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Gift-Giving on a Budget

Weddings, graduations, baby showers, and bridal showers—it’s the season to celebrate. Many of us will be invited to at least one of these events this year. Of course, we want to be there to help our friends and family celebrate the big occasions in their lives. However, sometimes the travel, gifts and other expenses can place a strain on an already tight budget. If your family is planning to participate in multiple functions, the pressure can become overwhelming. So we’re here to help with some suggestions of ways you can stay on your budget during this hectic time of year. Hopefully, these tips will help you enjoy your celebrations more and worry less.

1. Abandon Guilt

In order to enjoy this season of celebrations, the first thing you need to do is abandon any feelings of guilt on your part. You are not being cheap or stingy when you realistically look at your budget and count the cost. Reality is that many families are struggling in this economy. Many people are reevaluating their priorities, downsizing their lives, and learning to live within their means. This is a courageous and admirable decision.

Then it comes time to participate in social events and purchase gifts. Often women feel guilty if their new budget does not allow them to participate as extravagantly as they did prior to living on a budget. Sometimes we feel embarrassed to say, “We are cutting back on our lifestyle, and this is all we can do.”

However, these feelings need to be pushed aside for the sake of reality. You need to stick to your budget no matter what anyone thinks. Rather than feeling guilty or embarrassed, you should feel confident about your resolve to stick to your financial plan. Tell your guilt or embarrassment to “Take a hike!” You are sticking to your established course.

2. Adding special occasions to your budget.

As you are learning to live on a budget, you will constantly be making adjustments. You’ll notice you needed less money than you thought in one area, while you underestimated in another area. Over time, you will probably realize that you need to plan ahead for things like wedding gifts, graduation gifts, birthday gifts and other holidays. You may want to consider taking a small amount out of your budget every month and set it aside for special occasions. Then when you are invited to an event, you will have the money to purchase a reasonably priced gift.

Let’s be realistic. These events are usually planned in advance. Most couples take at least 6 months to plan a wedding. Graduations are planned years in advance. Even baby showers give a few months warning. When you know that a close friend or family member is having a special occasion start saving a little bit at a time for the gift. It will create less of a strain on your family’s budget and still allow you to show your love to the person celebrating their new life adventure.

3. Prioritize

When the economy was booming, it became acceptable to invite everyone you knew to your big event.

Acquaintances, neighbors, and the friend of a friend were all invited to the special day.

If your economy is not booming, you do not need to feel obligated to participate in or contribute to every function. There will be times you need to prioritize. It’s okay to give your family and close friends priority over acquaintances or distant family members. If you’re living on a fixed income, you don’t have to donate to every collection at work, especially not for people you don’t know.

4. Purchase a gift rather than writing a check.

Years ago, we believed that “It’s the thought that counts.” When a couple was getting married, family and friends purchased household items to help them get started. Often women made things to add warm, personal touches to the couple’s new home. When a baby was born, women knitted sweaters, booties and blankets.

Somehow over the years this tradition has disappeared. Instead, we write checks whenever we receive an invitation to a wedding or graduation. With this new tradition has come the pressure to keep writing bigger and bigger checks. Ultimately, instead of giving a gift from the heart, many people feel obligated to write a check they may or may not be able to afford. This is why I recommend a change.

First, when you send someone cash you have no idea how it will be used. We all hope that the high school graduate will receive our gift and use it toward their education. However, this isn’t guaranteed. It may go to a night out on the town. When you purchase a gift or buy a gift card, you know exactly where your money is going. Personally, I don’t want to see God’s money wasted at a bar or on a rowdy vacation. When I buy a gift, I feel that God would be happy with my purchase.

Secondly, when you write a check you feel obligated to make it a large check. People know exactly what you’re giving them. When you purchase a gift, people don’t know what you spent. If you shop around and God blesses you with an awesome sale, you may be able to give an incredibly lovely gift while sticking to your budget. If it’s something they can use, they should appreciate it.

