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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.

    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.

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Dollar Diet: Week 2, a frugal birthday party

This post is late as last week ended in a flurry of birthday party, broken arms, sermon writing, special visitors and planning a spur-of-the-moment trip.

The week was mostly spent hanging out with friends, and D went back to work.  One of my best friends A-M recently moved to Whanganui with her family so we’ve had loads of fun spending time with them.  Our kids are close in age, and our four-year old’s are particularly firm friends (most of the time).  Oh, did I mention that Sausage turned four????  Before I get on to the party details, here are some of our frugal happenings:

  • D took lunch to work
  • I packed lunch and snacks for the kids and I, if out and about
  • The kids and I did free stuff, like play dates and parks
  • We used up our leftovers
  • I hung out at home with my BFF, R who helped me prepare for the birthday party, and survived it.
  • R, A-M and I had an extremely rare night out with just the three of us.  We worked out it was 16 years since the three of us had been together like this.  We had a great time, and kept the cost down by going out for drinks and a snack after dinner.

Er, I can’t think of anything else because my mind was frazzled by Chip ‘breaking’ his arm.  He was mucking around on our trampoline with D and then lots of crying and ow’s ensued.  They weren’t sure if the arm was broken (he hurt the elbow area) but they strapped it up and Chip was back to his frenetic self in a couple of days.  He was very proud of his sling and displayed it to all with a loud ‘I got hurt!’  We took him back this week and it turned out not to be broken, so phew.  I am incredibly grateful for the free health care children receive in New Zealand.

Birthday party time!

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My beautiful Sausage is now four.  She is most definitely in pre-schooler territory.  She’s long and lanky, and is a funny, confident, easy-going kid who you can actually reason and negotiate with.

As her birthday is in January (summertime in NZ) I have her birthday party at home and let the kids rampage around our massive back yard.  I try to keep it small and simple, but she’s still at the age where parents and siblings come along too, so it always ends up being bigger than I think.

I’ve whinged about it already, but our summer sucks.  It’s been the worst one I can recall, and naturally it rained on Sausage’s birthday forcing us indoors.  Still, we had a lovely time and I spent a whopping $40 on the whole soiree, which includes party food and drink, the birthday cake, decorations and prizes.

As is often the custom in New Zealand, some friends and family offered to bring a plate of food, so that saved quite a bit of money (and prep time).  R and I made a vege and hummus platter, popcorn, egg and ham sandwiches, cheerios and sausage rolls (requested by the birthday girl).  The food from other people meant there was more than enough to go around.  Drink was juice leftover from Christmas (we don’t normally drink it) which I dilute with soda water.  Kids love it.

I saved money by making the cake myself.  I talked Sausage into having this easy cake.  I had my BFF here the night before Sausage’s birthday which is usually when I’d make the cake.  I wanted to maximise my time with R, so I opted for easy, easy, easy.  I made the cake her favourite colour (pink), and put a big 4 on top using sprinkles.  She loved it and everyone said it was delicious (I don’t eat sugar, so I don’t know!).4th-birthday

Professional cakes can cost upwards from $100 dollars.  I consider it a waste of money to buy a cake, when my child loves the cakes I make just fine.  It makes my wallet cringe when I see the elaborate cakes people seem to be buying these days.  I bought $6 worth of sprinkles (most of which weren’t needed in the end, so hit me up if you want some) but otherwise we had all the ingredients in our pantry already.

Sausage also requested ‘Tunip cupcakes’.  For months leading up to her birthday.  Tunip is her favourite character from the show ‘The Ocotonauts’.  Tunip looks like this:

tunip_prof

Not overly complicated I guess, but would certainly require lots of different colours for the icing.  I knew I would have little time and limited fondant colours so I did the next best thing.  I found some free Octonaut cupcake toppers on Pinterest, and iced the cupcakes blue.  They were just as popular as the birthday cake, and Sausage was thrilled with them.  I didn’t get any decent pics I’m afraid.

Decorations were limited to some balloons given to Sausage, streamers we bought in the Netherlands that we put up for parties, and a couple of purple tissue balls ($4) which will likewise be used again.  I don’t do themes, and won’t unless my tot asks for it.

For the first time ever for a birthday party, I bought disposable plates and cups.  I hate these things, but there were several wee ones present and we don’t have enough kid-friendly crockery to go around.  I bought recyclable things, including paper straws.  Someone had given Sausage the party whistles previously, and I managed to get matching stuff.  We have some left over, so expect to see them next year too!

party

We played two games – Pass the parcel, and pin the carrot on Olaf – and I purchased the prizes for peanuts.  One prize was a tin Star Wars lunchbox, and another was a decorate-your-own-mask set.  Simple.  My mother made some beautiful gift boxes for each child to take home, and these were extremely well-received.

Sausage was given some amazing gifts, some of which (like a make your own wand set, so cool!) I have purloined to bring out on a rainy day.

I learned two things:

  1. Outside parties are so much better for my floors which looked like a cake bomb had exploded on them and,
  2. You can never rely on old Mother Nature.
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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.

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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’.

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I think he’s never looked better…

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

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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.

Brilliant.