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