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How to Surprise Someone for Their Birthday (or Other Special Event) Without Spending a Ton of Money
Maybe you’re in the midst of a financial turnaround. Maybe you’re having a hard time finding a job. Maybe you’ve just been waylaid by a torrent of unexpected expenses.
Whatever the reason, you’re in a situation where money is super tight. You’re dealing with it, though. You’ve got this.
There’s only one catch. Someone close to you is about to celebrate a special event of some kind and it would be very reasonably expected that you contribute to that celebration with a gift of some kind or some other special thing.
Maybe it’s someone’s birthday. Maybe someone is getting married or having a child.
Whatever it is, a celebration is in order, but because of life’s constraints or your other personal commitments, it is very hard for you to come up with the resources to offer up the things you’d like to be able to contribute. You just don’t have the cash to buy a really nice gift or pay for some sort of special treat.
What do you do?
I know that feeling quite well. You feel like a cheapskate or like the financial struggles in your life are just pulling you down – or both. You feel really guilty that you can’t support this person you care about in their special moment in the way you really think that you should. It can feel awful.
Here’s the thing: You’re not without options here. You don’t have to go through this occasion without contributing to that person’s celebration in a meaningful way. You just have to step back and look at other options beyond the expensive flashy gift or the pricey treat.
Here are six options to consider that will result in something very meaningful and quite valuable for the recipient without messing up your precarious financial position.
Strategy #1: Take care of some of their hated chores.
Chores are a part of adult life. There’s always laundry to do, dishes to clean, things to fix, meals to cook, floors to sweep, carpets to vacuum, cars to clean, things to pick up and put away, beds to make, mail to sort… it’s endless.
Different people are wired differently, though. If each of us ranked those chores in order of how much we loathed them, our lists would look quite different. I personally loathe picking up items and putting them back in their place, while I don’t mind dishes or laundry. (That’s probably why we have a cupboard full of clean dishes while my office desk looks like an explosion of paper and books.)
If you want to make a celebration special for someone, take a block of extra time and do all of the chores that are facing them at the top of their “do not like” list. If they hate laundry, do a bunch of their laundry. If they hate vacuuming, vacuum all of their carpets. If they hate cleaning toilets, clean their toilets. Do whatever it is that they least like to do in their lives. If that’s done, move up the list. Try as hard as you can to clear their plate of chores completely, but when in doubt choose to take on tasks they really don’t like.
What this gives them is free time in exchange of tasks that they dislike, and that’s a tremendous gift. Free time can be spent on fun things or on tasks that keep getting put off or, frankly, whatever they want. There are few things better than starting a weekend with no real chores on your plate!
Strategy #2: Plan a day around their favorite activities.
What is it that the celebrated person enjoys doing that doesn’t involve spending money? Plan a day around that thing and spend it with them.
If the celebrating person likes hiking, plan a day of hiking in a state park somewhere. Pack their bag with appropriate supplies and a wonderful sack lunch for them and either go along for the hiking or pick them up and drop them off wherever they want you to do so. If that person loves to read, clear out several hours for uninterrupted reading, make a comfortable spot for them, leave them alone and free of distractions, and bring them a meal that’s simple to eat and won’t be messy on the books they’re reading. If that person likes to play video games, do the same – make that space as comfortable for them as you can, bring that person food and snacks, and stay out of the way. Let them have their day in complete peace with their passion.
It’s extremely important that you do everything in your power to genuinely appreciate whatever the activity is if you’re going to engage in that activity, too. If you plan a game day for your husband or wife and you’re personally not really into games, don’t force yourself into that event. If you do, have fun doing it and let that other person direct all of the choices. Don’t act miserable or distracted or else you take away from the value of this celebration. If you’re not engaging in it, let them be on their own to enjoy it without distraction.
Strategy #3: Prep a bunch of their favorite meals.
To this very day, one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received was from my grandmother, who spent a day making several dozen breakfast burritos exactly how I liked them and packaging them individually for freezing. She mostly used items she had on hand to make them – the few ingredients she bought were pretty inexpensive, like eggs.
This is an amazing gift if you happen to live with someone, because it’s essentially home-cooked food, which is inexpensive in itself. The “cost” here is in the form of the effort. Making several dozen breakfast burritos – to use my grandmother’s example – is a substantial amount of effort, although the ingredients are pretty cheap. It’s the effort that is the gift here, not the ingredients; in terms of raw dollars and cents, this type of gift will likely save your household money in the long run.
Pick out a food that the person you’re celebrating really likes. Perhaps it’s breakfast burritos that they like, or maybe it’s bean burritos or steak burritos. Maybe they like tuna casserole or pierogis or … well, whatever it is that they like as either an individual meal or as a family meal. Whatever that meal is, make a whole bunch of it and package it up for them for easy preparation. Make it so that they can grab a package out of the freezer and have it ready to go in as few steps as humanly possible, and make a lot of them.
Strategy #4: Volunteer to do a lot of the ‘grunt work’ for the celebration.
Let’s say you have a friend or a sibling who is getting married and you know you’d love to give them a huge, memorable gift… but you don’t have the means to do so. One option you can take advantage of is to simply be one of the people involved in pulling off the wedding.
Offer to be their wedding planner as their wedding gift. Offer to be their caterer or their photographer or their florist. Do whatever it is that you think you can unquestionably handle on your own, and give that gift well in advance of the ceremony.
Our wedding was actually centered around gifts like this. A family friend made our cake. An aunt was the caterer. A sister-in-law was the florist. A family friend was the photographer. A family friend was lined up to be the DJ too (although circumstances later prevented that). Some of the features of the wedding weren’t done to bridal magazine perfection, but the cost of our wedding was absolutely minimal and there was something special and close about the whole affair.
Strategy #5: Make something, ideally using a skill you already possess.
What skills do you possess? Are you a skilled artist? A skilled chef? A skilled photographer? Can you crochet or knit? Those skills are a great source for a wonderful gift.
Make someone a crocheted blanket in their favorite colors or a scarf with the name of their loved one in Morse code stripes throughout. Draw a wonderful picture for them and frame it very simply for a decoration. Take some simple ingredients and make a mind-blowing meal for that couple you care about.
All of those things make for stunning, memorable, and extremely low-cost gifts.
Strategy #6: Take on some of that person’s burdens for a while.
If you know someone that has to deal with an intense burden of some kind, like constant care for an ailing child or spouse or parent, take on that person’s burden for a while and let them actually exit the picture and enjoy some unburdened time. That is just about the greatest gift you could give to a person with an intense responsibility on their shoulders.
Offer to spend the day being a caregiver in their place so they can spend it doing literally whatever they want. If it’s possible, consider even doing it for multiple days so they can take a short trip and get completely away from things for a while.
Even the most wonderful caregiver in the world can eventually find themselves stressed under the burden of a constant responsibility. Taking on that burden, even for a short while, can do wonders to refresh a person and restore their psychological strength. It is truly a great gift.
Here’s the real truth: The most valuable gift you can give someone is time. Giving your time to them in the form of making something special or in terms of taking away some of their tasks and burdens is an incredible gift. It gives them the time to enjoy things in their life that they might not otherwise have time to enjoy, or it gives them something special that only they have. Such gifts are deeply meaningful while only scarcely scratching one’s wallet.
- 10 Heartfelt Gifts for People Who Don’t Need More Stuff
- How to Celebrate a Child’s Birthday Without Breaking the Bank
- Finding Meaningful Gifts Without Spending a Lot of Money