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Cheap Eats

Reducing our living costs is on my mind more than ever, as it’s a mere three months until D takes on his new role as a trainee minister.  We’ve managed just fine on one income as D’s current IT work pays well, but next year we have quite a drop in salary to wear as a family.

We’re cool with that.  Quite frankly, if you are making loads of money as a minister, there’s something very wrong going on!  But we know that making do on less will take some adjustment for us.

We had several options of where D could do his training, and we think we’ve got the place that is the best fit for D, the congregation and for our family.  I’m not revealing where we are going until everything is signed on the dotted line, but it’s somewhere very small in the South Island.  Two reasons we like the place are that it’s cheap to live there (compared to the other places we were offered), and is small enough to walk or cycle almost everywhere, so we hope to use the car much less.  I’d like to think that these two things alone will significantly help us adjust to life on D’s new income.

Our food budget is one area that I’m constantly trying to lower as much as possible, which at times feels like a losing battle due to the rising cost of food.  I’m not exaggerating: butter has increased in price by 62% (!), milk by 7.9% and vegetables are up 8.9% since last year.

The rise in grocery costs have made me examine the meal plans I create much more carefully.  Meal planning saves precious time wondering what on earth to cook for dinner, and stops needless food waste, but it won’t save you money if you choose recipes with expensive ingredients.  Meals with lots of meat, dairy or out-of-season vegetables will have you swooning in shock at the cash register (or it could be that your check-out operator is Mr Darcy…ahem, I digress).

By being very careful with the recipes I choose and incorporating at least 3-4 meatless dinners a week, I’ve been able to reduce our weekly shop by a 1/3rd, often more.  It’s not rocket science, vegetable-based meals are generally much cheaper.  If you are struggling to make ends meet and have avowed carnivores in the house, personally I’d give them two options: they can either make more money to pay for their food or they can get with the programme.  D and I like most vegetarian meals, which helps us, but there are plenty of delicious meatless meals out there that would please even the most devoted meat-eaters.

A modicum of research on the internet brings a plethora of frugal recipes to your browser, and you are sure to find some that get your mouth watering.  Here are some of our current favourites.

We absolutely love this slow cooker lentil and quinoa chili. In fact, I’d go as far to say as we prefer it to the beef version, am I right D?

Quinoa is pricey here in NZ so I just use more lentils.  Mmmm, this recipe is delicious, makes a boat-load of chili and is inexpensive.  It also takes maybe 5 minutes to prepare, and most of that is opening cans or measuring out stock.

 

This freezer bean and cheese burrito recipe is terrific.  I made 20 burritos which – once frozen – can be popped in the microwave for a quick and easy lunch, or for dinner when I just.cannot.be.arsed.cooking.one.more.thing.

I swap out a can of refried beans (more expensive in NZ than the USA, plus just my personal preference) for a can of chili beans, and use a can of plain tomatoes with some burrito spice instead of ‘Rotel’ (an American brand of tomatoes and chillies).  I also use a cup less cheese – America, you know I love you, but y’all are obsessed with cheese – and they still tasted great.

For my latest batch I used store-bought tortillas.  Normally I would make them myself but we had these left over from a weekend of visitors.  Even with the added extra of store-bought tortillas, I worked out that my 20 tortillas came in at .77c per tortilla.  That’s pretty good!

 

This Corn and Broccoli Rice Casserole needs a bit of tweaking (I use more seasonings and a small sprinkle of cheese) to give it more flavour, but otherwise it is a very frugal and perfectly nice meal.  Depending on the price of broccoli or if there’s some in my garden at the time, this dish can be made for $3-4.

Corn and Broccoli Rice Casserole - so simple and SO delicious! Everyone cleaned their plates - even our picky broccoli haters! Cooked rice, creamed corn, broccoli, onion and garlic topped with butter and crushed Ritz crackers. You might want to double the recipe for this quick side dish - this didn't last long in our house!

image and recipe via Plain Chicken

 

These potato pancakes are very filling with a salad.

