Expensive birthday loot bags becoming the norm

Frances McInnis
Shine On

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes spent $100,000 on daughter Suri's second birthday party. Gwen Stefani dropped $15,000 to make sure son Kingston had a bouncy castle, a balloon artist and superhero characters at his fourth birthday bash.

Sure, they're celebrities, but even your average kids' birthday party is getting more expensive…especially the goody bags parents hand out at the end of the festivities.

The New York Times delved into the issue last week, with an article about over-the-top loot bags.

"There was a time when children attending birthday parties received simple favors like a noisemaker or a trinket for winning Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Today they often get bulging bags of toys, not unlike those handed out to Oscars attendees," Alexandra Zissu writes in the paper.

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Those pricy goodies have opened the door to some awkward social situations.

"The loot bags my son has received upon leaving the party must have cost more than the gift(s) we brought, writes a commenter Mothering.com. "I'm sort of embarrassed!"

Kym Harris, co-owner of Ottawa-based party planning company In Favour, says Canadian parents definitely spend more now on loot bags than they did when she started the business eight years ago.

"People don't want the itty-bitty crappy toys," she says. "The one thing that we noticed was more demand for quality toys and willingness to spend more and more."

The company offers standard loot bags for $6.99 and premium bags for $10. However, says Harris, parents often tell her they don't mind spending more, sometimes going as high as $15 or $20 per child.

Health concerns about sub-standard toys play a role in the move towards pricier loot. "A lot of the cheap products come out of China," says Harris. "With the whole China scare and all the lead issues, parents are looking for quality."

Increased environmental awareness may have contributed the shift towards more expensive bags, she says. "We do have people who say, I want something that my kids are going to use. Something that's not going to end up in the trash five minutes down the road."

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But buying expensive goodies isn't an option for many parents and could even be teaching kids some negative lessons for kids. Over-the-top loot bags show young kids that "an event is only fun if you get a material award for it," Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School and the director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood told the New York Times.

Blogger Sharon DeVellis at YummyMummyClub.ca hates the entire custom. "Loot bags filled with crap are sending a message to our kids that we live in a disposable society," she writes.

Rather than spend a lot of money, DeVellis suggest parents think of crafts or personalized gifts that won't get thrown out.

"I'm just asking that you take a moment and think of something kids can use and won't break or be thrown out within 24 hours of the party," she says. "In the end, it will save your pocket book and help save our planet. "