Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dissect Your Budget - Part 11 - Gifts

Tip #248 - Dissect Your Budget - Part 11 - Gifts. I am winding down with this "Dissect Your Budget Series" as we start getting into categories that not everyone has. The next post will be the final one in this series.

Gifts are something that most people do have as part of their expenses. Obviously it's not a need and could be slashed if desperate. But even if you are not desperate, this is a category that could probably be cut down dramatically. Gifts can be a very expensive expense if you shop at retail stores a week before an event - a birthday, wedding, anniversary, new baby, etc. But if you plan for these regular life cycle occurances, you can keep the costs down dramatically.

1. Shop thrift stores and yard sales. Now more than ever, there are dozens and dozens of products that are being sold at these venues that are new in the package or new with tags. Some of them would make great birthday gifts for your child's friends. Many are generic enough that they can be brought as a hostess gift or put into a grab bag at the office at Christmas time. Plenty are sweet, cute, practical, and perfect for a new baby. Just because it doesn't come from a retail store does not mean it cannot be given away as a gift.

2. Make something. This does not mean you need to be crafty. You don't have to know how to sew or build to make something nice and useful to someone. A batch of homemade cookies can be nice surprise for the teen boy who helped you shovel your snow. A basic, homemade lasagna would be very welcome to new parents. A handmade card to someone in pain can turn her day around. My favorite is gift baskets filled with practical items such as food or household supplies.

3. Do something. If you cannot make something then do something. Call the mom with the new baby and ask if you can pick up her child from preschool. Offer to shop at the grocery store for someone who is sick. Invite a friend's child over for a playdate. Plant someone's garden for them Or paint your mom's laundry room. Or organize your niece's closet. Don't just offer to do something, but actually do it.

4. Re-gift. I did a post on this a while back. And I'm not embarrassed by it. We get way too many gifts nowadays. If I didn't give some of them away, I would need to buy a bigger house. This is especially perfect for children's birthday parties when gifts are sometimes duplicated or don't really meet your child's interests. It's okay to pass them along as a gift to another child who likes what your child received. Once it's given to you, you own it. You can do whatever you please with it.

5. Stock up. When you find great deals, by extras to give away as gifts. Ninety percent off sales are those times when you want to buy more than one. Chances are you will find an occasion to use what you buy. And if you don't, charities are always willing to accept them with very little expense wasted on your part.

I'm not suggesting that all of your gifts should come from the steps above. A parents' 50th anniversary or a best friend's wedding warrants a special gift whether you can find it on sale or not. But even then, sometimes it's what you do that is a bigger gift than some extra stuff that they don't need.

Consider carefully what events you have coming up for the rest of the year - one wedding, a baby shower, about 5 birthday parties for your child, your anniversary, and your family's birthdays. Then as you shop and see inexpensive things that might fit these events, buy them so you are not waiting until the last-minute to purchase.

In Real Life (IRL) - This year I have a $150 per month budget for gifts which sounds like quite a lot. And it actually is, considering that I do most of the above suggestions. But last year our budget was $100 per month and we found that we were short when many unexpected events came up such as relative's weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs. It is custom here on the east coast, at least where I'm from, to give money for these events, especially if you are family. If we really didn't have the money, we could have given less or bought a cheaper gift. But we do, and I don't like to be cheap when it comes to special events for family. And with a family of 5, we give big cash gifts. This year, we have several more that we are aware of, so I upped our budget to account for it.

Having said that, I have no problem buying 10 games at the store at Christmas time when they are half-price to give away to my daughter's classmates for their birthday parties. On cyber Monday (Monday after Thanksgiving), American Girl has excellent deals on doll clothes and other accessories. I spent about $100 that day but should be able to get about 10 gifts out of them. $10 is about my target price for birthday parties, unless it's a special friend.

Lately I've been shopping at a thrift store about once per week while I have an hour to kill between a class with my son and picking up my daughter from preschool. Over the past two months I have found new, sealed Cranium games for about $2 each at this store! These are excellent games that cost abut $15 new. Whenver I see sealed items like that, I pick them up. My daughter used two of the games last week for a classmate's birthday party that she went to. We also found a cute new-in-box soft photo album for a baby that we have put away. My husband often has co-workers who have babies, and they usually make up a big package of toys, clothes, and diapers for the new parents.

I have given gifts of dinners, muffins, cookies and other homemade goodies to friends who have passed on their baby clothes to me or have driven my daughter to and from activities. They probably weren't doing it in order to get a gift but I wanted to show I was thankful for their help. These gifts were cheap to make, but they showed I was thankful.

And because I'm practical, I love giving gift baskets. Baskets are very cheap at thrift stores or I reuse ones that we receive. Then I fill with "gourmet" items from Trader Joe's, homemade goodies, or other special foods that people enjoy but probably wouldn't spend the extra money to buy. For new babies, I fill with diapers, baby wash, wipes, and other necessities. For the new house, I fill with household cleaners, paper goods, and other necessities. These can be very cheap to make if you use items you have purchased inexpensively when on sale and with coupons. And it prevents the recipient from having to run out at the last-minute and pay full price to buy things she forgot in the excitement of the event.

There are many ways to keep your gift budget down. It takes some forethought and planning but it can be done. Think of all of the events you have coming up this year and think of ideas you can use for gifts for them. You can even write them down on a piece of paper and put it in your purse so when you are out and about you can keep track of what you need and buy them inexpensively when you see them.

1 comment:

Practically Spent said...

Hooray for stocking up on gifts at clearance prices! I love it when I find great (new) gifts at garage sales. It makes me positively giddy.

Last weekend my (6.5 year old) daughter got a $70 (real, child-size) sewing machine for $5!!! I can't stop smiling.