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.

    Related image

    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.


Dollar Diet: Three Months In!

Woah, three months down – go us!  The Dollar Diet way of life feels like second nature now, although a few spendy-spendy things crept up on me this week without me being fully prepared.

After recovering from a bug last week, my kids both came down with different illnesses so normal life was temporarily evicted from our house in Tawhero.  My best friend’s birthday came and went without me having the time or energy to make her present, and then when I did try, it turned out disastrously.  Even though I was saving money by making the present myself, the materials weren’t cheap, so I’m angry at myself for wasting money on my failed project.  Back to the drawing board.  You will get something one day R, I promise!

My mother-in-law turned 65, which is kind of a big deal here in NZ as it is ‘retirement age’, or the age where you become eligible for the ‘old-age pension’.  Because of all the sickness, it felt like her birthday arrived out of nowhere, and I had ZERO inspiration as to what to make her for a present.  She’s a really good sewer, so I didn’t want to gift her any of my wonky stitchwork.  D ending up buying her a nick-nack from Trade Aid, and because I like to give things that are useful, I also bought her a beautiful artisan-crafted dish from an op-shop.  For $1.50.  For the record, I’m not a cheapskate when it comes to gifts, it just so happened that I spied something perfect for her, and it only cost $1.50!  (She loved both gifts.)

As we have a larger house, we offered to host my MIL’s birthday party.  I busted out my frugal staples of nut truffles, sausage rolls and fizzy soda water/juice.   I made some bunting from materials I had to hand – paper doilies and ribbon.

DSCN99482015-03-20 21.19.37

D and I also made my MIL a cake.  We cheekily gave  her a ‘super gold card’ cake – which is a card that allows senior citizens to get discounts all over New Zealand, and is sent out when you turn 65.


Everyone bought a plate of food to share, and we got stuck into the festivities.  My MIL wanted a kids party theme so we played a few games from childhood and had an absolute ball.  We brought Pin the Tail on the Donkey forward into the 21st Century by playing ‘Pin the Mustache on George Clooney’.



I think he’s never looked better…

We also played pass the parcel, and a ruthless ‘Chocolate Game’ where the competition was fierce.


It was a very enjoyable party.  My MIL said afterwards that no one had ever thrown her a party before, so it was very special.

I did have to spend some money on children’s clothes this week, which I was hoping to avoid.  Chip is consistently measuring 3 months ahead (D and I are tall) and while I have been gifted plenty of clothing in 1+ sizes, he didn’t have quite enough warm 9-12 month clothing to see him through the next few months, as we are now very much in Autumn.  While I could have dressed Chip in larger sizes for a while, I believe that having clothes that fit well and that don’t impede movement is really important for his physical development, particularly now he is crawling.  One of our local second-hand charity stores was having a garage sale so I thought I’d check it out.  It was my lucky day as I found just what I wanted, and got the lot for 50 cents!

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I’ve been surprised just how strong my urge to buy clothes for my kids is.  Some days it literally takes all my willpower not to head to a store, even if it’s just an op-shop.  I have clearly been obsessed with having ‘enough’ and buying things for those ‘just in case’ occasions for a long, long time.  I had to do some serious mental negotiation while I was out looking for a few warm things for Chip to not buy more than was necessary, just because there were ‘bargains’ to be had.  I will be doing my best to not venture into such places again for quite some time.

Other frugal things: I made chicken stock, and blanched a whole lot of cauliflower as it was really cheap at the supermarket.  2015-03-17 20.40.21

I harvested some feijoas, tomatoes and mushrooms (which I gave away as I don’t eat them) from our garden.  We had one evening where D and I had two sick, whiny kids on our hands and getting takeaways felt like a good option as the day had been long and draining.  But we resisted the temptation and cooked a meal ourselves.

This month we’ve saved over $600.  We’ve been able to consistently bank over $120 a week thanks to our budget tweaks, and as our grocery budget is $200 in surplus after shopping for this week (this is despite spending $80 bulk-buying meat last week) we’ve saved even more.  The money saved this month will more than cover my spending in Adelaide, and we are well on track to cover the rest of my expenditure for that trip.



Dollar Diet: A frugal birthday

My oldest tot Sausage recently turned the ripe old age of two which meant deciding on a frugal, fun and age-appropriate celebration.

Low sugar cake recipe to come...