 

So there you have it, folks.  Do a little research – search particularly for ‘cheap’, ‘frugal’ or ‘depression-era’ recipes, and you will be sure to find recipes that take your fancy.  Your bank balance will thank you.

 

Hit me up with links to your favourite frugal recipes!

 

 

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A frugal holiday destination: New Plymouth, NZ

One thing that our Dollar Diet has taught D and I is the importance of taking breaks.  As much as I’d like a 3-week break in Fiji, that’s unrealistic for our one-income family.  And – as any parent of small children will tell you – a holiday with small children isn’t much of a holiday at all, so mini-breaks are the way to go.

We recently spent a few days in New Plymouth, which I highly recommend for any family looking for a fun holiday destination on a budget.  We hardly spent a thing during our time there, due to all the free things on offer, making it one of the cheapest mini-breaks we’ve ever had.

New Plymouth is one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations thanks to it’s proximity to Mount Taranaki and the large number of attractions in and around the city.  You can find out more about what to see and do here, but here’s what we got up to during our time in New Plymouth:

Technically the Tarankai Aviation Transport and Technology Museum (TATATM) is just out of Inglewood, but it’s a short drive from New Plymouth.  TATATM is the sort of museum I just adore.  Run by volunteers on the smell of an oily rag, it doesn’t look exciting on the outside, but inside is a well curated treasure trove of New Zealand’s past.

tatatm 2

Drab on the outside…

tatatm 8

…party on the inside

tatatm 6

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You know you’re old when items from your childhood are on display at a museum…

There is plenty for kids to climb on and play with, including a working telephone exchange which kept my kids happy calling from building to building.

tatatm 1tatatm 9tatatm 5tatatm 7

We spent two hours at TATATM and the entrance fee of $16 a family is great value.

We also spent several hours hanging out at the cool Puke Ariki, New Plymouth’s museum, library and information centre all rolled into one.  It’s all FREE.

My tots were particularly taken with the library, which utilised technology well and provided plenty of games to play.

D and I were super-impressed by the relaxed librarians who told us ‘of course it’s okay to eat your lunch here!  You have kids, they need to eat.’  So, so chilled.

We loved the Taranki Cycle Park at Bell Block, which has junior road circuit, complete with traffic lights, roundabouts and pedestrian crossings, along with a BMX track and learners soft-surface pad.  Oh, and it’s FREE.

 

We had a ball at the FREE Brooklands Zoo, which can be found within the grounds of Pukekura Park, one of New Plymouth’s main attractions.  It’s not a traditional zoo as there’s no lions or elephants etc, but it’s still worth a visit nonetheless.  Brooklands is home to monkeys, meerkats, a large aviary, and a farm animal area.  It’s perfect for toddlers as it is ENCLOSED, so if you have a kid who likes to do a runner this is the place for you.  There are loads of picnic tables and a great playground.

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I’d like to have explored more of Pukekura Park on this visit, but my two kiddos were getting tired, so it will have to keep.

There are LOADS more free or frugal things you can do in or around New Plymouth, so if you are on a tight budget you can’t go wrong by spending your holidays here.

 

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Day trips from Whanganui: King Edward Park, Hawera

When a suitable day arises, most folks in my town, Whanganui, like to head over Palmerston North to shop (hello, K Mart) and make use of the great facilities that bigger cities have.  Me, I like to head in the opposite direction.

duckpond KEP 2 totsintawhero

There’s loads to do in South Taranaki; you’ll only need a few minutes on Google to find something that will float your boat.  I am easily pleased.  I love parks, the beach, museums, libraries and art galleries, and a good cafe or two.  My kids are following in my footsteps as going to a museum is their idea of a good time, but long road trips are not.  However, they can be placated by the promise of a great playground along the way, and that’s what brought us to King Edward Park in Hawera, this time around.

We passed through Hawera on our way to New Plymouth, but Hawera itself is definitely worthy of a day trip.  Along with King Edward Park, you could check out the incredible Tawhiti Museum (although it has the most frustrating opening times, check their website before you go) or stick with nature at Goodson Dell and Naumai Park. 

