Goodie bags (or as my friend Ben refers to them, "dibby bags") have become the raison d'être for most parties these days. This sort of horrifies me, because I grew up in an age when goodie bags didn't exist. In fact, you were lucky if there was any sort of prize or gift at all, and if there was, it usually went to the winner of a game held at the party. (Yes, you heard me right: there was none of this "everyone wins a prize for just participating" stuff. There was one prize and one winner and that was it!) But since my business demands that I provide what my clients want, I am happy to provide goodie bags. Still, it's my firm belief that a goodie bag doesn't have to break the bank. You don't need to supply a huge collection of treats that rival the presents given to the birthday child. In fact, often the best goodies are simple items that capture the children's attention and entertain them. It all comes down to a little thought and presentation.
When you are conceiving of a goodie gift, it's often best to ask your child what they think their friends will like. Often, they have a much better sense of what will make their friends happy. Establish a budget ahead of time (say, $5 per guest), and take a trip to the party store together. This is a great opportunity for your child to learn about using money wisely, especially as he or she ponders purchasing $30 worth of candy versus a really fun pull-back race car. Of course, this might be too much for some kids, but if you have the time to spend, it can be a great learning experience.
I'm a big fan of the "one useful item, one fun item" goodie. One of my favorites was a blow-up shark that we placed in a blue handle bag with tissue paper coming out of the top; it looked like the sharks were jumping out of the water! The cost was minimal (I think the shark was $1.50, and the tissue paper and bags were reclaimed after the guests got so excited they put them aside in favor of the shark), but the effect was huge. Another great goodie was for an R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" inspired party. I bought a series of the Goosebumps books, placed them in cellophane bags so you could see the creepy artwork and titles, then topped the bag off with two eyeball lollipops and a tag that looked like a screaming mouth. Again, it was simple, but totally effective, and the kids loved perusing the titles before choosing their own to take home.
Sometimes a goodie is really all about the packaging, like the time I took miniature candy boxes and turned them into little veterinarian kits complete with chocolate band-aids and tiny bottles of "puppy pills" (tubes of M&M Minis worked perfectly for this). I've also made hot chocolate kits which were placed in real tea cups and saucers purchased at Goodwill, spa baskets with bubble bath and "growing" washcloths, and spy kits wrapped in brown paper marked "confidential."
The main thing about goodie bags is that they should reflect the birthday child in some way. I also always like to include a little thematic tag that says “thank you for coming to my party” in a creative way.
Just remember the goodie can be something as simple as homemade cookies or a personalized candy bar or CD of music. I once did a ladybug party, where the host family adventured out into the woods and gathered the perfect stones to turn into hand-painted ladybugs. Each guest chose their own ladybug from a basket as they left. It was sweet, it was simple, and it made the statement, “I really appreciate that you took time out of your day to spend celebrating with me and my family." And that’s really what it’s all about anyway: the memory of celebrating together.