I have a few standby gift ideas that I use to keep from breaking the bank buying birthday gifts, but still give what I consider "nice" gifts.
(1) Beach towel and pool toys: Cost = $10
This beach towel was $6.99 at Target. I embroidered a name on it and added and set of pool toys. What a fun gift for a 3-year-old boy with summer coming up! Of course, this gift would cost more if you didn't have an embroidery machine of your own to use. You could also do a towel and cute flip-flops for a girl or do a bath towel and bubble bath for a fall or winter birthday.
(2) Large coloring pad and fun crayon = $8-10
I bought these pads on sale at Amazon for $5 each. The crayon is from Learning Express and it is $3. Claire got one of these crayons for her birthday last year and she literally played with it until it broke. She loved it! These pads are great too because the paper is thick enough to paint on. Oh, they have girl pads too.
(3) Lapdesk and paper pad/markers = $8-10
Here are a couple I have made. (I don't recommend doing something as complicated as the Spiderman. I usually try to keep it more simple.)
I buy these on sale at Michael's (or any other craft store) for $3-4. Then, I find a cute clip art picture on the computer, trace it on the lap desk and color with paint pens. Add a pad of drawing paper and pack of markers or colored pencils and you have a super-nice, personalized gift.
I recommend buying paint pens at Wal-Mart or with a 40% coupon at Michael's (or any other craft stores). I have a primary pack (in fine tip and medium tip) and a pastel pack (in medium tip). I use them all pretty equally.
(4) Games ... always check Target for sale or clearance games. One year, I bought four little boys in Claire's class Toy Story Yahtzee that was on sale for $7.
(5) Cookbook and personalized apron = $25-30 (depending on where you purchase).
I have not personally done this one before but my friend Colleen did this for Claire's 4th birthday and it was one of her favorite gifts. For girls, you can buy the Pink Princess Cookbook by Barbara Beery, or for girls or boys, the Sesame Street "C is for Cooking" cookbook and Paula Deen's "My First Cookbook" are both good options. You can find relatively inexpensive personalized kids aprons on Etsy ... I found some here, here, and here. OR if you have your own embroidery machine, you can buy child's apron from this website for less than $4 and personalize it yourself.
(6) Matchbox car case and cars = $10-$20
One of my personal favorites of any gift David has gotten (also from my friend Colleen) was a personalized matchbox car case. I believe she got it here. This vendor does beautiful work ... she made Claire's hand painted step stool in her bedroom.
You could also do something more portable, like this car caddy or this car wallet and road to go.
Now, if your kids are friends with my kids (and my kids' friends), don't go stealing my gift ideas.
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