Birthday gifts:: How I managed to cut back on what we spend

carrieschuessler.wordpress.comIf your kids are at least preschool age, you know the reality of the birthday party scene.  For the next many years, you will spend a fair amount of Saturdays sitting next to a bouncy castle, eating carrot sticks Olaf noses and making small talk to people you’ve just met.  And all these parties will require a trip to the store where you’ll try to guess which princess or super hero the birthday kid is into, gawk at how much toys cost, then realize you need to spend $8 more on a card, bag and tissue paper.  Geez, did I really just spend $30 on a present for a child we barely know?

Disclaimer: This is not a post about being stingy.  I love generosity.  And God does too.  It’s His thing for sure.  This is a post about balance and perspective.

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Forget the glitzy gifts. What kids really want on their birthday is to feel special.

Take a moment and try to add up how much you’ve spent in the last 4 months on scenarios like I described above.  Yikes. Probably more than we’d all like to admit.  Let’s say you went to 8 birthday parties and spent $30 on each one.  That’s $240. (Thanks to homeschooling, my math skillz are impressive).  So, is it fair for me to tell my daughter I can’t afford dance lessons this spring, but I can spend $240 on kids in her preschool class?  Now, maybe you’re in a great financial place and you don’t have to make those kinds of trade-offs.  That’s great.  But I’m guessing I’m not the only mom on a tight budget.

So how do we cut back?  After all, birthday parties are major social events for the preschool and elementary school crowd.  My kids count down the days, sometimes hours until they happen.  Well, here’s a few ideas:

1. We don’t go to every party.  It’s okay to pick and choose.  Go to all your besties’ parties, but maybe not to all the school ones or the football team ones or the I-think-we-met-at-the-library-once ones.

2. Start a “Gift Box.”  In my house, this is a cardboard box in my laundry room.  When I find things on clearance, I buy them and throw them in there.  Hit up the end-of-summer clearance at Target.  Grab some water guns, bathing suits, bubbles and beach toys.  Put them in your gift box and then pull them out for next year’s summer birthdays.  Instead of spending $20 on a full-price water gun, you can spend $10 and give them a water gun and a fun bathing suit.  Keep the gift box stocked all year and you’ll save a ton.

3. Think outside the toy box.  (See what I did there?)  Instead of the toy aisle, head for the craft or grocery store.  Do they love to draw?  Grab a sketchbook and good pencils with your Joann’s coupons.  Do they like to cook?  Buy them their own apron, measuring cups and cookbook at Ross.  No, these might not get the oohs and ahhs at the party, but they may get the most enjoyment later on.

4. Buy wrapping supplies on clearance.  Just a few days ago I scored a bunch of solid red wrapping paper at Ikea for $0.50 a roll.  It’s from Christmas, but who cares?  It’s solid red.  Add some bakers twine and I’ve got myself some Pinterest-worthy gift wrap.  Also, the dollar store sells brown kraft paper for $1 a roll.  Leave it plain or let your kids jazz it up with some markers.  Keep an eye out for bags and white tissue paper on clearance and stock up.  Oh, and don’t forget to save the bags you get from parties, if they are in good shape.

4. Skip the card.  I just saved you $4.  You’re welcome.  Grab some construction  or computer paper, stickers, whatever.  Sit your kid down and have them draw or write something.  Honestly, I adore these kinds of cards and they are usually the only ones we keep around here.

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My daughter received this journal about 4 birthdays ago and she still uses it! It wasn’t a toy, but it was still a wonderful gift.

5. Stop caring what other parents think of you.  Seriously, I could write an entire series on this.  Your identity is in Christ, not in the fact that your gift got the most squeals from the kid (or the parents.)  Oh, how much better life would be if we all (me included!) would live this out.

Now, there is a time that I gladly break all these rules.  When I buy gifts for family.  Nothing out of the gift box.  We go to the store, grab just that perfect gift and wrapping paper.  We might even buy the musical $6 card.  But that’s only a few times a year and I always look forward to it.

Last thing.  Can your kids remember who got them what and how it was wrapped from their last birthday?  Probably not. Do you know what kids want?  To feel special on their birthday. So skip the glityz gifts and wrapping and instead show that birthday kid that they are the most special one in the whole world, even if you’ve only met them twice at karate.

How do you manage the birthday scene?  Comment below and let me hear your ideas!

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Morning Chores :: How I managed to get my kids moving in the morning on their own

Somewhere around the time when my kids were entering the preschool stage, I realized that our mornings were a mess.  They were staying in their pajamas too long, forgetting to brush their teeth, watching too much TV and generally falling into the undisciplined, stay-at-home stereotype that I badly wanted to avoid.

So I came up with a super simple list of what each kid needed to do every morning.  And I called it “morning chores” because that sounded better than “get your shiny hiney off the couch.”  In the years since then, we’ve seen lots of charts and plans come and go, but the morning chores are still going strong.  So I thought I’d write about it, in case this idea can be helpful to any of you.

Morning Chores
Am I the only one with a serious shoes-by-the-door crisis?

What do you want your kids to do every morning to start their day?  Write those things down on a piece of paper (cute printable or chalkboard paint not required, thank you Jesus).  Post them somewhere in the house. Choose an approximate time you want them to start and finish.  Then each morning, make it happen.  This will take lots of consistency and repetition. (I’ve decided about 90% of good parenting is comprised of those two words).  But over time, all you will need to do is say, “Okay, precious cherubs, it’s time to start your morning chores.”  To which they will respond with, “Yes dearest parent” and skip away, whistling while they work.  Well, something like that.  But seriously, the day will come when they will even start this process without your nagging prompting.

Want some ideas?  Here’s what my kids’ lists look like:

My almost 12 year old

  • brush teeth, hair, wash face
  • get dressed, put away pj’s
  • eat breakfast
  • sweep kitchen floor
  • clean off school table
  • clean up shoes by the front door
  • 25 sit-ups, 15 push-ups, 25 jumping jacks
  • read one chapter of the Bible and pray

My 10 year old

  • brush teeth, gel hair
  • get dressed, put away pj’s
  • eat breakfast
  • take out the kitchen trash
  • empty the dishwasher
  • pick up the kids’ bathroom
  • 20 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, 25 jumping jacks
  • read 10 Bible verses, pray

My 7 year old

  • brush teeth, gel hair
  • get dressed, put away pj’s
  • eat breakfast
  • clean breakfast table and chairs
  • clean up remotes, cords, controllers, games, dvd’s
  • 15 sit-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks
  • read 5 Bible verses, pray

My 5 year old

  • brush teeth and hair
  • get dressed, put away pj’s
  • eat breakfast
  • empty the silverware from dishwasher
  • push in the dining room chairs
  • put away blankets and lovies that were brought out of bed

My 3 year old

  • brush teeth
  • eat breakfast
  • put away blankets and lovies that were brought out of bed

Morning choresSince my kids generally like to greet the rising sun, this happens between 8 and 9am around here.  And it really helps if we don’t watch TV in the morning.  The only thing kids hate to hear more than “do your morning chores” is “turn off the TV and do your morning chores.”

Beyond helping us get our mornings started, I’m hoping that these routines will have long-term benefits.  Wouldn’t it be great  if they got in the habit of starting off the day with good hygiene, exercise and worship?  Isn’t that a pretty cool benefit of parenting?  Being able to instill good qualities in the next generation, no matter how basic?

Now if only I would make a similar list for myself….