Whether it is because you know finances are tight for your friends and family or you really just do not need anything new, you are not alone in wanting to tactfully communicate that no birthday presents are expected or even wanted this year. Letting guests know they should not bring gifts can be uncomfortable and awkward, but there are acceptable ways of getting your message across. Be careful and sensitive, but feel comfortable moving forward on the gift-less path you have chosen.
Decide if word-of-mouth notice will be sufficient to instruct your guests accordingly. If at all possible, mentioning “gifts” on an invitation should be avoided. But, if having family members tell friends is out of the question, prepare to address the gift situation in the invitation itself.
Analyse the guest list and segment individuals into groups if the same phrase for all is undesired. Your closest friends might be entertained by a joke, but those sophisticated in-laws and distant relatives might not be as amused.
Insert the standard “No gifts, please” at the bottom of the invitation--below party details such as the date, time and location. You can include this default message on every card, if desired, with no additional explanation.
Consider prefacing the no-gift announcement with the words “Your presence is present enough.” This softens the message and compliments your guests.
Include a joke, as appropriate, to close friends who will appreciate the added humour. You can consider building off of how forgetful you are, or how cluttered you keep your house already, or something similar.
Although the etiquette for birthday invitations is less strict than for weddings, leaving out gift-related notes is often advisable. Before including an announcement on the formal invitation, determine if you could feasibly send out an e-mail or some other form of communication to let your guests know your preferences. Additionally, if you have guests that will predictably ignore the “no gifts” request, you can always suggest “In lieu of birthday presents, please donate to . . .” followed by your favourite charity.
Humour misdirected can get you into trouble. If there is a question in your mind as to how someone will receive an added joke, play it safe and skip the comicality.