A Suprising Birthday Party Trend: Do I Have to Pay for Your Kid’s Party?


Earlier this week, a birthday party invitation came home in my youngest son’s backpack. I cringed because I hate social interactions and also because I knew the party was likely to be on a weekend and my husband would not want to pull the kids out of their very expensive, already paid for ski lessons. I reluctantly opened the invite but there was something different for me to obsess over this time (instead of my usual anxiety and panic over how and when to RSVP.)

This invitation included a little note asking that in lieu of a gift, we contribute $5 (per child) to cover party expenses.

I have to say, I was surprised by what I was reading. I couldn’t really believe that we were being asked to chip in for someone else’s child’s party. The party was scheduled to take place at one of those big bounce house centers that smell like sweat and feet but the kids love. I kept thinking… if you can’t afford to have the party at that location, have it somewhere else, or at home.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to pay for your kid’s birthday party (TBH, I can barely pay for my own kids’ parties).

Bounce house birthday party

I know, I know, it’s a winter birthday and sometimes it’s hard to have a large number of kids in your house… but there are still plenty of less expensive options. We have two kids with winter birthdays and we had a similar dilemma in December. We actually went right down to the wire planning my son’s 6th birthday party because we kept going back and forth as to whether to have it at a gymnastics center or at our home. My son’s birthday is 10 days before Christmas, so we were hesitant to plan a party that required a deposit and a certain number of kids to be paid for upfront for the weekend before Christmas.

Ultimately, we decided to host at our home. We had a pajama party, served pizza and popcorn, and showed, “The Polar Express.” Almost every single kid in the class showed up. Lesson learned… if you plan it, and there is pizza, they will come.

My issue with asking for money instead of gifts is that I wouldn’t ever show up to a child’s birthday party without a gift for the child. I don’t think a preschool-aged child would understand why he is not receiving gifts at the party like all of his friends did at their parties.

So now, I’m still purchasing a gift… and also throwing in additional money to pay for the party.

My bigger concern here, though, is what has happened to us as a society that parents are in a position where they feel the need to crowdfund their child’s birthday party. I partly blame Pinterest for making parties appear much better than they actually are. There is nothing wrong with an at-home birthday party where everyone wears a party hat, eats cake, and plays unstructured games using their own creativity. No parent should feel they have to rent out an overpriced center or hire a face painter/juggler/clown/contortionist/genie/unicorn for entertainment. Things have officially gotten out of hand.

Can we get back to basics? Please?

can we get backto basics and have at home birthday parties?

To ensure that I was not being narrow-minded, petty, or cheap, I posed the scenario to my besties; some of whom have children and some who don’t. The general consensus was that it was a tough situation. They could see the logic behind asking for a contribution towards a party, but also felt it was delicate to directly ask for money. Most agreed that they would, of course, still bring a present for the birthday boy.

One friend forwarded me an article about “Fiver” parties. That got me thinking, there are actually two situations where I would have no problem contributing $5 (or more) to a child’s birthday party:

1. A “Fiver” Party

At a fiver party, the guests are asked to contribute $5 towards one larger group gift that the child actually wants. The child is presented with the gift at the party. Everyone is happy. So, instead of spending $20 on a lousy toy from Walmart, Target, or the dollar store, you contribute to something the birthday boy or girl wants or needs. This is genius. I’m totally okay with this because I wouldn’t feel pressure to still bring a gift and, since the child still receives a large gift at the party, she isn’t left wondering why none of her friends gifted her anything.

A 'fiver' birthday party, girl, american girl doll, birthday, pink

2. A Donation to a Charitable Cause

I would absolutely bring a donation to a charitable cause in lieu of a gift. I think this is an especially cool idea if the child is old enough to understand, is involved in the selection of the charity and helps track the donations, and is moved or motivated by the cause. Again, here, one of the keys for me is the child’s understanding as to why he is not receiving a physical gift. It would be even cooler if the child and his friends could be involved in presenting the donation as well. If the kids are the right age and emotional maturity, it could shift their entire perspective on gift giving going forward.

The next time you open an invitation to a party from one of your kid’s classmates, I hope there are only pleasant surprises. Personally, I hope to be surprised by more low-key birthday parties and new clever and generous gifting ideas. That’s my take on this surprising new birthday party trend. 

Tell me, have you ever been asked to contribute financially to another child’s birthday party? If so, what was your reaction? Has your child been invited to a birthday party that you thought had a great new twist on giving? Please share your story in the comments!



  1. I’m also surprised to hear the objection to no presents, and I think the judgment on that trend is wrong. I haven’t seen the “pay to attend” thing, but I would say “no presents, please” is really common in our area (central VT) even at home parties. That’s what we typically say on our invites too, including our 6yo’s party next week…young kids usually get so many family gifts that they don’t even notice there aren’t gifts from friends. We think it’s a fantastic trend: less waste and consumption, less cost and pressure for parents, more time at parties to spend on fun stuff. Now that our 8yo is old enough to see that some friends do have presents, we can talk to her about it… one year she wanted them, but usually she understands that she had plenty of toys and doesn’t feel like she needs them.

  2. All I can think of is what if that mom happened to come across this read. How would this makes her feel? She would be sad, embarrassed, etc. that she been talked about in social media. This is why the whole mom shaming thing take place. For me I would be just happy that my son was included. If I dont like that idea then I won’t go but if I go I would do what feel right to me. And when it come to your party, my party, or any others party, there’s always other parents having their own thoughts on how it could be better handle as well. My point is why so many people with so many opion about how other people or mom handle things. Dont talks just to talk, think about how it would make other people feel. I know writing this would make this mom also sad because it’s a negative comment for her post and I’m sorry for that.

  3. It says in lieu… instead of giving a gift we would like you to replace it with only $5. I don’t see how that’s appalling?? She’s saving parents money because I know I can spend easily $20+ per party we go to. You sound super pretentious and since you can afford extremely expensive ski lessons don’t be so catty how another mom wants to throw her party. Just keep it to yourself that it’s not in your taste and let each be their own.

    • I agree to each their own. If you don’t want to participate don’t. I’d be thrilled to not spend $30 on a present and have the stress of having to shop for one. And it’s $5 dollars!! You could still buy a small gift if you felt the need and still give $5 to the family.

      I also think the mom probably doesn’t want a bunch of junk in her house and thought the small cash ask could help everyone feel better than if she said “no gifts”. The jumpy tent place is AT LEAST $20 a kid so that $5 isn’t covering your kid.

  4. We have never been asked to chip in to cover a party that we were not hosting, but I have in the past given the host/hostess money to cover my other children that I had to bring along.

  5. Yes! I used to be a teacher and the student in the class begged me to come to their party. (This actually happened not once, but twice. Once at a bowling party and once at a trampoline park party.) They then also proceeded to tell me that their parent said that if I came I would have to pay my own way. Well, there was no way that I was not going to go to one of my student’s parties if they specifically invited me to come, but I also was super hurt by the parents. As a teacher you spend a decent portion of your paycheck buying additional supplies, extra fun and special activities, etc for your students each year. It is sad to think that you invite a teacher to come, but they need to pay their own money to participate. Of course I did and I brought the student a gift as well, but I did not love the way it was handled.

  6. We had the same situation….except this was a gender reveal with a link to a crowd funding account to pay for it. I was appalled. It even said that they wanted to boil crawfish for the gender reveal, but that it was expensive, so they were asking everyone to chip in. ? I didn’t have a gender reveal. Why? Because we couldn’t afford it. There is something to be said for doing what you can and being happy with that. I don’t get it. But pajamas, pizza, and The Polar Express sounds like a great combination to me!


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