How much should you spend on your child’s birthday?

An iPod and a bottle of wine.

That’s what my son wanted for his third birthday. Of course, his list changed on almost a daily basis, but really, an iPod and a bottle of wine? Luckily, my 6 year-old daughter was right there when he said that and laughed hysterically.

He clearly is imaginative and perceptive to the world around him. He sees people using iPods all of the time “with the little things hanging out of their ears.” And the wine, well, he sees his parents enjoying it with dinner, of course.

But it made me think: What is the right type of gift to buy, and the right amount of money to spend, for your child’s birthday? I’m talking gifts, party, and all celebratory activities. Recently the Parent Panel here on Chicago Parent addressing “who to invite?” How many you invite definitely weighs in on the cost. But how much money is really appropriate to spend on your child’s special day? I am setting socio-economic tiers aside here, folks. I have seen both ends of the spectrum throw a big bash.

I guess I’m dating myself here, but when I was kid, birthdays were about the cake my mom made, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, that sit-on-the-balloon-until-it-pops game and musical chairs.

Nowadays parties are hosted at Pump-it-up, Jump Zone, Art Stores, the American Girl Doll Store, and countless other venues that charge you several hundreds of dollars just to walk-in with your guests! Parents gift their kids with iPods, cell phones, and video games at much too young of ages, enough American Girl doll gear to open their own store, trips in a limo to a glam salon, and many more things I’d rather not discuss.

So how do you set limits on what is appropriate? I mean, these are our children we’re talking about, and we only want the best for them.

Personally, I would be heart-broken if I couldn’t make my child’s birthday cake, even if it means staying up until 2:30 a.m. to make a farm cake and a tractor cake because my son just couldn’t decide. I try to keep the party spending under control by having it at our house, or taking just a few close friends to do something special. When it comes to the gifting, I try to figure out how long they will have an interest in the item and then calculate a daily cost. Then when you ask if it’s worth it, it’s pretty easy to answer.

This is how I convinced my husband to buy a ride-on pedal tractor for our son.

Now, I will confess to buying my daughter a second-generation refurbished flip-cam for what I considered to be a steal of a price for her sixth birthday. But we celebrated with a Pinkalicious Party at our house where we decorated aprons and cupcakes, and yes, played pin-the-tail-on-Goldie. My son’s tractor was paired with a party at Wagner Farm, where we had a “do-it-yourself party” for a mere $60 room rental.

So this weekend as we soaked in the warmth of the 80-degree-day while celebrating my son’s third birthday, I could not help but think we had done the right thing by skipping the iPod. And the bottle of wine.

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