Low sugar cake recipe to come…

Birthdays were a big deal in my family.  My brother and I had epic birthday parties.  Seriously, our parties were the ones that all the kids wanted to go to.  Our birthdays were a big deal and my mother, being a school teacher thought nothing of having lots of kids to wrangle at our parties.  I’m old enough to be from the era where birthdays were not huge extravaganzas where everything is pinterested right down to the last twee detail.  Hell, we didn’t even have goody bags, and we were all perfectly happy.

I have nothing against people who go all out for their kids’ birthdays.  More power to ya.  I’d just like my own tots to have similar old-school birthday parties to mine, particularly while they are young.  I don’t think tots appreciate the effort put into parties until they are a lot older anyway.  A good friend said she used to have huge, elaborate parties for her kids until she realised she was resenting their complete lack of gratitude.  She scaled things back and reckons her kids appreciate their smaller, chilled-out parties much, much more.

I decided to have separate family and friend celebrations so there wouldn’t be too many people at one time.  My daughter is very confident and extroverted, but like most toddlers she can be easily overwhelmed by a gaggle of children fired up on sugar.  As it was, she only lasted an hour at her party before needing a nap!  We had a lovely, low-key barbeque with family on her actual birthday, and a party with a few of her little friends at the weekend.

I purchased Sausage’s present (dress up clothes) and birthday card several months before embarking on the V.  Because yes, I am that organised. *ahem*  But I didn’t have enough wrapping paper that was big enough for her present, so I put my best Dollar Diet initiative to work.  Remember my last-minute roll of newsprint?  Yep, I made my own wrapping paper.

Sausage LOVES Peppa Pig.  Peppa Pig is her homegirl.  Peppa is the fount of many of Sausage’s quirky little sayings and whom she wants to be when she grows up.  So I decided to make my own Peppa Pig wrapping paper.  Only I quickly discovered that not only am I absolutely rubbish at drawing, Peppa and her ilk are actually a bit trickier to draw that you’d think.  It’s a bit embarrassing as  they’re one step away from being stick figures…Anyhow, I traced some Peppa colouring pages, and voila!

Oh newsprint, I love thee

Oh newsprint, I love thee

Our family barbeque was relatively inexpensive.  We provided most of the meat (I make a mean hamburger patty) and everyone contributed something to the meal (it’s the New Zealand way).  As Sausage’s party-with-friends cake was going to be super-sugary, I made a very low sugar cake for our family celebration (which was so delicious I will share the recipe on here soon).  Sausage got lots of presents from her doting relatives and amused them no end by singing a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself.

I made her party-with-friends a no-present zone. Gasp!  I can almost see the hands thrown up in horror as you read that.  For starters, Sausage is two.  She doesn’t know that you normally get presents at birthday parties.  She was perfectly content to eat delicious food and run around with her favourite friends.  She received plenty of presents from family so it’s not as if she was deprived. The main reason I decided to forgo presents was due to the fact that Sausage was so overwhelmed by all the gifts our family gave her at Christmas she went into warp-speed and wasn’t able just to enjoy spending time with her much-loved relations.  So Instead of a present, I asked people to bring a plate of food (I provided plenty of food and drink as well) to share which made for a fantastic, low-fuss affair.

I saved a considerable sum by making her birthday cake (even some of the fondant icing was given to me for free).  D and I turned the cake-decorating into our date night and had a hilarious time decorating her cake.  D being an uber nerd, carefully measured the cakes and created a to-size Peppa Pig face on his computer which he printed out and laid over the two sponge cakes I had baked.  A cut here, some fondant icing there, and this is what we came up with:

DSCN9385It’s not the most professional job ever, but we think we may have a future in cake decoration.

We had the party in our backyard which luckily for us is an expansive, grassy space that is perfect for children.  My mother bought a few Peppa-related things to decorate the place with, but otherwise everything was really simple.  Tables set up in the garden.  No games because Sausage is, well, two.  She can’t even put her own shoes on, let alone understand the wonderful complexities of Pass the Parcel.  Instead, as it is the height of Summer here at the moment, we set up our paddling pool and slip n’ slide.  We ate our morning tea feast in our backyard and watched the children run around like wet and soggy lunatics.  Bliss.

Sausage (in yellow) and some of her friends

Sausage (in yellow) and some of her friends