(Originally published in Telfed online magazine)
By this time of the school year, you probably are, just like us, deep into the birthday parties routine – sending your kids to all those parties to which our children are invited almost every week. Dealing with buying gifts for these events as well as planning the birthday celebration for each of my private children, sent me in search of more cost-effective solutions for these events. Here are two ideas, one for birthday gifts and the other for the parties, both of which are financially-savvy but also embody creativity, education, parental involvement, and even charity.
Have you ever tried calculating how much you spend a year on birthday presents for your kids' classmates? Assuming you spend approximately 40NIS for each gift and your child attends 20 birthday parties (each class has, on average, 35 kids but not all of them throw parties) this adds up to at least 800 NIS. Multiply this amount by the number of children you have aged 5-11 and you will get to a rather staggering amount. Sure, you can find gifts for less than 40 NIS but to do that you will need to spend quite a bit of time wandering the shops and to be super creative, and most likely you will not be entirely satisfied with the results.
The revolutionary idea that I would like to propose for this type of parties is one well-known from the field of weddings, Bar Mitzvah, and Britot: cash presents instead of the traditional game, garment or book. Just think about it for a few minutes before you say that it's not for you: every child brings an envelope containing a birthday card (which you can enjoy preparing together) and the agreed-upon amount of money. The birthday child enjoys the opportunity to choose his own big, expensive present (or even more than one), something fancy that he's been yearning for but you couldn't afford to buy, and maybe even save some of the money. This solution also saves precious time for the parents of the birthday kid, previously wasted on the mundane task of exchanging presents in at least 4-5 different shops, assuming that the gifts contained an exchange voucher, that is. This exchange crusade is always inevitable as your kid most likely has identical or similar games/toys to the ones received, or they are of very poor quality, or the type your child just does not like (try recalling the face of your 6 year old upon receiving yet another T–shirt??), or that you simply do not have any more storage room for more board games. Instead of all this, this "GIFT IN AN ENVELOPE" solution allows you to enjoy going with your child to one store to look for the gift of his/her dreams. It offers a "win:win" solution, as the parents of the guest kids are also spared both time and money in the search after a suitable and affordable gift, and are also spared the feeling of compromise.
As I see it, this gift format is suitable from age 5 or 6 upwards, an age in which children already understand a little better the value of money and have already enjoyed several years of ripping off tons of gift wrap paper. Explain to your child the concept in a way that he/she can understand, including the pros and cons, and ask him/her if they think it suits them. It's also an excellent opportunity to start introducing your child to the world of money and financial terms, all in a manner suitable to his/her age of course.
I propose to go even further with this idea by contributing a portion of the amount received on behalf of your birthday child to a children's charity of your kid's choice. One of the most suitable charities for this end is called Birthday Angels. Its aim is to enable every child to celebrate his/her birthday, in particular children from families struggling in our tough economic reality. A donation of 180NIS covers the cost of a "birthday kit" which contains games, activities, music, decorations and prizes - all that is needed for a birthday party of about two hours. Special volunteers facilitate the birthday party for the child and his classmates. The birthday child then sends a personal "thank you" letter to the child who donated the party. Assuming that each child brings 20 NIS as a gift to your kid's party, and that 30 of your kid's classmates attend, then after donating the 180NIS, there will remain 420 NIS which are more than enough for an amazing gift (or gifts) for your child. An alternative is to donate the money every two class birthday parties, on behalf of two children.
For the ideas presented here to work properly, it is important to enlist the participation of as many parents from the class as possible. The idea is implementable at any stage of the school year, although the most natural time would be to at its beginning (raise the idea at the first parents-teacher meeting with a follow-up explanation e-mail). From experience, I can tell you that most parents immediately recognize the many benefits of this idea, to all parties involved – birthday child, his/her parents, attending guests and their parents. Together you should decide on the amount of money each child should bring as a gift to each party (the usual sum is 20-25 NIS, more than that defeats most of the purpose). In the invites simply mention that your child will appreciate receiving GIFT in an ENVELOPE (GIAE, for short) in lieu of traditional presents.
Note: It's OK if not all of the kids participate in GIAE or Gift Fairy, and bring traditional gifts instead. Some parents may feel differently about these ideas, depending on their life views, financial standing, and their own kid's preferences, which may influence their opinions as well.
Now, to the other side of the fence - the birthday party itself. If you are looking for an idea for a birthday party that will be a little different and cost-effective, I am glad to say that I found the perfect solution: birthday party in a box. For less than 340 NIS you receive in the post a "treasure chest" which contains everything needed for the party: original games and activities, step-by-step instructions for running the party, including even the text for the facilitator, prizes and even a DVD containing detailed instructions. There are more than enough activities for a party of two hours (and even more), and it can be held at home, at the park, or in your garden. There is a variety of theme boxes suitable to different ages and tastes (pirates, princesses, space etc.). This type of birthday party requires that a parent, a relative or a friend will be the facilitator/"entertainer", but the money saved this way, compared to the cost of hiring a professional entertainer is enormous.
Mazal Tov & Enjoy.