Boy giving giftThey can be anyone. Your sister-in-law. Your cousin. The family friend you’ve known since birth. They’re known as snobs, but let’s call them differently standarded people who, for one reason or another, have to be in your life.

Some of them are perfectly nice. And it’s not always about money. Take the situation with my family friend. I got her daughter the Little People dollhouse for her birthday. What kid doesn’t love Little People? I even sprang for the house. That’s top notch! Usually I just get the minivan.

At the party, a handcrafted wooden dollhouse stared me in the face.

“Beautiful, huh?” a fellow mom said. “Cheryl had it custom made, since she doesn’t believe in plastic toys.”

“Believe in”? I wasn’t expecting the kid to worship the toy, but I did imagine she’d be allowed to play with it.

To Cheryl’s credit, she ooo-ed and aahh-ed over it as if she didn’t consider it blasphemy.

Some are not so nice. And sometimes it is about money. One of my friends got her niece a cute outfit from the Children’s Place only to later hear her sister-in-law say she wouldn’t dare get a present that came in anything but a Nordstrom box.

“Next year,” my friend said, “I’m getting an outfit from Target and putting it in a Nordstrom box.”

If you have the chutzpah to pull that off, then hats off to you. For the rest of us chickens, here’s a suggestion:

Go Personalized

If dropping $50 on a shirt the kid’ll outgrow in six months offends your value system, don’t do it! The appeal of personalized gifts is that they’re super-thoughtful and come in a variety of prices.


  1. The personalized bench. One Step Ahead offers a wooden one with the child’s name. The letters come out like puzzle pieces, which helps the child learn the letters of his or her name. Orders take 4 to 5 weeks to process, so if your Nordstrom-loving cousin just had a baby, order the stool, like, now and give it on the kid’s first birthday.
  2. A Build-a-Bear. Dress it in an outfit the child will like, and your kids can record a message inside. It can cost around $25 if you forgo the outfit, or upwards of $50 if you go nuts.


Books are always good, but personalized books are even better.

  1. Books with the child’s name. My mom once got a book (from Happy Kids Productions) in which my daughter was the protagonist and the other characters were the guys from Sesame Street. My daughter was riveted. And it cost all of 12 bucks.
  2. Autographed books. Some websites (like Books of Wonder and Quail Ridge Books & Music) sell children’s books signed by the author. These books won’t have the birthday child’s name, but they’re still thoughtful and special. If you really want a book dedicated to the child, research book signings at your local bookstore—and bring your own kids with you. Hearing an author talk about and read from his or her book—and getting one signed to them—is a great way to instill a love of reading.
Tell us how you deal with buying birthday gifts. Do you go overboard? Do you have a budget?