But I digress, back to the park!

King Edward Park has something for everyone.  Cool play equipment, a duck pond, manicured lawns and flower gardens, free BBQs, plenty of picnic tables, and tennis courts.  We spent a good couple of hours here and I’ll definitely go back with my family in summer.

pirate ship KEP totsintawhero

playground King Edward Park totsintawherotoddler play totsintwahero

Chinese garden KEP totsintawhero

Entrance to the beautiful Chinese garden

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Thanks Hawera!

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Free things to do in the school holidays

Parents definitely fall into two camps when it comes to school holidays: they either love them or loathe them.  I love the school holidays, especially being able to sleep in a bit longer and not having to nag my tots to get out the door in time for kindy.

Filling in the time over the holidays can be tricky.  It can be an expensive exercise to keep your tots entertained for two weeks if you want to give your kids all the bells and whistles, but it’s perfectly possible to have lots of holiday fun for free.

tea party

Here are some ideas for free things to do during the school holidays:

  1. Get into the great outdoors.  Weather permitting, visit your local playgrounds, parks, and hiking trails.  The beauty of small children is they can turn a 20 minute walking trail into a two-hour odyssey where every rock is overturned on the hunt for slugs and slaters, leaves are used for fans, fairy umbrellas and swords, and new pathways will be created where no pathway has been before.
  2. While you’re outside, go on a scavenger hunt.  Some great tot-friendly printables can be found here, here and here.  If the weather is rubbish, as it frequently is during the school holidays, take your scavenger hunt indoors.  You can find a printable for a colour scavenger hunt here, a shape hunt here, and for kiddos who can read, a genius make-and-find hunt here.
  3. Make a craft from your existing supplies or from things in your recycling bin.  Pinterest is your friend!
    A fun way to make an egg carton dragon craft. Great Chinese New Year craft for kids and fun way to craft with recycled materials.

    make this here 

     

    Marble Run game made for elementary students. Could be used for classroom management or as a reward.

    make this here

    Build a mini city for your child's toys and figurines with this recycled paper towel roll craft.

    make this here

  • Play dates with friends and family.  This is by far my favourite way to pass the time during the holidays.  I get to catch up with my mates while my kids get to play with their friends (and their toys!  Other people’s toys are way more exciting than your own) or just be with their family members who love them to pieces.  Win win.
  • Check out the free programmes run by your local library, museum or art gallery.  Heck, even our local shopping mall runs free kids events. In my town over the holidays kids can build robots, build a cardboard maze, make bug-related things, learn printmaking, bookbinding and more!
  • Check out your local library, museum or art gallery.  Even if they don’t have a kids programme, they are always well worth a visit.  Ditto any other free tourist attraction in your town. Full Length of Man Sitting on Floor
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard.  If your kids are older, make it into a competition for the fastest time.  Again, if the weather is rubbish, take the fun indoors.  My kids LOVE jumping from seat squab to seat squab as we pretend the floor is ‘lava’.
  • Make a movie together.  If your kids are older, have them come up with the storyline and script.  If they really get into it, this project could take several days.  With little ones, film them doing their favourite things, get them to sing and dance for you, or simply film them throughout the day and play it back to them.  They will soon get hooked at seeing themselves on the big screen.
  • Bake.  If your tots are under three, assemble the ingredients before you begin.  Trust me on this one, they cannot wait.baking tots in tawhero
  • Go to the beach.  Even in the middle of winter, my tots love the beach.  They love getting mucky, building structures out of driftwood (one of our local beaches seems to attract driftwood like you wouldn’t believe), and making sandcastles.  Take spare clothes, towels and a thermos of hot chocolate.
  • Visit a farm.  If you are lucky enough to have farming friends, ask if they would mind a visit from you and your tots.  My tots like nothing more than being put to work feeding the animals or ‘helping’ around the farm.
  • Have a dance party.  Put on your favourite tunes or dance along with GoNoodle on Youtube.
  • Go for a walk/scooter/skate/ bike ride.
  • If your kids are bored with your local playgrounds, go to a school playground instead.  My nearest school is locked up like Fort Knox, but there are many schools in my town that welcome families to use their grounds outside of school hours.  Our favourite school playground has fake roads, a long bike track, plenty of asphalt for scootering, lots of picnic tables and shade, a sandpit and several climbing structures.
  • Have a picnic somewhere unexpected: your bed, under the kitchen table or trampoline, or at a local spot you’ve never visited before.
  • PJs and movie day.
  • If you have the ingredients lying around, make an ice cream sundae buffet.  
  • Give 2s and under paint brushes and a bucket of water and invite them to ‘paint’ the footpath/outside of the house.
  • Have a fancy tea party for your kids and their favourite toys.  Dress up to the nines and play waiter.  Even better, play at being a terrible waiter who spills/drops/forgets everything.  bright, cloth, drink
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Dollar Diet 2017: Week 37

