First skir­mish lost in presents re­volt


There are some money bat­tles you lose. My younger daugh­ter has just turned 7, which turned my mind to the tyranny of birth­days.

In the weeks be­fore the party, I came up with a fan­tas­tic plan to spark a chil­dren’s birth­day party present rev­o­lu­tion.

If I had my way, no­body would give any­body else’s chil­dren presents at birth­day par­ties. Presents come from mum, dad, sis­ters, broth­ers, un­cles, aunts and grand­par­ents. There’s too much stuff in the world, and chil­dren need friends, not more stuff. Life’s ex­pen­sive enough al­ready.

Sadly, the first ver­sion of my plan went down badly.

I sug­gested we tell all the par­ents of the 20 or so lit­tle in­vi­tees that we didn’t want presents, but would have a col­lec­tion box to raise a bit of money for the SPCA, or to buy a goat for a vil­lage in Africa.

The sug­ges­tion was re­ceived coolly by all.

I can see it in my chil­dren’s eyes. Other kids get presents, so why not us?

I tried again.

My daugh­ter had her eye on a par­tic­u­lar item. OK, so why not save all the par­ents a few dol­lars, and sug­gest each one chip in a gold coin, and my lit­tle one could buy it?

It would be a win-win.

It’s tough find­ing a ‘‘de­cent’’ present for other kids’ for less than $15 to $20. In­stead, I sug­gested, we ask the twenty sets of par­ents to chip in $2 each, or noth­ing, if they weren’t in­clined.

I chat­ted with work col­leagues about this scheme. All the par­ents thought it was a great idea. Time and money saved by all.

And yet, de­spite the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits, my scheme never went ahead.

It all felt too pre­sump­tu­ous. I had all been for writ­ing a let­ter say­ing ev­ery­one was free to bring no present, a present, or a gold coin. No pres­sure.

But it looked like I was try­ing to di­rect other peo­ple’s spend­ing, co-opt­ing their con­sumer power. There was pres­sure.

Many wor­ry­ing ques­tions were raised around the din­ner ta­ble as the scheme was dis­cussed.

Would it in­sult peo­ple? Would they think we thought they were poor?

Was it in bad taste? Would it look like we were ques­tion­ing their taste in presents? Were we likely to cause un­in­tended cul­tural of­fence?

It is hard to swim against the tide some­times, and in this case, had a fam­ily vote been taken, I would have lost three to one.

OK. Plan num­ber three. We say no presents, have the SPCA box, and I give my daugh­ter $40 for zoo an­i­mals.


It was pointed out that risked seem­ing su­pe­rior and judg­men­tal, and would re­veal my re­sent­ment at hav­ing to bring presents to other peo­ple’s chil­dren’s par­ties.

I recog­nise de­feat. I am­locked into mu­tual as­sured birth­day gift ex­pen­di­ture.

I guess it is not the end of the world. By 10, their cir­cles of friends get more fo­cused, and the party-count drops fast.

The rev­o­lu­tion will have to wait un­til then.


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