Service of How Much to Spend on Gifts for Children

July 20th, 2023

Categories: Birthday, Children, Children's Books, College, Gifts

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

A reader asked Philip Galanes, who responds to reader questions on “Social Q’s” in The New York Times, if it was OK to ask guests invited to the joint birthday party for her four- and seven-year-old offspring, to donate to their 529 college savings plans instead of bringing gifts.

His reply to this question*** wasn’t nearly as interesting as his comment about part of the mother’s query. She’d written: “My children don’t need any more toys, and it pains me to see a $50 toy ignored when that same $50 could help pay their tuition someday.”

Galanes wrote: “I may be out of step here: I would not be giving children $50 gifts, either. (Put me down for a book or a fun craft project at $20 a pop.)”

I’m with Galanes. Imagine having to drop $100 for your kids to attend a birthday party for these two?

I would further surmise that if the mother’s circle routinely gives $50 toys to her children’s young friends, she should be able to cover the kids’ tuitions when the time comes by putting aside enough money yearly from her income and by substituting expenditures on overpriced toys with creativity.

***For those who don’t want to link to the column, here’s Galanes’s advice regarding the reader’s question: “But I don’t think a backyard birthday party for small children is the right venue for soliciting contributions to college savings plans.”

If you’re not a close relative, how much do—or would–you spend on children’s birthday gifts? Have you been asked to donate to a child’s college fund?


12 Responses to “Service of How Much to Spend on Gifts for Children”

  1. EAM Said:

    For my four nieces/nephews, my Mom and I usually give $50-$60 for each child for Christmas. For a friend’s child, I would give $20-$25 for a gift. The expectation that someone request money for a 529 in lieu of a gift is egregious. Let’s be honest, we know they’re asking for more than a $50 donation there. And, Galanes is right, wrong venue, wrong time.

  2. ASK Said:

    The writer presupposes that her child/children will even go to college!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I never thought of what you wrote—that the mother expected even more than $50 for the college fund.

    We assume that many of the adult guests —those paying for the gifts—are feeding the college funds of their kids. I can’t think of a circumstance when asking for such a gift is appropriate— at any time.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good point. I was approached for college money by a mother. The daughter never went to college. I hadn’t donated.

  5. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: I agree with columnist. Never been asked to support college fund and would be horrified if I were. If I choose to that’s 1 thing, but being urged or directed to is another. With kids I don’t see that often, I always get something low tech and requires brain use, i.e. a book, puzzle, art project, etc. Anything not involving an electric/computer device!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m with you re gifts unrelated to phone and computer screens. As I wrote in my response to ASK, I was asked for a (large) donation to a college fund and as you predicted, I was horrified.

  7. Anonymous Said:

    My favorite gift depending on the age of the child is a cute bank and a roll of quarters to put in the bank!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a GREAT gift!!!!!! I LOVE it.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    The focus of a gift should be based on the taste of the recipient(s) not on dollars. Why should children be treated differently? If a child is too young to communicate, or isn’t known very well, one consults with the parents. At risk of being called snotty, it hasn’t occurred to me to consult the Times for answers. It’s only a matter of common sense and affordability.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ll take ideas from any place and anyone. I loved the piggy bank gift mentioned above. I’ve also asked mothers and sometimes the child her or himself.

    But the objection on the table is this mothers assumption that her children should expect $50 gifts. And the Times was answering a question posed by a reader.

  11. Deb Wright Said:

    I agree with Philip Galanes. I think $50.00 is a bit much for a child’s birthday present.

    At four and seven, art supplies and pads of paper are always welcome gifts. Interesting Lego kits are welcome also, and they do not have to be a super-sized one of the Eiffel Tower!

    My friend, Linda, is asked to give a birthday present AND a contribution to the college funds of her 10 year-old granddaughter and 6 year-old grandson. I think the parents have a lot of nerve.

    I have never been asked to contribute to a college fund. It is up to the parents. Plus, Linda and Jim’s circumstances are pretty modest. They are both retired and on fixed incomes. That is like saying at baby showers, “don’t buy a card or wrap the gift. Bring a child’s book instead.” That irritates me. You are actually buying a second gift with the book! Sorry, one of my pet peeves!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I cannot imagine children asking for both a gift and money from grandparents regardless of their financial circumstances! Even worse if the “children” are aware of their parents’ modest fixed incomes. Gives me the shivers. The answer might be –“which would you prefer? My budget for birthday gifts this year is $____.”

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