money 2

Now I’ve finished a piece of work that was sucking most of my spare brain-power, I have more time again to devote to my blog and all things frugal.  This week I was stuck indoors with sick kids.  I thought we’d escaped the worst of what winter has thrown our way, but no, my tots seem to be catching everything just as the weather is warming up.

This week’s frugal happenings:

  • Made two batches of tortillas which I used for enchiladas and burritos.  Tortillas are seriously easy to make (it’s the cooking them that’s the time-consuming bit), and once you’ve had home made tortillas, you’ll never buy commercial ones again.  For the enchiladas I made the sauce from scratch too.  Yum!

 

  • Found a mint-condition Tinkerbell summer dress from Disney at a secondhand clothing store, which will make a perfect gift for my friend’s daughter who is turning 5 soon.  She is really into long, swishy dresses and this one fits the bill nicely.  The wrapping paper and card are, as usual,  handmade by my tots.

    party dress tots in tawhero

    Such a cute dress!

  • Stayed home most of the week.  This has been a self-enforced embargo on going out as my children came down with conjuctivitis.  It is doing the rounds here at the moment and is ridiculously contagious.  Anyway, saving my town from more pink eye saves me money on petrol and saves me from the temptation to spend.

 

  • Stocked up on basics that were on sale at the supermarket.  It’s not often I come away from a supermarket these days, saying ‘Wow! Great bargains today,’ but this happened to be a week where many of our regular groceries were heavily discounted.  Items like canned corn and tomatoes were 75c each, toothbrushes were 58c etc so I stocked up on as much as I could and still came in quite a bit under budget.

 

  • D won some headphones in a competition he entered quite randomly.  He already has a great pair so he sold them on for $130.  Apparently there’s quite a demand for decent gaming headphones, and the buyer was very happy with his purchase.

 

  • Purchased at $60 meat pack from one of our local butchers, which I’ve then divided up into 14 meals (some of which include our whanau* night, when we feed 5 adults and 4 children).  As we eat several vegetarian meals a week, I won’t have to buy meat for three or four weeks.  For NZ prices, this pack was a great deal, working out at just over $4 per meal.

 

  • D’s tax return finally showed up!  That is now salted away with other savings to help with our moving costs.  As we are moving islands (which requires taking our household goods and cars on a ferry), our moving costs will be in the thousands.

 

  • I made a batch of gluten-free date scones with baking mix left over from my 100th failed attempt to go gluten-free.  We have a GF family at my church, so I thought I’d surprise them with something nice for morning tea after the service.

 

  • Gave a bagful of grapefruit to friends.  I am not making grapefruit marmalade this year as we are likely to be moving soon and I am trying to take as little as possible with us.  I am really going to miss all the free fruit our garden provides us with!

 

  • We had several meatless meals, including baked potatoes, which D reckons are the best foodstuff ever invented.

