Humor me for a minute and see if you can tackle this simple, homeschool math story problem.
If I have five kids and they each get invited to many birthday parties every year, how much money will I have to spend annually in order to purchase fun birthday gifts for all of their friends while still maintaining my debt-free, livin'-on-one-income-in-a-two-income-world lifestyle?
Not a fan of story problems? Nah...me neither. Especially ones that seem to have impossible solutions.
So, let me just save you some brain cells and tell you that the answer is...
To be more precise, I budget $5 per gift per birthday party.
Now I know what you are thinking. Five dollars!? That's it? And your kids still continue to get invited to birthday parties??
Yes. Because while I only SPEND $5 per gift, I BUY items that normally retail for around $15 or $20 and I rarely ever shop without sticking to my BIRTHDAY-BUCKET POLICY. (I'll get to that in a minute...)
You see, while I love the fact that my children have many wonderful friends and that my kids are fortunate enough to be able to celebrate so many "big days" with/for them, I am mindful of our determination to remain debt-free...to be good stewards of the talents that God has given us and to adhere to His sound, Biblical principles of finance. (Proverbs 22:7b)
So, here's what birthday-gift buying looks like in our home...
Every January, we determine a birthday-gift budget
At the beginning of every year, the Hubs and I sit down together to write out a simple annual savings budget. As I've mentioned before, this "savings" is not long term. While we do have a REAL savings account, THIS "savings" account is meant to be spent...SAVED and then SPENT at pre-determined times throughout the year. One of the line items of this "savings" budget is FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY GIFTS.
My math is simple. I count up the number of friends that my children will PROBABLY receive a birthday invite from (based on invites from last year), multiply that number by $5, add an extra $5-$10 for any unexpected invitations, then divide that number by 12 to find out how much money we need to put into that "savings" account each month in order to be able to afford birthday party shopping.
I shop clearance racks and with coupons
Throughout the year, there are natural cycles that stores use to move out the OLD products and bring in the NEW. These clearance cycles usually fall after major holidays and between each season. Because I absolutely DISDAIN department-store shopping and have no desire to run to Target every time a birthday invite arrives in the mail, I plan my shopping trips around these natural cycles.
When shopping, I head to the clearanced toys and beginning looking for items that have been marked down to at least $5 or that can be combined with a coupon to meet my $5 limit. To the best of my ability, I try to keep particular children in mind when I am shopping.
I've learned that craft stores are great places to buy for girl's parties since most girls love messy craft kits and because most craft stores...like JoAnnes...offer 50% coupons on a regular basis.
I buy multiple packages of the same item
It is not unusual for a clearance area to have several packages of the same item. If the toy is something I think would appeal to more than one child on my birthday party list, I buy multiple boxes of it. Since most of my kids each have a couple of different social circles...church friends, co-op buddies, neighborhood kids, cousins...I know that I can feel free to buy the same item twice or sometimes three times because those social circles do not always cross. Case in point, two weeks ago, I picked up two bracelet-making kits (each originally marked at $14.99 and clearanced down to $5) for two particular girls in two different social circles.
I store all these items in a birthday bucket
I have a large plastic bin in my basement that I call THE BIRTHDAY BUCKET. It holds all of my birthday-party finds. As I bring the gifts home, I toss them in the bucket, and then forget all about birthday party shopping until the day before the party. Right about the time when most other parents of party guests are making a quick scramble to Target to find something for the birthday boy or girl, I allow my invited-to-the-party child to go "shop" in the birthday box. Because I try and shop with particular friends in mind when I make my original $5 purchases, my children typically pick out the EXACT item I had set aside for his/her friend.
Allowing my kids to "shop" in the bucket affords them the fun of picking something out for a treasured friend, but curbs the need for begging for the latest IT ITEM that will undoubtedly be far too expensive and unnecessarily overindulgent.
Because I have a desire for my children to learn sound money-management skills, I sometimes bring them along for my clearance shopping frenzies. This gives them a chance to learn budget-buying and have a VOICE in purchases for their friends.
A final word
It's no secret that many American kids are suffering from entitlement...the natural consequence of excessive lifestyles. I hope that by intentional budgeting and purposeful shopping, I can not only save my sanity (No late night runs to the mall the night before a big party.), but also teach my children responsible gift-giving with the idea that "love" doesn't have to come with a big price tag.