Birthday cupcake at Barnes & Noble. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Want to support independent stores? Me too. But when it comes to getting freebies and bargains, the chains have some sweet giveaways to offer, especially around birthdays. The one rule: Don’t feel guilty about it. The big-box stores will give your kids free things to tempt you into their doors. They hope you buy something, too, but that’s up to you.
Here are are some terrific corporate giveaways and deals, with no strings attached, for kids and families. We don’t do freebies that involve waiting in a long line, or having to buy an adult meal.
Tip: Make sure you sign up a few weeks early for birthday clubs to get your coupon in time.
1. Free birthday balloon at Toys 'R' Us
At Toys 'R' Us, signing up kids (through age 10) for the birthday club will earn them a coupon for $3 off anything $3 or more and a birthday Mylar balloon. Supposedly the kids get a plush Geoffrey the giraffe toy too, but when we visited, the store was out of them “until further notice.”
Toy 'R' Us also holds special events with free giveaways. Previous events have featured Hatchimals, Legos and Pokémon. Just sign up for the emails or check the store's event page.
2. $1 mylar balloons at the Dollar Tree
The latex balloons from the grocery store are $1.50, but they start to droop after a day. Head to the Dollar Tree instead, where you can get a Mylar balloon for $1. A store employee will fill up the balloon for you right there so it's fresh and will last longer. The Dollar Tree has a big selection of balloons — birthdays, stars, smiley faces — that covers all special occasions.
While you’re there, pick up sidewalk chalk, craft supplies and paper party goods. The Dollar Tree is the cheapest place we’ve found for these expendable kid items.
3. Free kids’ workshops at Home Depot
Kids can learn to build a wooden toy at Home Depot’s free kids’ workshops, which take place from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of every month. Hammers, nails, wood, paint – everything’s provided. Kids get to take home their finished project, along with a little orange apron and a pin.
Be sure to register online to make sure you get a spot, and get there early. Make sure the kids are wearing something you don’t mind getting paint on. The workshops are recommended for kids 5 to 12, but we’ve seen much younger do-it-yourselfers, too (with parents helping, of course).
Upcoming projects include making a Penske truck (August 5), a pencil holder (September 2) and a firehouse bank (October 7).
4. Free cupcake and book at Barnes & Noble
Sign your kiddos up for Barnes & Noble’s kids’ birthday club, and get a free cupcake, cookie or gluten-free Rice Krispies treat from the café. It’s an honest-to-God cupcake — not a mini-cupcake — in your choice of chocolate, vanilla or red velvet. The coupon arrives in your inbox just before your kid’s birthday, and is valid for two weeks. Go have a treat, play with the train table, browse the kids’ section and call it a fun family activity.
Also, kids in grades 1 to 6 can sign up for the Barnes & Noble summer reading program. Read any eight books, record it in your journal and earn a free book.
5. Free Lego builds at Lego stores
Join the Lego VIP loyalty program, and register online for the monthly mini model build events at Lego stores. It’s a different model each month. Kids 6 to 14 learn how to make it and get to take it home for free. The program fills up fast, so sign up right away.
Lego stores sometimes have other special giveaways — find your nearest store online for details.
6. Free crafts at Lakeshore Learning
Lakeshore Learning, aka every teacher’s favorite store, offers a free craft every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. No reservations are needed, and kids 3 and up can make art to take home.
7. Disney Store free events
The Disney Store has several regular free events. Every day when the store opens, one helper gets picked to receive a special key or medal. At Disney Store story times, kids get a free finger puppet to take home. And in the summer, the store holds Summer Play Days every day at 3 p.m. where kids get a free embroidered patch.
For other special events with giveaways (they happen frequently), check the Disney Store’s event calendar.
8. Email discounts from your favorite brand
My oldest was a late walker, and I spent a fortune experimenting with various handmade, soft-soled shoes while he stumbled around and tripped a lot. Then I found See Kai Run, a Seattle-area company that makes podiatrist-approved shoes for kids. I bought a couple of pairs of shoes at full retail price before I wised up and signed up for email alerts for sales and clearances. Instead of paying $50 to $60 a pair, I spend less than $20.
Lesson learned: Sign up for your favorite brand’s emails.
9. Chocolate and ice cream
There are plenty of freebies that the whole family can enjoy. Are you a chocolaholic? Join the Godiva Chocolate Rewards Club and you get a coupon for $10 to spend at the store for your birthday.
Love ice cream? Sign up with Baskin Robbins for a free birthday scoop.
Post your favorite deals in the comments!
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