 

Lest you think I am some sort of saint, I did splurge on some unwarranted things this week.  After several days inside my MIL offered to take both my tots for the afternoon.  I was so thrilled, I went to a cafe because I felt like I needed to celebrate!  It was wonderful to spend time without being whined at, or having to wipe snot or eye gunk.  I also went to a Tupperware party (for a friend’s birthday) where I came face to face with an old friend, their children’s tea party set.  My brother and I had one growing up which we LOVED.  I remember holding many, many tea parties in our shed.  The tea set wasn’t too expensive (I don’t usually buy Tupperware as I think it is outrageously overpriced) and I plan to stash it away to give to the kids as a joint present at Christmas.  So there you are, suckered in by nostalgia!

Image result for tupperware kids tea set

Who remembers this?  Ah, the colours of my childhood.

 

 

* whanau: (noun) extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.

 

 

 

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Effortless ways to save money

Effortless ways to save money tots in tawhero

I want what she’s having…

I am an avid reader of frugal blogs and articles about how to stretch my dollar further. Many ways to save money require time and effort, like cooking from scratch to de-cluttering and selling off your unwanted stuff.  I’m not averse to putting in my time or my effort to save money, but thanks to my AI disease I may not have the oomph required or I just don’t have the time.  But there are still loads of things we can do to save money without taxing our brain cells.

Here are some truly effortless, very-little-brain-power-required ways to save money:

  • Use a third or up to a half less sugar or cheese than indicated in a recipe
  • Likewise, swap out some milk for water in a recipe
  • In fact, use less dairy period.  Even here in New Zealand, the dairy capital of the world, the price of butter, cheese and milk is getting off-the-charts-ridiculous.  A word of caution though: many dairy-free recipes can still be costly because they use things like almond milk or coconut oil.  Search for depression-era recipes for cheaper dairy-free alternatives.  beverage, black-and-white, business
  • If you are a multiple cup of tea or coffee per day person, boil the water once, and make up a second drink in a travel mug (heck, if you use the same tea bag you probably won’t notice).  This way you save money on power and resist the temptation to buy a cup of coffee/tea if you’re out and about.  If you are going to be at home, pour the hot water into a thermos.  Now, if only I can remember where I put my thermos…
  • Drink water.
  • Switch off the lights in rooms that aren’t in use (I am CONSTANTLY doing this is my house, sigh).
  • Put your spare change into a piggy bank at the end of the day.  My brother (who is on a very limited budget) does this and is able to really treat himself every few months with these savings, which helps with the grimness of life on a benefit.  He regularly finds he’s saved $60-70 once his piggy bank is full.  White Piggy Bank on Brown Wooden Surface
  • Shut the fridge door as quickly as you can.  
  • If you are heating a room, shut the door! (My family, this one is for you!)  My kiddos, like everyone else’s, were born in a tent.
  • Don’t have time to use up that produce before it goes off?  Chuck it in the freezer.  Veggies can be added to soups and stews and fruit into smoothies.
  • Unplug appliances at the wall if they use standby power (e.g. microwave) or at the wall for appliances that don’t (e.g. toaster)
  • Reduce your portion sizes.  Experiment with how much food leaves you satisfied.
  • Put on warmer clothes if you feel cold, rather than switching on the heater.

    Put on your coat and hang out with a tree

  • Use less meat or include more vegetarian meals in your diet
  • Buy generic.  Supermarket own brands or budget brands usually come with significant savings, and many times these products are EXACTLY the same (often made in the same factory!) or they are indiscernible from the market leader.  I have certain brands that I prefer because of the taste or results they give, but you can bet I’ve tried all the generic alternatives first.  If it’s something I’m not picky about, like headache pills or canned tomatoes, I go for a generic brand every time. I use a generic brand moisturiser (of which I only need a tiny amount so it lasts for ages) and save hundreds a year.