5. Give of yourself.

What do you do when someone asks you to participate, and you simply cannot afford the costs involved? This is an issue for many. For instance, the other day I was reading about a woman whose sister-in-law was getting married on the other side of the country. Because it was her big day, she wanted everyone to be there, and she insisted that her brother, his wife, and 4 kids come to the event. The wife was writing for advice because they could not afford the airfare, accommodations, and travel costs that a family of 6 would incur.

This is especially difficult for women who are asked to be bridesmaids. Even though we love being asked to be part of the bridal party and support our friends on their big day, what do you do if you can’t afford the dress, shoes, and other expenses?

The answer is two-fold. First, be honest. Humble yourself and explain that you love your friend, and you want to be a part of the wedding, but you are experiencing financial limitations. Then, offer to help to help her and support her in other ways. Give of your time and your talents to make her day special. Talk to the other bridesmaids and see if you can help cook, decorate, or plan the bridal shower. Help her choose or arrange the flowers.

Do all you can to offer yourself to your friend. If she really needs you to stand up with her, than tell her your financial limits and ask her to stay within them. But if she wants things that are beyond your means, gently decline and offer to help in any other way possible. A true friend will understand and be glad for the help and support.

6. Give a Sentimental Gift.

The celebrations we are speaking of are landmark occasions in a person’s life. What better time to get sentimental? Perhaps you could make a video having all your friends and family speak about their love and support for the person celebrating the occasion. Maybe spend a few hours putting together a photo album remembering the person’s accomplishments on their way to this milestone. Start a baby book for an expectant Mom. Write a letter telling the person celebrating how much they mean to you. Offer to videotape the graduation so the family can relax and enjoy the event. These are just a few ways to show people that you love them and that they are special to you.

7. Check the registry for ideas; shop around for pricing.

I completely respect a bride’s or a new Mom’s choice to register for the items she would like in her new home. After all, it’s a good way to make her preferences and needs known. However, I see no need to purchase a particular item from a certain store if you know you can get the same item somewhere else for less money. For instance, if a young woman picks a kitchen item from a certain company, I would shop around to see where I could get that item at the best price. If I saw that a department store had it on sale for 50% off, I’m buying it there!

Remember, the registry is just a guideline, not an obligation. If the items on the registry are too expensive, purchase a gift that isn’t on the registry, but you know she will need. All babies need diapers, baby clothes, bottles, and other necessities. All brides will eventually need kitchen items, towels, and cookware. Try to stick with her color choices and preferences, but don’t feel obligated to buy things you can’t afford.

8. Pray.

Maybe this should have been the first suggestion, because it is the most important. Whenever you are presented with a challenge in your budget, the first thing to do is consult the Holy Spirit. He will give you the wisdom and guidance to know what to do in every situation. Only He can give you the strength to stand by your budget, and the courage to tell others about your financial limitations.

Remember He knows the heart of the other person. He understands what they will be open to and what will offend them. He also knows your heart and your desire to obey Him and be a person of integrity by living in reality about your financial situation. Ask Him for the words to explain to those who want you to go places or participate in things you cannot afford. Pray that He softens their hearts to accept your decline. Most importantly, ask Him for wisdom to know which invitations you should and shouldn’t accept and what gifts to give. Pray that He blesses your attempt at living within your means with sales and bargains as you shop.

James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

When dealing with delicate social situations, we all need wisdom. That’s why prayer is so important.

9. Choose to Enjoy the Event.

After you make the tough decisions about where you will go, how much you will participate, and what gift to give, relax and enjoy the celebration. Don’t spend the whole night worrying about what people think or whether or not you spent enough money. At the end of the day, all these things fade into the background in light of what you’re celebrating.

The wedding couple will go on their honeymoon and begin their new life.

After the baby is born, the parents will be focused on the wonderful new addition to their family.

When graduation is over, the student will start planning the next part of their lives.

What you did or did not buy won’t matter. What will matter is the fact that you celebrated this life change with your family and friends, and you will be there to love and support them no matter what life brings in the days to come. So, relax, enjoy and celebrate life and love!

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