’s second birthday is below. I have also seen people do thumbprint trees as a piece of art to hang.
8. Get a gift card to a local child-friendly hangout
If you can’t afford a year’s pass or if don’t have a group of friends and family to go in on it together, then see about just getting a gift card to a local place. It’s a thoughtful gesture to both the child and the parents and can be to a museum or fun attraction. Again, even a gas card or public transportation ticket to get them to an extraordinary park or something would be a great “gift”.
9. Buy a savings bond
Maybe not the most popular idea, but one that is still an option. Why not save up every little penny for their future?
10. Offer to help at the party
One of the best things we can all do at any party, whether the parent asked for no presents or not, is to be a helping hand. You can easily help decorate, cook food, clean up messes, and just be present at the party.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!