“No, Mom. We’re sick of giving ‘poor man presents.’ Why can’t we buy him that big Star Wars Lego set he really, really wants?”

I think that triple digit number to the left of the decimal point escaped their notice last week while they were checking out all four of General Grievous’s tiny lightsabers included in the set. In fact, I think they forgot we were shopping for a gift, and not their own personal toy cache.

But it’s true. I have become notorious for giving out, what my kids have termed “poor man presents,” at the two dozen or so birthday parties they attend each year. In my defense, I think they are awesome presents. As a parent, I would be thrilled if somebody gave any one of them to my child. I’m sure your curious as to what these gifts include. Note, these “poor man presents” can be combined or given individually.

1.) A custom CD mix. I’ve collected lots of kid music over the years. I uploaded them all onto my computer and now I burn fun princess mixes, lullably mixes, rough and tumble boys mixes, (you get the picture,) anytime I need a last minute gift. Parents and kids alike will often tell me it’s been in their CD player non-stop since the party and has been their most used gift.

But somehow my kids feel embarrassed adding their paltry Sharpie inscribed homemade CD to the pile when the kid next to them is hoisting a large, professionally wrapped, sure-to-be-a-Deluxe-Lego-Set right on top.

2.) Play-Dough. Even though my mother nicknamed the soft substance “The Enemy” 30 years ago, I still love Play-Dough. It’s fun, it’s cheap and it transcends age. All four of my kids can sit at our kitchen table with a few tubs of Play-Dough and some cookie cutters and have a great time for over an hour. Toddlers are always excited to get a brand new four pack. You could even make it.

3.) Books. When my kids bring home those Scholastic Book Order forms, there are almost always a few books on sale for $1 and there are no shipping charges. Every library I’ve ever been in has a “Friends of the Library” section with lots of books on sale for under a dollar. Even the big chains will put their Easy Readers on sale now and then.

4.) An Activity. Together with the party attendee, we make a homemade invitation, inviting the birthday child to do an activity with us. A fancy picnic at the park, an afternoon at the pool, or a day at the zoo (back when we had season passes) have all been hits. I like to make the activity more special than a regular play date by adding “Unlimited Rice Krispy Treats,” or packing their lunches in shoe boxes that I wrap up like presents.

To my mind, these are clutter-free, small pieces free, and debt free presents. To my kids, they are lack luster. They long for something with a registered trademark and some heft to hoist up onto that card table. But I think a little parental embarrassment will eventually add heft to their character.

(By the way, they also find my soccer snacks embarrassing. “You don’t have the snack again this week, right Mom? Phew!” I never thought it would be this fun to be an embarrassment.)

Margaret Anderson is a BYU graduate, returned missionary, and mother of four small children. You can read more on her blog: www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com