Fun—and Cheap—Birthday Gift Ideas for Kids

February 3, 2021 Updated: February 3, 2021

Some time ago, I got a message from Elaine G., who had recently joined a mom’s group. With all of her newly minted friendships, she and her child are getting invitations to lots of toddler birthday parties.

Her dilemma took me back to when our boys were small. Birthday parties for all their friends were challenging. That’s why Elaine’s message grabbed my attention. “Can you help me with ideas for birthday gifts for young children that will score with the kids without breaking our budget?” You bet, Elaine. Try these ideas on for size.

The Story of Me

Give the birthday girl or boy everything they need to write (or draw) the story of their life. For children just learning to read, write, or draw, include a list of “prompts” that might include instructing the child to draw a picture of a favorite animal, a place to visit, or something that makes them laugh. Package it with a pad or book of drawing paper, markers, crayons, and enough prompts to complete all the pages in their book.

Play Kit

Spark the interest and imagination of the birthday child with a custom play kit you put together. “Design” the kit on paper by making a list of contents, and then go “shopping” in your home, garage, or attic. Visit thrift stores, garage sales, and consignment stores for items that can be laundered and sanitized. Make kits for boys or girls and feature themes such as dress-up, kitchen, handyman, restaurant, doctor, cowboy, and entertainer.

Piggy Bank

Start your recipient on the debt-proof road early with a piggy bank. Add a starter fund of coins (or cash, if it’s in your budget) to encourage regular deposits that will make the pig noisy when shaken.

Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

Mount an enlarged photo of your child and the birthday boy or girl onto a piece of foam board. Cover the photo with a piece of tracing paper and lightly draw a jigsaw pattern, making the number of pieces appropriate for the recipient’s age. Carefully cut through the paper, photo, and board along the puzzle lines. Separate the pieces, and place in a gift box.

Bucket of Stuff

Personalize a bucket or container with the birthday child’s name, and fill with age-appropriate art and craft supplies like paper, crayons, pencils, glitter, paste, scissors, ruler, tape, and a pencil sharpener. A dollar store is a great place to fill a birthday bucket because it’s quantity that counts!

Coupon Book

Create a book filled with coupons for play dates with your child and the birthday boy or girl. Include trips to the park, your home, sleepovers, treats, games, crafts, and activities.

Jump Rope and Rhymes

This gift is a fun one for elementary-aged kids —and very budget-friendly. Purchase a colorful jump rope, and add the free printable jump rope rhymes you can easily find online with a simple search for “jump rope rhymes.”

Coloring Kit

Coloring is popular right now for kids and adults. Putting together a coloring kit makes for an inexpensive gift. Items for the kit might include colored pencils, markers, crayons, and one or two coloring books. Purchase them during the fall, when school supplies are on sale for ridiculously awesome prices.

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Copyright 2020 Creators.com