Money, Day 9: Luke’s Birthday

October 27, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Well, I did pretty well.  Luke’s birthday gifts cost me about $40, and included a little soccer set, two wooden puzzles, two new books, a game, and toy train.   I’m very pleased by this, because that really was a pretty conservative birthday for ME, spendingwise, and yet Luke was very happy with what he got.   At three, of course, he doesn’t exactly have aspirations of Nintendo DSes and Wii games or anything, which definitely makes the going there much easier.. But in the past this wouldn’t have mattered that much to me.  This actually gave me a chance to examine how I handle gift-buying, too, which was sort of educational.

My tendency when buying gifts is to fill categories.   And to some extent I think that’s natural.  Each kid gets a game, a book, a movie, a toy, whatever.   Keeps things equitable, and presumably sort of ‘covers’ the field of Childhood Needs At Each Stage, or whatever.  A lot of this is illusionary, I realize; children develop just fine without The Latest Thing, and for generations have gotten by with a couple of wooden blocks and the occasional doll without suffering major developmental problems…  But I guess as a parent, there’s sort of a drive to feel you’re Doing What You Can for your children, and somehow this approach makes me feel I’m doing that.

The problem is, though, that as I have done this, I have prioritized my approach such that the categories rank supreme and the cost ranks…negligably.  I mean, I don’t go for The Most Expensive of whatever it is; in fact, I have often completely disregarded price entirely.  I am aware that kids have no concept of what things cost, so my concern is often less that we spend equally on each child than that each child has the same QUANTITY of presents, and that the presents are kind of …size-equal.   If Susie’s dollhouse costs less than Zack’s Bakugan Battle Set, that’s fine.. as long as they both get ‘toy’ gifts that are about equivalent in Kid-value.

As a result, though, I have often spent more than I needed to.  For one thing, every kid in the house does not NEED a new game, new movie, new whatever just because one other kid got one.  I have been known to buy a movie for a child who didn’t want one just so that they had A Movie.   That’s probably not terribly smart.   For another, because I AM more ‘kid-value’ conscious than I am money-conscious, I have probably overspent on this gift or that one when I could have stood to be more conservative.

I found myself contemplating movies today…  Luke really doesn’t have any that ‘belong’ to him, aside from the Baby Einstein videos that have been passed down to him from his older siblings.   The thing is, not only has he more or less outgrown them now, he never really showed that much interest in them in the first place.  He also has never shown interest in any OTHER DVD we own, really.  As long as Nick Jr. is accessible, he’s all good.   That being the case, why would I blow $15-$20 on a video for him?  Especially when you consider that the only TV in the house right now that is even capable of PLAYING a DVD is the one in the living room, and that one is usually being used by someone else.

So I decided to be smart and dispense with the video.  I did get a game, because we really have no games that are age-appropriate for Luke and I know THAT, at least, he would love.  That took me forever, though; I wandered back and forth along the games wall for twenty minutes, checking out all of the games for that age group.  I finally settled on a Cranium game called Puppy Pals Bingo, which teaches colors and shapes and also cost only $10.   Most of the others cost $15 and up, so I felt like that was a good choice.

I also got him a couple of books, because he loves those and so many of the ones we have now are falling apart from years of use.  There I went ahead and splurged some, because I wanted a Fisher-Price book.  The two we’ve had before now have been big hits and much loved by all the kids, and are therefore loved to pieces, literally.   So even though it cost $9, I knew it would be worth having.

The train was from the Dollar Section, a Susanna choice that we both knew he would love.  I also got him a $10 soccer set that included a foam soccer ball and a little plastic goal.  It was off-brand and totally cheesy, but every single week we go to soccer practice and soccer games for his siblings, and Luke desperately wants to participate.    That set was a big hit, and he spent the evening kicking the foam ball into the goal over and over again.  Totally worth it.

Christmas is coming, and I’m going to have to seriously evaluate how I buy gifts for people this year, and try to balance conservative spending with my need for the kids to feel they had a good Christmas.  I realize that this is the challenge EVERYONE faces, but until now I never gave the conservative spending side of it that much thought. :/


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