How Can I Save Money on Birthday Gifts and Holidays?
By Jonni McCoy

When it's time for a special occasion, we tend to throw the budget out the window. We think things like, "Oh, it's their birthday," or "But it's Christmas!" And we march into further debt. So, how do I keep the gift and party madness from putting me in debt for months? First I plan what we are going to spend. I list all of the people that we usually buy gifts for (birthdays and holidays) for the entire year, and the parties that we usually throw (birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, monthly church potluck, etc.). Then we decide the maximum amount that we will spend on each person for each occasion. We then add up the year's total and divide by 12. This gives us the amount that we need to set aside each month in order to achieve those goals. If it's too much for our budget, we then scale back on certain events or gift giving, and stick to it.

I keep birthday parties as simple as possible. A homemade cake, a few close friends, and some inexpensive entertainment. Some simple games are fun such as bubble wands, charades, homemade pinata's (paper-mache around a balloon), potato rolling with a spoon, or catching water balloons. Or let them sleep in the backyard in a tent with a few buddies, or have a pizza party-where they make the pizzas.

I realize that as my kids become teens their taste will change. Sometimes teens don't want parties anymore. Some would prefer to go to the movies with some friends, or go miniature golfing. A friend of mine has two teens. She tells them the budgeted amount for the party, and lets them decide if they want a small party, or use the money to take a friend to an amusement park or other outing.

Celebrations should be run in the same manner. The focus should be on the friends and relatives, not the food and gifts. To scale down the cost of entertaining, try to change the type of party. Instead of serving dinner, serve dessert or have "tea." If you want to serve a dinner, make the main dish and let others bring the side dishes.

Gift ideas for adults can also be tricky. But I still believe that what people want is thought and effort more than money. So I try to make my gifts for friends and relatives. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

* Make a sachet from a small piece of fabric with a simple ribbon tie. Fill it with any of the following: rose petals, cotton balls with vanilla powder, cinnamon sticks with orange peels and cloves, lemon thyme and lemon verbena leaves, or lavender flowers.

*Bake your gifts. Some of my favorite gifts from the kitchen are spiced nuts, or orange-chocolate truffles.

* Give a movie pass and a bag of special popcorn kernels.

When a baked or homemade item is inappropriate, I try to buy something. I watch for sales throughout the year, and store gifts for holidays. Waiting to shop near the holiday only will cost more. Few things are on sale, and you'll be tempted to pick items you wouldn't normally.

Birthday Parties for Children: How to Give Them, How to Survive Them, by Jean Marzollo (Galahad Books, 2000)
Family Fun's Parties: 100 Party Plans for Birthdays, Holidays & Every Day, by Deanne Cook (Hyperion, 1999)
Cake Decorating Bible, by Anness Publishing Staff (Anness Publishing, Limited, 2000)

This article copyrighted by Jonni McCoy 2006,

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