    Women in Yellow Dress Holding Hands in Purple Grassland

    Buy generic so you have more time and money to hang out in lavender fields with your mates

  • Find a frugal alternative to your favourite-but-expensive recipes.  There are loads of copycat recipes out there.  I find it also helps to have a think about what it is you like about a certain meal.  I know for me, it’s often the sauce or the dressing!  My family loves to get fish and chips as a takeaway.  Recently we decided it was just the chips we love, so now we bake frozen, crumbed fish fillets at home while D nips off to buy the chips.  This saves us several dollars.
  • Use less.  Experiment with how little shampoo, soap, moisturiser etc that you can get away with.  You may not notice any difference if you reduce the ‘splonge’ of shampoo you regularly dish out to yourself.
  • Use it up!  Opening up toothpaste tubes, mayonnaise bottles, foundation tubes, moisturiser bottles etc to get the dregs at the bottom mean you really get your money’s worth.  I find when my moisturiser is getting low and won’t squirt out anymore, storing it upside down means I get another two or three weeks out of it!
  • When your spray cleaner is half empty, dilute with water.  I don’t notice any difference in its effectiveness.
  • When an old bulb blows out, swap it for an energy efficient one
  • Make extra dinner portions for an effortless lunch the next day.  The savings from making your own lunch instead of buying it can be huge.
  • Double or triple a baking recipe if you can squeeze the extra portions in the oven, or if it’s something that freezes well, like cookie dough.
  • Embrace the slow-cooker.  They will save you so much money!  Cheap cuts of meat become mouth-watering, and prep is minimal for many recipes.  My favourite curried chicken recipe requires no more effort than chucking whole pieces (because you can shred it later) of chicken into the slow cooker, along with a tin of coconut cream, a tin of tomatoes, and a few spices.  It takes me all of two minutes!  Roasting a chicken in the slow cooker takes me maybe 40 seconds as all it needs is rubbing with oil.  The added bonus of slow-cooked roast chicken is every single piece of chicken will fall off the bone so nothing is wasted.  Once everyone has eaten, I leave the carcass in the cooker with water, a few veges and some seaweed to make nutritious chicken stock.
  • If it’s a warm but not boiling hot day, switch off the air conditioner in your car and open the windows.  Free stock photo of road, traffic, man, person
  • Read your free community newspapers to find free or low-cost things to do in your area.  My city has cool events on almost every weekend, and they’re usually free.
  • Stay home!  If you’re bored and don’t know what to do with yourself look up lists like this and this for inspiration.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists for stores that are your kryptonite.  If you don’t know there’s a sale on in your favourite store, you won’t be tempted to spend.  Ditto group deal sites.
  • Do subscribe to mailing lists for stores that sell the essentials, so you know when the sales are on.  I stock up on winter coats and thermals for my kids a year ahead when these items are at rock-bottom prices (how weird is this saying, by the way?).
  • If you’re not already on Pinterest, sign up and create frugal ‘boards’ for tips and recipes.  You can find my frugal recipe board here.  When I’m out of inspiration or time when I’m meal planning, my Pinterest board comes in very handy.
  • If you are on a power plan that gives you a night rate, push the ‘delay start’ button on your dishwasher or washing machine so you can take advantage of it.  comfort, control, cooking

 

Share your effortless ways to save money below:

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Dollar Diet: Frugal birthdays

I haven’t posted much Dollar Diet material in a while, but this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to save a buck whenever possible.

Spring (which is right now, for us in NZ) ushers in a ton of birthdays for special people in my life.  I have three just this week alone, plus Father’s Day!  Frugality doesn’t mean stinginess.  I love, love, love celebrations and giving presents, but it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Here are some ways I save money on gifts and other birthday-related expenses:

  • Set a budget.  It’s helpful to look at gift-giving over the course of a year, as you can spend a shocking amount if you’re not careful.  I have different dollar figures in mind when it comes to giving a gift to one of my children’s friends, compared say, to one of my friends or to my husband.  For example, I usually limit a child’s gift to $10 as each of my tots gets invited to several parties a year.  It all adds up!  $10 might not seem like much, but it forces me to be creative.  I can come up with a darn good present for that amount – like a baking set, clothing, books, art supplies, or materials with which to make a gift with myself.

