This past weekend I took my 4 year old son to the birthday party of one of his classmates. I have to say that I'm not usually thrilled to attend the birthday parties of young children. If I'm honest, even throwing my own child's parties is exhausting so I don't pick favorites when saying I don't exactly love attending kids' birthday parties. Although I may come across as an unbelievably witty gal who would have no shortage of dazzling small-talk, I am a little shy on the inside. This means that unless the other parents are good friends of mine I have to spend two hours on a Saturday forcing myself to chit chat with people I won't see until the same party next year. The only thing that keeps me coming is the cake. I love cake. However, my son loves to attend these parties and so I usually end up loading him up in the car with gift in hand and zooming off to the local park, gymnasium or some other bouncy heaven.
My goal in birthday-party-attending is to bring a gift that the receiver will love but that won't break my Cheap Mama bank account. My secret Cheap Mama trick is a little thing I call the Toy Basket. The Toy Basket is a basket that I keep high up in the laundry room (so my son can't see the goodies inside) that I stock throughout the year with toys that I find on clearance or in those wonderful $1 bins at the store-with-the-red-bullseye. My goal is to never spend more than $10 on a gift but that doesn't mean that the gift has to look like I only spent $10! In fact, if I buy things on clearance I can usually buy a gift at least 50% off the original price which means the actual value of the gift is around $15 or $20 when I only spent $7-$10. To do this successfully, it means that each time I'm in a store with great toy sales I have to remember to go take a look and see what's available. If I wait until I need a present I usually have to pay more. As long as I stay on top of the Toy Basket making sure that there are both girl and boy appropriate presents, I'm always ready when Superman comes home with another invitation. Using the Cheap Mama Toy Basket means that I can get away with being a cheapskate without actually looking like one. As long as the gift is age appropriate and looks like something that my child would enjoy himself, the price doesn't have to define how great the present will be.
Another Cheap Mama trick that I also employ to save money on birthday parties is to save each and every gift bag and sheet of tissue paper that comes in the gifts that my family receives. Unless the bag or tissue paper is torn up beyond repair, most of these can be reused at least once if not more. Smoothing out and refolding used tissue paper isn't exactly my idea of a good time but each time I do it, I remind myself how ridiculously overpriced those items are at the store and it motivates me to keep salvaging them for future parties. And, when those parties do inevitably roll around I'm always glad that I have my stash in the closet instead of having to run by the store on the way to the party because I don't have any at home.
My final Cheap Mama trick for parties is something that I use to save on those very expensive birthday cards. I think it is outright highway robbery to charge $2 and $3 for a birthday card that a child is going to toss aside at the party and throw in the trash can at home so I have started using a little Cheap Mama method for these as well. I bought a pack of unlined 3x5 index cards and I use these in place of traditional birthday cards. I get a great colored Sharpie marker and write something like "Happy Birthday Ava! Your friend, Superman!" The birthday kid gets a personalized message, the mom can keep track of who gave the gift for thank you notes (I live in the south, remember - not sending thank you notes will get you cut out of the next play date) and I don't have to pay for an overpriced birthday card! Win-win-win!
Just today Superman came home with yet another invitation to a birthday party. Off to the Toy Basket I go...