You've been invited to a birthday party, not a normal run-of-the-mill birthday party but a big one that promises to be the bee's knees of parties—a birthday age with a big round zero at the end.
It will be a blowout, one aimed at the history books.
You're excited. It's been a while since you were this happy to go anywhere. You got all partied out last summer when restrictions lifted, and now your mojo has finally reawakened.
There's a fly-in-the-party ointment.
We are slap bang in the centre of a cost of living crisis.
You want to give a special gift for someone's big birthday, but you're worried because money is tight. Now I'm not saying for one second that we are suddenly poor. That is not the case at all.
However, there is less to go around and cover the bills than there was a year ago and that has to be taken into consideration. Particularly, when it comes to handing your hard-earned money out to someone else that's not the tax man or mortgage provider.
Money has never been tighter, but the pressure to be the best gift giver at the party is still alive and well. The aim of the game is to just overshoot the gifting benchmark without acting like Johnny Moneybags after a lottery win.
It's tough to be generous without the resentment of handing your last few quid over leaving you scouring the back of the food presses before payday.
So, here's the burning question.... how much does one put in the card?
It is a tightrope; being Irish, we tend to show emotions and love through gifting and money.
Lately, birthdays, particularly 'big' birthdays, feel more like navigating a government blind tender for some big contract rather than a token of esteem.
A blind tender where the stakes are the love, respect, and esteem of our nearest and dearest. There can only be one winner. Who will win? You or Auntie Mary or maybe that snot-nosed nephew with the shiny new car spending money like it's out of style.
Only the birthday guy or gal can ever know, and all the rest can be relegated to the 'you don't love me enough and your only getting a tin of biscuits for the Christmas' list.
It's a tough angsty place to be, that's for sure. Unless of course biscuits are your happy place, if that's the case then skip the card altogether and boil the kettle.
Before you skip off, here’s a thought….
What if it wasn't about winning the tender of affection with something as banal as money?
Instead of focusing on how much money to put in a card and trying to outbid all the other partygoers. Why not do something better by looking at all the options?
Let's put a different set of choices on the table.
There are other ways to make the birthday person feel loved and special without you remortgaging the house.
Are you ready to embrace a new way of thinking?
Fundamentally, birthdays are about celebrating someone and showing them how much you care. We can do that in a million ways; only one of those ways is money.
In a world where social norms often dictate our actions, there comes a time when we must find the courage to break free and embrace a braver path.
When it comes to gifting, you hold the power to redefine what generosity means to you, and in doing so, open up a whole new world of possibilities to those around you.
It's simple, but simple is not always easy.
Here is what simple looks like
Embrace your values
Reflect on what truly matters to you. Shift your focus from societal expectations to your own personal expectations. Ask yourself: What do you genuinely believe about gift-giving? What brings you joy when showing your appreciation for others?
Personalise your approach
Trust that each person and each relationship is unique. Instead of conforming to a one-size-fits-all approach, celebrate the individuality of your connections. Tailor your gifts to reflect their interests, passions, and needs. No matter how small, a personalised gesture can leave a lasting memory.
Don't believe me? Think back to some of the best gifts you've ever received. I bet that they were less about the money and more about the memories and thought behind them. Those gifts are something so much more. Money as a gift, while useful, fades into the background, sloshed with all the other money that flows through your life, passing by and soon forgotten.
Share the sentiment
Remember, the sentiment behind a gift often outweighs its monetary value. Focus on expressing your love, gratitude, and admiration. Thoughtful words, acts of service, or meaningful experiences can create cherished memories that far surpass material gifts.
Thoughtful gifts last.
Start a movement
Be the catalyst for change? Encourage open conversations about redefining social norms around gifting. Share your thoughts with friends, family, and loved ones. Challenge the notion that gift-giving isn’t solely about money and have fun with brainstorming.
As I said before, it is simple, not easy, and I know this first hand; when I did The No Spend Year in 2019, I had a minimal budget for gifting and had to get inventive. It was hard. I overthought many conversations and fretted repeatedly every time a birthday loomed close.
However, I found that the moment those icky conversations started, relief flooded from the friend on the other side of the table. They were mostly in the same boat as me but never wanted to admit it. By having the conversation, I was unwittingly giving them permission to be open about their thoughts and ideas too.
I was lucky, my no spend year was self-imposed. Others did not have that luxury but don't know how to handle the spend-less conversations. Be the brave person to give them a safe space to do so.
For example, many of my friends like me have kids, and as you will know, kids are pricey little items to have in your home. So I made the decision to draw a line in the sand with regard to not buying gifts for kids' birthdays, and in return, they were not to buy anything for my offspring or me either. We have enough stuff and more stuff was not going to change the strength of our relationship.
Instead, we would have dinners at each other's homes and go on picnics or parks for days out. It was a win-win solution. Less plastic dominating our floor space, less stress on the already stressed finances and more time spent together relaxing and talking. A pastime I hold dear and strive to have more of.
Less stuff, more time spent.
If you need some inspiration on how to avoid the unwinnable blind tender of birthday love, these are all tried and tested by yours truly.
1. Focus on thoughtful gestures:
Consider mon-cash gifts or experiences that are meaningful and personalised. It could be a handmade gift, a heartfelt letter, or planning a memorable day out or activity that the birthday person would enjoy.
My personal favourite has been, and always will be, time spent. Book a lunch or activity with them at a separate time to the party, get it on the calendar before the party date and let them know that this is your gift to them.
2. Pool resources:
If you're part of a group or have close friends or family members attending the birthday celebration, you can consider pooling resources together to contribute to a larger gift. This way, you can contribute a smaller amount that is still meaningful and be part of a more substantial gift. Ideally, something the person truly needs or wants.
3. Communicate openly:
If you feel comfortable, you can have an open conversation with the birthday person or their close family members about the gift and consider options together. They may appreciate your honesty and understanding; my experience is that many will be relieved.
So many of us are feeling the pinch, and knowing that it is ok, to be honest, and cut through the taboo that is money will most likely have a positive knock-on effect for everyone involved.
Put yourself in the birthday person's shoes. Chances are they would not like to receive a gift that drains their loved one financially and puts them under pressure.
If they genuinely care, they will more likely want to have time spent on them as opposed to money spent on them. On the other hand, if they don't care so much about your relationship, then it might be worth considering the option of not attending the birthday at all.
Sometimes it is ok to say No.
That frees you up to find things worthwhile for your time, energy and money.
How's that for a fun idea?
More money, more freedom, more happiness
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