Gift Giving Guide for People without Children

by Sandy L on January 11, 2011

This post ideally should have been written before the holidays but by next Christmas it’ll be long gone out of my head, so I thought I’d just jot down a few  thoughts today. I’m a relatively new parent. My oldest is 5, so I’m sure I broke some if not all of these rules when I was buying for younger children at one point or another. I would have loved a similar go to guide before I had children of my own.

This post is intended to give you the parent’s point of view on certain children’s gifts. It may not be true for all parents, but it generally holds true for the parents that I hang with.


Rocking horses, battery powered cars and anything capable of taking up 1/2 of your living room or garage fall into this category.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my kids have a lot of toys and anything that falls into the HUGE category, doesn’t stay in the living room too long because inevitably it gets tripped over or room needs to be made for something else.  Bigger isn’t always better in this case.   I still break this rule on occasion though. I bought my son one of those power wheels cars at a yard sale and my husband declared it had to go because he could no longer park our own car in the garage. It was fun while it lasted and my son was sad to see it go.


This is a tough one. Some of my kid’s favorite toys make noise. If you decide to buy something loud, think about what it would be like to hear that toy 150 times in a row before buying it.  Also, a good parent tip is to put scotch tape over the speaker to reduce the sound coming out of toys. It works like a charm.


If you are giving something fragile to the parent or child, there is nothing more fun than to make it snow all over your living room with styrofoam that sticks all over your clothes and gets all over the house.  Bubble wrap is just as much fun but doesn’t cause an insane mess afterwards.


Don’t buy a gun for someone’s child if they are a pacifist.

Don’t buy video games for people who are trying to increase their kid’s time outdoors. A good rule of thumb is that if the parent’s don’t already have a video game console for their own entertainment purposes, there is a decent chance they won’t approve of one for their children.


I had an extremely embarrassing episode at my cousin’s house  this Christmas when my 5 year old son proclaimed he hated certain toys and hated bob the builder because he’s for babies. (My 2 year old also cried when I tried putting on a hat that he got as a present as well.  Both my kids were uncharacteristically bad that day. That’s a whole other story that is too complex to discuss here.)  Coincidentally, this toy was a video game, huge, not age appropriate and expensive so neither the giver, the receiver or the parent were happy with that outcome. (Does anyone have a 3 year old that would like a smart cycle?)

If you give something that is way too old for the child, they will be frustrated at their inability to use it.  If it’s too young, then they will think they got a baby toy and that you think they are still a baby.


I really can’t believe what a crappy hit rate I have on expensive toys. It really seems like the cheapest toys are the ones that my kids play with the most. I had this plastic accordian tube thing that was $1 and my kids played with it til it broke. They made crinkly tube noises with it, they spun it in a circle to make wind tunnel noises, they used it like a bugle.  There’s something to be said about toys that require a child to use their imagination. Most of the really expensive toys like robots and things take the imagination out of the equation. Come to think of it, I think that’s one of the keys to why they are not fun for very long.

There is nothing worse than getting an expensive gift that your child doesn’t like or use.  You end up feeling bad and guilty that the other person wasted their money and you feel wasteful for not using the product.  It’s one thing if a child gets bored with a $5 giant superball, but it’s another if it’s a $150 video game. Maybe it’s just me, but I really do hate it when expensive toys don’t get used regardless of who bought them.

Giving a gift that gets played with has very little to do with how much money is spent and much more to do with what the child likes.


If you don’t know the children well, then take cues from the parents. If they have 6 bookcases overflowing with books, it’s a safe bet that they probably would welcome books.  If they have a garage full of bikes and skies, well, then a sport related toy probably works there.

Some parents like to go places with their children, so a membership to the local museum or zoo or pool can also be a great gift.

The other thing you can do is ask what particular character the child is into at the time.  This changes year to year, so don’t assume that just because the kid liked Dora and Diego when he was 3 that he still likes him at age 6…again, certain characters get outgrown over time.

In the younger years, children are also exploring different topics, so they may be into dinosaurs, or animals, cooking or playing house. Find out from the parents how the child spends their fun time.

Lastly, if the parent is complaining about having too many toys in the house, it might just be best to get something small and buy a savings bond or contribute to the child’s 529 instead.  Incidentally, my son’s favorite toy 2 christmas’s ago was a $6 pickle gun.

I can’t speak to middle school giving, so some of the readers with older children will have to chime in there.

I’m sure I missed out on some big points, but those are my immediate thoughts on the matter.  Please do give your own input as well.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone January 11, 2011 at 7:45 AM

Wonderful post! As a new parent, I couldn’t agree more! Please no large toys! All of us don’t have large homes! 🙂

And whatever you give, please include the exchange receipt!


