I would like to tell you about a bit of a scandal that I am involved with; it’s something I have been part of for a very long time; lots of people, including my family and friends are also implicated; it’s not illegal but on the other hand it’s not economically sound – I call it the Great Money Exchange Project (GMEP). I would appreciate any feedback as to how I can get myself out of it.

 About the project

The background to the Project is this: Like many others, each of my three primary school-aged children, get invited to school-friends’ birthday parties.  I estimate, that over the course of a year, because they don’t go to all the parties they are invited to, between them they attend 30 parties. I’m quite tight and I say this publicly without embarrassment – I spend, on average, £5 a present – although I have noticed that as the kids get older £10 is the going rate. I’m all for getting things on offers or in a sale, or even – shock horror – giving another child a gift that my child has received but doesn’t want – but for the sake of argument we can say that’s 30 parties, £5 each present = £150 spent on birthday presents per year.

 I can justify it. Sort of…….

Now, in my very, very cynical mind I could justify this spending because for the reasonable price of £5 per party my kids get to have fun and see their friends and in return their friends will attend their birthday parties and bring them gifts.

And before some parents scream as they read this ‘You are a mean-spirited person – let them enjoy these special moments in their young lives’. I don’t think I am mean-spirited – I want my children to enjoy their birthdays – it’s a rite of passage and they look forward to it all year round. I also love the fact that it gives them an opportunity to socialise with their friends in a non-school environment and that sometimes my children go to a lot of effort to make their friends a card or choose a gift.

 But what is all this gift-giving teaching my kids….

However, my main problem is not with the parties themselves but with what all this gift-giving and receiving is teaching my children. Fundamentally, it seems to be saying two things. Firstly, it says to them that you, and all your friends, should expect to receive more things than you actually need. Because they definitely don’t need all these gifts. But secondly, it teaches them that they should sustain a throw-away economy by increasing a demand for presents that, let’s face it, aren’t built to last or retain a child’s attention for a long time. They might learn about recycling and reusing at school but what they learn in their real lives is the total opposite.

 Can a workaround be found?

It is true that some parents do understand the problems of GMEP and therefore try to create workarounds such as putting some presents aside so they don’t get them all at once. But even taking this into account it doesn’t change the fact that a child who hosts a ‘whole class’ party could receive 20+ presents (on top of the ones that they receive from their family) of which a lot of them they don’t need or even want. And that is setting them up for a life of high expectations of needless ‘stuff’. As I said this educational experience costs me, £150 per year and although undoubtedly my kids want the presents back in exchange, I’m not so keen.

At my younger daughter’s birthday party last year I did try to remove myself from the Project but to no avail. On the invite I said that instead of giving my daughter a present, parents could make a donation to the school’s Parent Teacher’s Association. However, my appeal didn’t seem to make any difference – my daughter still got her 20+ presents. Why do I think my appeal failed so miserably? Well partly because, if other parents are anything like me, they did not read the small print on the invite and also, they probably had a stock of presents bought on sale or on offer and just wanted to get rid of them.

Can you find a solution to this problem?

Thus, I haven’t thought of a way to leave the Project. At the end of the day the GMEP is endemic in the culture that I’m part of. I don’t want to say to my children you can’t have a birthday party or you can’t keep any of these beautifully wrapped up presents because of my beliefs. However, if anyone reading this feels that they have found a solution to the Project, please let me know.



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