Birthday money is the best. Call me shallow, and please know that I love a well thought-out gift, but there’s something wonderful about receiving a check, gift card, or cash. The world suddenly becomes your oyster. Anything is possible. Everything seems within reach. You can finally buy that Lamborghini you’ve been drooling over in the showroom window.
Well, okay. Maybe not. But to a kid, they can finally have everything they’ve always wanted. They’ve got something they *erroneously* think Mom and Dad have loads of and won’t share. They can call the shots.
Birthday money is a funny thing in our house – my girls couldn’t be more different from each other when it comes to spending money. For Emily, money has always been a fun, yet overwhelming gift. She’s pretty chill about wanting things for her birthday and holidays, and has never given us a single gift idea without major begging and prompting on our parts. Well, except for the Christmas she asked for a cupcake.
Julia, on the other hand, wanted e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g this year. No joke. For some reason just a few days before her birthday the lightbulb in her head went on and all we heard was, “I want rain boots for my birthday. I want a trampoline for my birthday. I want a backpack for my birthday. I want so many balloons for my birthday. I want all the things for my birthday.” Such a diva.
But for both girls, the process of spending birthday (or Christmas) money is the same. Every year on their birthdays (or within a few days of them) we head over to Toys R Us. After telling them that it’s Emily’s or Julia’s birthday (so they get a free crown and balloon and are wished a happy birthday over the loudspeaker) we grab a cart and hit the aisles. Jay and I always tell them their budget before starting. We figure even if that really means nothing to them, it doesn’t hurt to start using that vocabulary, right? Then we walk up and down the aisles and let them fill the cart with about 10 items that are within their budget that they’d like to take home. It doesn’t matter if the item takes up their whole budget or a few dollars of it, it goes in the cart. We try our best to cover the whole store so that there’s a good variety of items. Just to be clear, we do steer the girls away from toys that we know they only want for the packaging, toys that we suspect are poor quality, toys that we know will not engage them for long, toys that they already have a ton of, and toys that we think are inappropriate or just plain dumb. Call it parental prerogative. 🙂
Once they’ve selected their items we call the whole thing to a halt. We line up all of the things they’ve chosen and ask them to pick their very favorite – the one thing that they most definitely want to bring home. If the item uses up their entire budget, we are done. If it doesn’t we remove other items until all that’s left are things that will keep them within the budget (we don’t stress if it’s a few dollars over, but we lay on the praises if they manage to keep it within their limit). Gift cards are a little trickier, since it’s a pre-determined amount for a specific store, and we almost always have to go over the amount so we aren’t stuck with $1.63 on the card. In the end the girls have had the chance to choose their gift (within reason), have learned to stick to a budget (as well as they can), and the always important lesson that you can’t have everything you want.
We’ve actually never had an issue with either girl begging to take all of the items home, since we continually explain as we walk through the store that their budget won’t allow them to take all of it home and that some things will have to stay in the store. Even our diva seems to understand this. And although we do exercise that “parental prerogative,” if we’ve let an item in the cart then it’s fair game for purchase – even if it’s not the toy that we think they should choose. And yes, that’s as hard as it sounds.
On this last trip to Toys R Us I was thrilled when Julia finally put the Lego Cinderella castle in the cart. I’ve wanted her to have that castle forever, and that’s what I would have bought without giving it a second thought if I had been spending her money. But in the end she chose three other items, and wanted to put the castle back. I was, admittedly, bummed – I may have even had a tear in my eye – but she was ecstatic to get home and play with everything she’d bought.
And she was only 26 cents over budget. I’d call that a successful shopping trip!