Why I think there shouldn't be a taboo around money and kids' birthday parties

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

Birthdays are a time to celebrate life's journey and special milestones, but for too long the benefits of gifting money, particularly at children's birthday parties, have been negated by societal taboos.

As a mother of a six and a four-year-old, I have attended lots of kids' birthday parties. After years of trying to get it right and countless hours spent sourcing, buying, wrapping and writing cards for gifts, birthday money has become my go-to.

The joy of gifting has come back to me now that I know I am giving the most useful type of gift by contributing to something more substantial, like a new scooter or tennis racquet, or helping kids save for their futures.

I am hyper-aware that children these days have everything, and that wrapped presents, unfortunately, are more than likely to join a pile of other under-used, barely-touched gifts.

The wastage associated with gifting is becoming more evident as families become increasingly environmentally conscious. As our kids accumulate more and more stuff, I believe that it's time to start reducing the 'stuffocation' in parents' and kids' lives. From a sustainability standpoint, seeking an alternative solution to buying or receiving unnecessary things is paramount.

Plus, gifts are too often in the giver's best interest, not the recipient's. Research indicates that although gift givers prefer purchasing a gift to demonstrate how well they know the recipient, this is often not what the person receiving actually wants or needs. Tailoring gifts can be a means of showcasing that the giver recognises certain personality traits or interests, with the belief that this will in turn be interpreted as a more thoughtful gift. This tendency contributes to the sizable amount of unnecessary, unwanted or unused gifts.

Let's shift the focus from what recipients are like to what they would like and while we're at it, let's challenge the misconceptions that kids will prefer a traditional gift and that gifting cash will be interpreted as impersonal, lazy or thoughtless.

Contrary to many givers' expectations, money is actually extremely well-received in lieu of traditional presents. When we actually stop and think about it, we can all see the value and sense of putting money away for kids' futures, or using it to purchase something they actually desire. Party guests, friends and family should all be enabled to combine monetary gifts and contribute to something of real value to the birthday child.

Although we're slowly tackling the taboo when it comes to kids' events, there is definitely work to be done. The politics of kids' parties can leave many parents feeling awkward, struggling, or straight up refusing to request or to give children money for their birthday.

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In my experience, the best way to ensure that a request for money is well-received is to let people know where their money will be spent. Our market research has told us that most people resent a blanket request for money, but if the intention to purchase a big present is communicated, they are only too happy to contribute funds to that special something for the birthday person.

Gifting cash has the potential to teach kids vital lessons about managing, saving and spending money in addition to understanding the true value of things. By requesting money in place of more traditional gifts, parents are able to begin teaching their children about the value of cash, saving up for a bigger-ticket item that they're guaranteed to love.

As we edge closer to becoming a cashless society, new-age solutions are readily available to enable giving gifts of money at children's birthday parties. Although gift cards have been marketed as a more palatable alternative to gifting cold hard cash, they don't come without their downfalls; limitations on what to get, restrictions on where to spend and not to mention expiry dates. Bringing cash gifting traditions in line with modern standards will create a much more approachable opportunity for parents.

The gift giving cycle perpetuates but challenging the societal taboo around gifting cash could unlock major benefits for your child, including teaching them valuable financial and environmental lessons.

Perceptions are slowly shifting as parents dip their toes into the uncharted territory of gifting money for children's birthdays, and it's only a matter of time before more and more families become comfortable with the idea.

Marta Barbayannis is the Founder of GiftWell, the first-ever app dedicated to giving gifts of money.