Inexpensive Birthday Gift Ideas for Preschoolers

Budget-friendly presents for the 5-and-under set

When my son was in preschool I was thrilled when he received his first birthday party invitation. I saw it as a sign that he was fitting in, making friends and I was glad for the opportunity to go to the store and pick out the perfect gift for his school chum. I was just as pleased with invites two and three, but by the time we reached number eight, the novelty wore off and my wallet was feeling the pinch. It's an unexpected reality -- with preschool comes parties and with parties come gifts, but you don't have to break the bank. Here are some inexpensive gift ideas sure to please the birthday child and your budget.

Just Book It

Happy birthday
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There are tons of children's books out there and many of them are under $5. Overwhelmed by the amount of choices? Hit your local library first with your preschooler and talk to the librarian about appropriate titles or even ask the preschool teacher or day care provider. Have your preschooler pick out two or three (whatever fits in with your budget) and wrap them in gift bag complete with a book mark.

The Gift of Choice

A gift card, even in a small amount, is a great gift for a preschooler because it gives them the opportunity to go to the store and pick out what they like. Toy shops are always a sure bet, or even a store that offers a wide-range of products like Target or Wal-Mart. They can pick out a toy, video game, book -- whatever suits their fancy.

How About a Few Hours Out?

Gift certificates for activities are also a popular choice. You can hit a local movie theater, bowling alley or mini-golf park and give the gift of one game or one show. To take your theme a step further, wrap it with an appropriate smaller gift -- maybe a box of candy with a movie certificate or some popcorn and candy with a video or DVD rental. Along those lines, consider a gift card for a fast-food restaurant or an ice-cream parlor. It's something different and again fosters a bit of independence in a little one who will love the opportunity to pay their own way.

You Oughta Be in Pictures

My kids love to take pictures, but because we have a somewhat pricey digital camera, it's very rare that we ever let them use it. And I know we aren't alone. Try wrapping up a disposable camera (see if you can find one that includes developing) and pairing it with a small photo album or picture frame to display the sure to be terrific results.

Get Crafty

My daughter loves to give and get craft kits for her birthday. There are hundreds to choose from and a quick trip to the store shows that you can find one for every taste or budget. Or, create your own using crayons, markers and other art supplies such as safety scissors, paper, glue or glue sticks, stickers and coloring books. You can also give an unfinished project -- say a birdhouse or jewelry box, complete with paints or decorations that the child can customize to their own tastes.

Buy it in Bulk

When you find an appropriate gift, consider picking up a few of the item in question and storing them for when more invitations materialize (and they will). As long as the gift isn't perishable, there's nothing wrong with holding on to something for a few months or even longer if it means saving you a trip to the store and some money later. The nice thing about kids at this age is that they aren't aware of trends -- no need to worry that they won't find a book about Dora that was published two years ago "uncool." Back-to-school time offers a great opportunity to stock up on craft gifts -- crayons, markers and other art supplies are usually at their lowest prices. Buy a bunch and hold on to it to dole out as needed.

Make it Useful

We can never have too many shovels and pails in our house, the same goes for hats and mittens. Think about the everyday items that you go through often -- sidewalk chalk, water bottles, plain white or construction paper, blankets, pajamas -- these are all relatively inexpensive household staples that can easily be turned into a gift for a child.

Beware the Almighty Dollar (Store)

Dollar stores offer lots of great choices and a surprising amount of quality gifts, but be careful. It's very easy to get caught up in bargain fever where you wind up spending more than you had intended. Set a limit of how much you'd like to spend and stick to it. Or, let your child do the choosing -- let her pick out five (or ten or whatever) items. She'll love that she gets to do the shopping.

Do-It-Yourself

Can you sew? Make a few outfits for the birthday girl's dolls. Crochet? Knit a blanket in his favorite colors. Even if you consider yourself hopeless in the creative arts, there are lots of easy-to-make items that are sure to be a hit like homemade sidewalk chalk, homemade crayons and a pajama bag.

It's the Thought that Counts -- Really

It's an expression you hear over and over again because it is true. Picking out a gift for your child's friend is a great opportunity to teach your own little one that the sentiment behind giving a gift isn't how much money you spend, but that the present comes from the heart.

If your child has just had a birthday, do you have her send out thank you notes when the fun is done? Check out this question from a reader about kids' thank you notes and get some great ideas for teaching your child gift gratitude.

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