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What is a Goodie Bag?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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The goodie bag has several definitions. Most people are familiar with those given to children at birthday parties. It can sometimes help, especially with young children to give a small bag of toys and candy, so that the child doesn’t feel jealous of the birthday boy or girl. From this relatively innocent practice comes a wide variety of goodie bags for adults for various purposes.

Occasionally, a goodie bag is designed as a small collection of items given to a customer making a purchase. This is especially true of cosmetic goodie bags, and is often called a gift "free with purchase." Many major cosmetic companies offer free gifts to customers a few times a year in order to drum up more sales. These are not exactly free — people must buy an item from the company, normally spending $20-30 US dollars (USD) to get the free gift. A typical gift from a cosmetics company might include a makeup or tote bag, a sample or two of lipstick, a small mascara, and a few skin care samples.

Parties where household items like Tupperware® are sold may feature goodie bags for guests too. Sometimes only a couple of guests win a bag at a party like this. At other times, all guests get a few samples or discounts on purchases to increase sales.

The value of the cosmetics goodie bag are far eclipsed by those offered to celebrity presenters at award shows and events. Many companies vie for the attention of “stars” by offering free gifts and services to award show participants. Past gifts in these over the top versions have included expensive jewelry, designer clothing, cellphones, Blackberries®, extended trips to deluxe resorts, and gaming machines.

Up until 2005, US celebrities receiving award show goodie bags usually did not have to claim this on their income tax, despite receiving gifts that could be valued at more than 10,000 USD. These rules changed in 2005, since the bag was not thought of as a gift, but a gift that was part payment for participation. Some celebrities may now forgo taking them, since the taxes on some of the “gifts” can be quite high. Others don’t take the goodie bag out of a sense of ethics. Many celebrities feel the last thing they need are free items, since their incomes are already plentiful.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By angelBraids — On May 04, 2011

@MissMuffet - I know what you mean. Opening the bag is like unwrapping treasure to me!

As a child I loved party goodie bags. These days I make up my own for other events, such as christmas or housewarming parties. It's just for fun, no major gifts like jewelry or vacations! Still, I know people enjoy taking something home.

I think you could extend this idea into bags that have the essentials and a few treats for someone in hospital, or who has had a baby.

By MissMuffet — On May 02, 2011

I had no idea that goody bags could be taxed! Hopefully this doesn't apply to us regular folk who score a few extras at the cosmetics counter!

Who doesn't love something for nothing? I try not to let it influence me, but I know that a store with a quality goody bag idea is going to tempt me to spend that little extra, just so I can get my hands on it!

By Potterspop — On May 01, 2011

I would love to start a small business selling birthday and halloween goodie bags. There seems to be a lot of competition between parents to provide the cutest or most unusual party leaving gift!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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