My eldest child is five and has become a fully paid-up member of the birthday party circuit. In the past two years he's been to an impressive number of birthdays between his classmates, creche buddies and my friends' children.
When Cal turned four we had his first official birthday party where we invited a gang of creche kiddies. We decided to write 'no gifts please' on his invites. We already had a house full of toys and, as far as Cal was concerned, his day was all about cake, party games and a bouncy castle. Naturally, some children arrived with gifts while others' parents rang to check if they could please bring something small. I wasn't interested in causing anyone hassle so suggested a book would be welcome.
A year later May came around again and I agonised over the politics of Cal's party. One year older and wiser he was full of expectations for his birthday bounty. Despite desperately wanting to ask parents to simply contribute no more than €5 in a card I decided to stick with tradition and say nothing about presents. As expected, Cal was inundated with generous gifts of all shapes and sizes. If I had to guess I'd say parents spent on average €15 each, though some clearly spent more.
I'd heard about the €5 gift request from a friend and thought it was a super idea.
It saves parents a fortune. With gifts costing on average €15 you can expect to spend at least €180 a year on a dozen parties. If you've three party-going kids you're looking at €540 per annum.
It also saves parents hassle. It can be a nightmare to find the time to visit a toyshop during the week and then have to stress about what to choose.
One mum, whose son attends a school where the whole class goes to everyone's party, loves the idea. "I think ¤5 in a card is great. Have you tried going to Smyths and getting something decent for under €20? It's nearly impossible as they get older."
But my theory is not universally supported. A friend's son recently turned six and she wrote on the invite: "Dara is saving for a game and would love no more than €5 in a card please." One father, upon collecting his son, suspiciously asked Dara's mum what sort of expensive game her six-year-old was saving for. (The truth is there wasn't a game -- she just wanted to ensure no one was under financial pressure.) The man seemed genuinely shocked that she'd dare ask for money and said he'd told everyone about her request, but not in a supportive kind of way!
A recent debate on the national airwaves revealed mixed support for birthday party cash. Some listeners felt parents should back off and let kids be kids. They argued that half the fun of a party is ripping the paper off the presents and amassing a new stash of age-appropriate toys. Others felt a kid's party is not the place for them to be learning about saving money.
I'm still with the cash or voucher camp and would love to see more parents expressing support. After all, a trip to the toyshop with the party proceeds can provide just as much fun for a birthday boy or girl.