How to buy gifts for kids

It’s the day before the birthday party, and you still haven’t bought a gift for your child’s friend. You have no idea what they like, or even where to start looking. With your kids in toe, you hit the local shopping centre, and the nightmare begins…

We’ve all been there. Even when we don’t have kids, the task of buying a gift for a child that they’ll actually like and play with is daunting. 

Here are some tips I’ve developed over the last few years that will hopefully come in handy the next time you need to buy a gift for a child:

1. Set a budget 
Somehow the bright colours and flashing lights of a toy shop or toy department are designed to bamboozle parents so they spend more. It’s really easy to overspend on gifts for kids, especially if you are buying multiple things as opposed to one large gift. This is why it’s important to set a gift budget before you start shopping. 

When setting your budget, consider: how well you know the child (are they family, a close friend, or an acquaintance?) and what they bought your child for their birthday. The last point might sound harsh, but you don’t want to embarrass the child’s parents by buying something really expensive when they bought your child a modest gift. Buying gifts for kids shouldn’t become a game of one-upmanship. In saying that, I would always rather spend a little more on a gift if I know the child will genuinely love and use it. 

If there’s a gift you’d really love to buy that’s slightly out of your budget, consider making the card and/or wrapping paper at home to save a few dollars. A store-bought card can set you back $5-$10, which you could add to your gift budget if you get your kids to make a card at home. 

2. Find out what they’re into 
Most children go through phases of being into certain movies and movie characters, such as Frozen, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Spiderman, Star Wars, etc. This can be a great source of inspiration for buying a gift. Just remember that the child may move onto something else as quickly as they got into the character or movie they like now. If you’re buying a Frozen t-shirt, for example, get it in a size that fits and they can wear now. If you buy the next size up, they might be into something else by the time it fits! 

3. Consider what your child would like to receive as a gift
Putting yourself in the other child’s or parent’s shoes (if the child is still very young) will definitely help to identify the right gift. If you’re friends, chances are you will have a few things in common and might appreciate the same gift. 

If you have an older child, get them involved and ask them for their opinion on what to buy or what they would like to receive. If their advice is helpful, take them shopping with you as most kids will know what’s cool and what’s not. 

4. Consider the gift from the parent’s perspective
Is the gift: noisy, difficult to put together, or does it require expensive batteries?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, think very carefully about how much you want to maintain a good relationship with the child’s parents!

5. Shop on your own 
If you have young children (five and under), shopping with them can be a special kind of hell. The last time I took my three-year-old shopping to buy a friend’s birthday gift, she had multiple tantrums because she didn’t get the toys she wanted. At this tender age it can be difficult for them to understand the concept of buying a gift for someone else, and you risk spending more money by buying them something to keep them quiet! 

Keep them firmly strapped in their stroller and occupied with a snack (a lollipop is the best value) while you shop, or go without them. I like shopping for gifts in the evening after my kids have gone to bed. My local shopping centre has a late-night shopping evening on Friday nights when most of the shops are open until 10pm (some are even 24hr!). This is a much more peaceful, effectively way of shopping, and gives me time to think and ponder different options. 

6. Consider other options 
Some kids are really tricky to buy for, simply because they already have everything. This is usually applicable when the birthday boy/girl has siblings who also have lots of toys. In this case, it’s necessary to think outside the box. 

An experience, such as trampolining, bowling, or a trip to the zoo could be a better option. Experience gifts also create fun memories for children that they will hopefully treasure forever. Just be mindful of picking an appropriate experience that suits the child e.g. a child that’s scared of heights is probably not going to enjoy indoor rock climbing! Vouchers could also come in handy here, especially if the birthday child is taken on a special ‘shopping date’ with mum and dad to pick a gift. 

7. When in doubt, buy clothes!
Everyone can use clothes, especially special clothes that parents wouldn’t necessarily buy for everyday wear. When in doubt, I always go a little bigger with the sizing so that kids can ‘grow into’ an outfit. 

8. Get organised
Buy early 
It’s easier said than done, but avoid the last-minute rush of trying to find a gift. Even if you see an item online and go into the store to purchase it, I often find they never have the design, colour or size I’m after, and then there’s no time to order it in. 

Buy online 
It’s often cheaper and easier to purchase kids gifts online – the item is delivered to your door and you don’t have to face the shops with your kids in toe. 

Set reminders on your phone
I set two reminders: one a couple of weeks before the birthday so I have time to shop/order the gift, and another a week before if I need to post the gift to ensure it arrives on time. 

You could also block out some time in your calendar to actually go shopping for the gift in your lunchbreak, after work, in the evening, or after work. 

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