Friday, February 25, 2011

Birthday Party Series- Being a Guest on the Cheap

Our house is a little lighter tonight. Two of our boys are at a sleep over party for a mutual friend. While I scrounged up their pajamas, pillows, sleeping bags, and nerf guns; I thought of all the parties we have been to in the last few years. Some families spend a lot of money on these affairs with parties at Chuck E. Cheese or paintball soirees. Some families, like us, tend to lean toward old fashioned parties at our home or a park. I thought I would share a few tips that have helped us deal with multiple invites over the years.

Gift giving is a bit tricky. My children love attending parties for their friends and I enjoy seeing their excitement. I think choosing, wrapping, and carrying in a present for their friend is the highlight of the day. It is a little daunting to buy presents for these parties on a budget. You don't want to be the cheapest party goer, but you can't bust your monthly allowances either.

Sometimes, all the kids in my sons' classes are invited and that means 30 or more presents for the birthday kid. We give bigger presents when two or more of my sons are invited to the same party. I don't know why I feel the urge to compensate, but I personally feel it's better to give a better present than three small ones that will probably be broken in a day or two. I tend to stock up on clearance sales or go for the $5 bill wrapped on a candy bar. Kids love candy and money, plus I don't have to worry about getting the same thing someone else did. So far we haven't had a disappointed recipient.

Gift wrap is vital to a good birthday present, but I hate spending money on gift bags or cards that just get trashed. I recycle the gift bags that we have received and I reuse wrapping paper just like my Grandmother does. I honestly think the Superman paper from Christmas of '84 has been wrapped around a package every year since the Regan administration. I save the funnies from our Sunday papers and use them as wrapping paper. I have flipped Christmas paper, bought on after-Christmas clearance sales, over to a plain side or used butcher paper the kids have colored or painted. For special gifts, I might use table cloths or baby blankets to wrap my presents in so they get two gifts in one.

I don't usually buy bows. They get tossed along with the rest and I don't want to waste my time or money on something very few people appreciate. Why contribute to a landfill if we don't need to? I tend to buy small candies, gum, trinkets, or ornaments to attach with a label. I personally feel this adds to the present and is even more fun than a boring old bow. On occasion, I am able to score free candy or gum with coupons. At the Dollar Store or Dollar Tree I can find very cute seasonal items or treats for very little money.

I know that there are two kinds of people: card givers or card throwers. The price of greeting cards are outrageous so I don't give cards to the younger crowd. Kids don't really care about a card, unless there is a little green inside. So why put a lot of effort into it? I usually have my son create a card to attach on the gift. It's cheap and makes my son focus on the giving aspect a little more. I have even just wrote the name on the package with a marker. The only thing that matters is being able to tell who it goes to and who gave it.

I may sound like the cheapest birthday guest ever, but you can find meaningful and special presents on the cheap. You just need to look around and think about your friend. I think a party is a celebration that means more than hosting an event to acquire presents. It's a time to get together, eat cake, drink kool-aid, and play some games. As long as the guests mind their P's and Q's, no one will notice who purchased a present on a budget.

I hope my sons' are behaving as we speak. You can imagine the chaos that unfolds when you have 8 boys ranging from 8-12 years old wrestling through your house. I feel for my neighbor, but I know my time is fast approaching when I get to host. Acknowledging the child's special day is what's important, not how much money you spent on their gift.

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