How to Simplify Your Toddler Birthday Gift Giving

I remember the first 1-year-old and 2-year-old birthday parties I attended — they were B.E. (Before Emme), and I had no clue what kind of gift I should bring for a baby-child. For one of the parties, I  ‘phoned a friend,’ aka I called a friend of mine who was already a mom — one of the few ‘mom friends’ I had at the time — and said, ‘What kind of gift should I get for a 1-year-old?” She recommended this toy, which did not cost upwards of $150.00 at the time (seriously, WTF is up with that?). But for other toddler birthday gifts, I wandered aimlessly around Toys “R” Us, lost and confused in a sea of Bratz dolls, Lego sets, and age requirements that somehow always seemed too old or too young.

Emme's First Birthday - Toddler Birthday Gifts - Ideas and Tips

I wanted a Pinterest-y first birthday photo of Emme. She would have none of it.

These days, the process of toddler birthday gift buying must be simplified for the sake of saving things… things like time and sanity. And, as the mom of a young child who has thrown a birthday or two for her kid (two, to be exact), I have some additional insight into the toddler birthday gift giving dilemma.

So if you’re stuck, start here.

5 Tips that will simplify shopping for toddler birthday gifts. Toddler birthday gift ideas and tips to make your shopping trip easier.

Set a budget.

For young kids, I do my best to stay under $25. There are more than enough gift options for toddlers in this price range — from clothing to toys to books to art supplies. Set a budget and stick to it.

Have a ‘signature’ gift.

Just like the signature cocktail you had at your wedding — only legal to give to a child. A signature gift basically solves every problem ever when it comes to giving toddler birthday gifts. You choose a gift and that’s what you give at every birthday party you attend. My sister does this, and to make it personal, she gives a name train, which is completely adorable and universally loved because every child is obsessed with trains at some point.

Ask the parents what they would like the child to have.

This is my m.o. Why? Because most young kids do not actually need anything, and, especially if they are among the only grandchildren in the family, they probably have plenty of toys. Trust me on this one (I know). If you ask the parents, they can tell you exactly what the child can use or what they would like the child to have. Problem solved.

Shop boutique or local toy stores.

Toys “R” Us is overwhelming. There are too many options, especially for the novice toddler gift-giver. Find a local or boutique toy store, and breath a sigh of relief. There will be less options, the toys will typically be higher quality, and the clerks will be able to help you because they will actually have knowledge of the products they sell.

When in doubt: Pajamas. Seriously.

Most party guests will likely gift a toy, so stand out from the crowd a bit with pajamas. Cute pajamas for kiddos are available at every price point. And at this age, sizing shouldn’t be too difficult since sizes correspond to age. To be safe, size up — buy 18-month pajamas for a 1-year-old; buy 2Ts for a 2-year-old. If they can’t wear them to bed immediately post-party, that’s OK. They’ll grow into them, but include the gift receipt just in case.

How do you handle birthday gifts for young children? Do you have signature gift? Are you good about sticking within a certain budget?

For my daughter's second birthday, we threw a party at Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park. Peekaboo Playroom is one of my favorite indoor toddler play spaces. Gift Ideas to Celebrate Baby No. 2 How to Throw a Baby Sprinkle

10 thoughts on “How to Simplify Your Toddler Birthday Gift Giving

  1. We always need PJs! The grandparents buy B tons of clothes, but somehow I always need to buy a couple of sets of jammies. I like giving stuff that’s consumable-like crayons, markers (washable) stickers, paper, etc.-so that if I end up duplicating a gift, it will still get used. Also, a gift card to a family friendly restaurant would be useful, too.

    • I am with you Catie… My daughter’s grandma buys her clothes all the time, but we always seem to be short on PJs. I do art supplies as a go-to gift as well — always useful!

  2. I actually appreciate this post. I am floored at the amount of money and freak-out energy that is spent trying to procure a toy for a small fry who probably already has more toys than they know what to do with. I like the idea of PJs. Easy, relatively inexpensive, and will be used.

    I have a million nieces and nephews (okay, only 19) and I decided a long time ago that I just couldn’t buy all of them birthday presents every year. Because even at $25 each that is almost $500 bucks. I gave them a stack of my favorite kid-books when they were each born and I send them all funny birthday cards and postcards when I go out of town. Done and done!


    • Thanks boo ;). I am with you. $25 is really my upper upper limit. I try to stay around or under $20. I like your approach to sending the little ones in your life cards and letters. That’s way more meaningful and valuable than a loud plastic toy.

  3. Be the most popular person at the party and give savings bonds! Toddlers love savings bonds.

    (No joke… I got a lot of savings bonds as a kid, and sure it wasn’t exciting at the time, but come college… BOOM. Money.)

    I always give books. Most kids I know have way too many toys already, but no one can ever have too many books.

    • I think this is a great idea! Toddlers are often too young to “get it” anyway, and money toward a college fund is never a bad thing. I know a lot of people who do books as well, which is another great go-to idea.

  4. Asking the parents is a great idea! I pretty much universally buy clothes. I really like the pajamas idea. I figure kids always need clothes to grow into, so buying an outfit a little bit big should be practical–being aware of climate/seasons, of course. Don’t have to worry about that so much anymore now that we live in the tropics.

    • Clothes make sense too. I think pajamas are easier from a “mental space” perspective — you don’t have to worry as much about style or the parent’s preferences. But I’m not very stylish, so that kind of stuff is harder for me ;). However, I think giving something that is more useful than say, the kid’s 42nd stuff bear, always makes sense, especially when they are at an age when they really don’t ask for specific items.

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