Kids' Birthdays: Tried And True $15 Gifts

This past Saturday we attended two birthday parties, one at 10 and one at 12. Both babies were turning one which is such a great party to attend ... the smash cake part is my favorite!

(By the way, regional readers with babies, did you know you can get a free smash cake for your baby's first birthday from Harris Teeter? Just ask for the form from the bakery. That's where we got Camille's cake seen here, and we will do the same for Charlotte!).

Buying gifts for kids' birthday parties can be pretty daunting -- you don't want to spend an arm and a leg, you don't want to repeat a toy they may already have at home, and you don't want to bring a DUD!

Below are some tried-and-true favorites around here, and they are all under $15. Because you REALLY don't have to spend any more than that on a kid's toy!

You'll see that there are a few recurring themes here: bath toys, musical toys, educational toys, and art supplies. In our home, these things are always welcome.

1st Birthday:
The first birthday toys are so fun! Colorful, simple, and engaging. These Water Wow books truly are my favorites and Camille still uses them all of the time. You can reveal the color on the white pages just by using the water pen -- so it's mess-free. And that hedgehog accordion is so, so adorable.

first birthday

2nd Birthday:
More fun bath toys, because this allows the mama to toss the mildewy old toys and introduce something fun for bathtime. More art projects, and more imaginative play like the doctor set (Camille has this very one and loves it!). Our friends also got us the matching cupcakes for Mill's 2nd birthday and that is also a huge hit around these parts. We can pretend with them at Camille's play kitchen, we can talk about colors, shapes, and play fun games to see who can make the most matches.

3rd Birthday:
So this birthday is around the corner for us! And we do have some little friends who have already turned three. Play-doh is not the cleanest thing around but man alive, kids love it. Camille's really into puzzles these days, and it's so nice to have extras on hand once she masters one. The bath dropz and foam letters together are still less than $15 and we love playing games with them -- can you find the C? Can you find the M? Can you put all of the red letters in the basket?

third birthday

play-doh fun factory // mermaid puzzles // bath dropz and foam alphabet // birthday legos (unisex)

I would also love to hear from you -- what are your tried and true birthday party gifts?
And how much do you usually spend on birthday party gifts? 


  1. Sandra Boyton (not sure I spelled that right) has a book called "Birthday Monsters" that I love to throw in with first and second bday gifts :)

  2. Such great ideas! Love all the bath toys. Publix also does free smash cakes with a cake or cupcake purchase. We just did the HT one for pictures and the Publix one for M's party.

    Some of her favorite birthday gifts from guests were Mega Blocks (only $10), a bubble blower, and a stroller walker for her dolls and stuffed animals.

  3. Water wow books and play doh are some of our favorites! These are all great ideas and I couldn't agree more about spending money on gifts.

  4. LeapFrog magnetic fridge phonics; any age! Fisher Price laugh & learn Tea Set; 1-3. Disney storybook collection; 3+. Fingernail Friends nail stickers for kids; 3+. Foam disk shooter; 3+
    Gift topper: Packs of StickerS to match gift!!
    We LoVe gift giving!!

  5. Magnatiles are my go to gift for 3 year olds (gender neutral.) They are fun and educational and really I have seen 6 year olds have fun with them. When I see them on sale I stock up (I think a good price is around $1 a tile-so the 15 piece box for $15.)
    I also try to go with the theme of the party for the gift if I don't know a child as well (think school friends.) If a boy is having a race car party then race car toys it is, same with dinosaurs. I keep a stock pile of the melissa and doug stamp sets in the dinosaur, car, princess themes when I find them for less than $10 a piece. The stockpile is super helpful for grab and go gifts that kids love. I also use them sometimes to bribe/reward my own son if he has had a week of no potty accidents for example;)

  6. I have bought this for probably 15 kids now- always a big hit (though for probably age 4 and up) Adults love it too!

  7. Thank you for this post. It's great for us aunts who don't have a clue!

  8. Great post! Every 2-5 year old gets one of these from us:

  9. A big hit in our house in the 2-4 year old crowd are plastic animals from Safari, Ltd. They are really high quality and realistic and hands down one of our kids' favorite toys (and have been for over a year). You can get them on their website or many of them are on Amazon. Highly recommend! Run in price from $5-$50+.

  10. I am a no fun mom when it comes to Play Do, but I can get behind Kinetic Sand. Easy clean up and doesn't go bad like Play Do. You can hide things in it to make a fun sensory activity too. Mine are 5 and 7 and still love it. Gift cards to Target or for ice cream are a big hit with my kids (and kids their age too). Let's them get that toy they may have been saving up for or get a bigger ice cream!

  11. This was a favorite for 1 year old gifts (it was maybe half this price at Target though):

    Also, this:

  12. Hi April,
    I came across your blog a while back. One of my favorite gifts for the 1st birthday is Pip Squigz suction rattles, found on Amazon or at B&N. Santa brought some for my 9 month old. :)

    On the receiving end of this topic...As my older kids (6 and 4) continue to grow, I find that the amount of stuff they get for their own birthdays is unreal and I have a hard time keeping up with it all at home, even with rotating toys! At their parties I'd sweat during present opening time as the mound of kids would move in on you as you hastily try to keep track of who gives what! So last week for my son's party we tried something new: we asked all guests to bring a canned food item instead of a gift (We gave my son the choice between food or books for donation). And it worked! We will be donating the food this Saturday to a local food bank. He still got a regular gift from us and grandparents. We will do the same with my daughter next month, giving her a choice (maybe between a book or Easter basket for our church drive). Of course it helps reduce clutter but teaches them that giving is as fun as receiving. In case you find yourself sweating at present opening time at birthday parties, needing to change things up for your own kids (and sanity!) down the road as they accumulate more stuff! :)

  13. Some big hits from Ella's birthday...
    this easel :
    this Elsa doll:
    Oh and one of her friends also got her an iTunes gift card, so we can buy some new apps/music for the iPad! I thought that was pretty genius!
    And of course, we love your bows!!!! :)

  14. Great round up! I would also recommend checking out Home Goods and/or TJ Maxx/Marshalls! I always tend to try there first when I need a quick gift. We recently picked up a toy drum and shaker eggs for a little girl's second birthday and they were a big hit!

  15. This is a great round up! A little trick that I like is buying toys from Home Goods or TJ Maxx- they have a lot of Mellissa and Doug toys and other wooden toys at a much lower price than anywhere else!

  16. These are really great suggestions. I think what is fun is seeing how sometimes Shep likes Beau's toys and vice versa. Your ages are spot on, but sometimes I've seen them flip flop too! But let's be honest - that definitely doesn't mean there's sharing!

  17. We loooooooooooove bath color drops! Conner looks forward to throwing in the tablets each night. Great gift idea!


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