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 5:15 PM

Moneycone – good point about the receipt, but I don’t always follow that rule with children’s gifts because once they hit a certain age, they’ll want to open it anyway even if they have the exact same thing at home. It should work for the first year or two though. Congrats on being a new parent. Enjoy the ride.


Nicole January 11, 2011 at 8:12 AM

We solve all of these problems by sticking toys into the regift closet, or to goodwill.

Early on, my MIL would use the threat of sending toys that make noise if we thwarted her grandmotherly spoiling intentions. (She stopped after I explained how my mother had already given me the grandparents are allowed to spoil lecture.)

Actually: If we have 6 bookcases overflowing with books, chances are we already have the book you’re trying to give us. But no worries, we’ll give it to some other kid at the next birthday party so long as you don’t WRITE IN IT.


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 5:17 PM

Nicole – yeah, writing in books seems to be extremely popular. I do like some of the books that have been written in (like when my friend’s daughter wrote a note to my son that it was her favorite book), but then there were other times when I already had the book and the new one was written in too. You must not have relatives who ask where certain gifts went. I do.


Nicole January 11, 2011 at 7:12 PM

We live far away from relatives. There are definite benefits.


Crystal January 11, 2011 at 12:54 PM

I steer away from large and/or noisy, but if my gift isn’t offensive or large or noisy and the parents still have a problem with it, they should hush up about it and give it away once I leave, lol. Since I only give gifts to the ones I love anyway, I really hope they aren’t making lists in their head of all the problems my gift has. I would never hold it against anybody if they donated it or regifted it though. 🙂


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Crystal – I know. Sometimes my anti-consumerism mentality makes me sound like a total ingrate. I sound more and more like my mother when I say “don’t buy me anything.”


Lindy Mint January 11, 2011 at 2:18 PM

Breakables are good to avoid too, like glass snow globes or little travel trinkets that have to be stored somewhere up out of the way. Thankfully my mom got over her desire to give my son ceramic boxes after four of them bit the dust within one week.

I think books are always a good idea, especially if you know that the child will be getting a lot of other toys. They may not be enthralled, but the parents will thank you.


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Lindy – Yeah, we broke about 10 ornaments this year. It was just like being around godzilla during christmas. How could I have forgotten breakables. Good Catch.


Everyday Tips January 11, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Oh my gosh, I can’t believe the number of huge plastic toys my kids had when they were little. Kitchen sets, cozy coupes, you name it. I was lucky in that my kids have always been kinda sensitive to sounds, so they didn’t embrace the noisy toys.

I did buy an obnoxiously loud toy for my brother in law’s son because he did it to us once and reveled in it. So, I had my revenge.

I have always tried to buy unique gifts (that probably ended up rotting on shelves) when I was at science museums and such. My kids have always loved those toys, but I am not sure every child did. Books are also a popular one on my gift buying list, along with unique crafts for girls.

Great post Sandy.


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Everyday Tips – my kids love noisy toys. You’re lucky. I like buying strange things too, especially since these days a lot of the people I buy for really do have a lot of stuff already. It’s fun to go to a boutique shop and buy something odd like a slide whistle or something. Oops. I just broke my own noise rule. Eh, rules are meant to be broken.


eemusings January 11, 2011 at 7:19 PM

We didn’t buy the youngest Christmas gifts…after all, they have enough toys…

But I’m thinking maybe clothes would be nice for upcoming birthdays, obviously, as long as I double check sizing!


Sandy L January 11, 2011 at 8:13 PM

emusings – yes my MIL and aunties dress my children very well. I’m sure my son doesn’t care much, but we sure like clothes.


Roshawn @ Watson Inc January 12, 2011 at 9:44 AM

So far, I have been fortunate to buy okay toys (well-received) for my friends kids. I do stay away from big toys, and I often take a queue from the mom’s wish list (I know that’s cheating, but it works just fine for me when available).


Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog January 12, 2011 at 3:43 PM

This is a great gift guide sandy. I don’t have any little kids to buy for right now (actually 1, but it’s a baby). I’ll keep this list in mind for when I do…unless I want to annoy the parent, then I’ll buy something that makes tons of noise.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics January 13, 2011 at 2:50 PM

Wow Excellent tips Sandy! I usually make sure to not buy something with a lot of moving parts or something can be broken very easily into small pieces, but this is excellent resource for people who don’t have any kids. I have bookmarked it to review it before buying anything.


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