 

  • Make it yourself.  I am not a super-crafty person (knitting is not my idea of fun, for instance), but there are tons of great ideas on Pinterest and other sites for easy and inexpensive gifts. For adults, I try to gift perishable things where possible, as most of us don’t need any more stuff cluttering up our houses.  Food or drink that I’ve made myself is well received.  I make my own cards and wrapping paper as well, which is loads of fun as I can personalise them to the birthday person.   The wrapping paper is from a newsprint roll I bought in 2014, which I then decorate.  Here’s a card I made recently.  I found this meme online for my Star Wars-obsessed brother who found it hilarious…          star wars.jpg I also make party decorations myself when practical.  Here’s some table decorations I made for a tea party recently from (mostly) op-shop frames and pictures I found on the internet:  tea party decorations

 

  • Making it yourself includes the cake!  If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a gift, you can always bake a cake for the birthday person instead.  A dear friend is having a birthday this week.  She’s just had child number 3 so life is rather hectic for her family.  I volunteered to make a cake (the cake with the heart below) so her husband doesn’t have to worry about it.  It wasn’t a milestone birthday, so a simple cake sufficed.  I calculate that I’ve saved hundreds of dollars making cakes for my children’s parties and for other special occasions by doing it myself. 

  • Limit what you say YES to.  I have a rule for my children that they only attend parties for children who they are actually friendly with.  For some reason it seems to be trendy at the moment to invite your child’s entire class to a party, but it’s not a trend I buy into.   Unless your child is begging you to go for fear of social death or it’s a party for a child who tends to get excluded by others (I’m trying to raise includers here), it’s not the end of the world if they don’t go.  In a similar vein, if a friend invites you out to dinner to celebrate their birthday but money is super-tight, there’s nothing wrong with politely declining and inviting that friend over for a home-cooked meal or a drink at another time.

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    Okay, so maybe don’t do it quite like this..

 

  • Plan ahead.  Unless you are a hermit, we all have people we regularly give gifts to.  I know that my children are bound to be invited to at least 4 or 5 parties a year.  At the end of last year a local store had character t-shirts on sale at a heavily-reduced price.  I grabbed a few because I knew they’d make good gifts for my children’s friends this year. I also try to avoid giving toys whenever possible, so they fit the bill nicely.  Last year I gave most of my kid’s friends child-sized baking sets, which included a measuring cup, spoons, whisk, tongs, cupcake liners, cookie cutters and sprinkles.  I bought the cookie cutters and liners as sets, which I then divided up.  A friend recently commented that her child uses his set all the time.  Also, when I am out and about during the year, if I see something that would make a great gift (sometimes for a specific person, sometimes not) – and it’s a great price – I grab it.  For instance, I’ve had my November-born dad’s gift since February, and I have a small stash of gifts that cover those unexpected birthday invitations that come in from time to time.  Planning ahead helps me to save time and serious money by not having to buy something at the last minute.

 

  • If you are hosting a party, keep it simple.  Parties seem to be getting more and more elaborate these days.  If spending hours hand-painting in-theme straws for your child’s first birthday is your thing, then that’s fine.  Do that.  But if you find yourself grumbling into your handmade chia-infused ganache, or moaning that your toddler only ate the icing on his $100 cake, it might be time to scale things back and think about what’s actually important to you or the birthday person.  Is it the cake or certain foods that just say ‘BIRTHDAY!’ to you?  Is it more about the party games? The decorations?  Is it getting to catch up with friends?  Focusing on one element and spending less on others makes for a cheaper and more meaningful birthday.  For my son’s recent birthday, he only cared about having his special friends there, and the cake.  It was an evening party, and all I needed to serve was a few pre-dinner nibbles, fish and chips and cake.  Easiest party ever!

 

  • Involve your children.  If they are invited to a friend’s party, have them make the card and wrapping paper.  Get their input into what gift they might give or make, if appropriate.  If it’s their party ask what they would like.  Even at two years old my son was able to tell me exactly who was on his invite list and what food he wanted.  A friend recently scaled back her plans after learning her child longed for a family-only dinner.  She was grateful that she took the time to really listen to his desires instead of assuming he’d want a traditional party.  Another friend loved the handmade birthday banner my children made to mark his birthday.  Frugal gifts made with love mean more than anything flash or expensive.

    Making wrapping paper

 

What do you do to save money on birthdays?  Share your tips below.