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The Simple Dollar

The frugal birthday wish list

Forget the expensive store-bought gift. Homemade cookies, a sit-down dinner at home, or even a hand with the honey-do list can all be great ways to wish someone 'Happy Birthday,' Hamm says.

By Contributor / August 2, 2013

After receiving a birthday cake, balloons and a birthday present, Matthew Morris, 3, gets a big kiss from his grandmother Linda Gustin in Shawnee, Kan. earlier this year. Birthdays don't have to be extravagant affairs; there are plenty of meaningful gifts that don't cost much, Hamm says.

Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/AP/File

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My immediate family has a tradition of celebrating birthdays. Everyone gives a gift to each other that involves a surprising amount of thought and planning. The person whose birthday it is might throw out some ideas along the way, but the gifts they receive on their actual birthday tend to be a surprise.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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As I write this, my own birthday is approaching, and you’d have to have blinders on around our house to not see people planning various things. All of the children have asked me what I want for my birthday and have ran off to make plans based on what I’ve told them.

Here’s the thing, though: most of the things I want for my birthday aren’t just things you go pick up on Amazon. I realized that the gift ideas I was sharing with my kids were, for the most part, good gift ideas for anyone with a frugal bent or anyone who “has everything.” Here are a few of those ideas.

A batch of my favorite cookies I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but it’s pretty hard for me to turn down soft peanut butter and oatmeal cookies. If I have several of these, I hoard them.

Handmade art By this, I don’t just mean that kids scribble on a piece of paper. I mean something that they spent some significant time on, first thinking about what they want to create, then spending some time creating it over a period of days, then signing it and framing it. These can make for wonderful office decorations.

A great meal The preparation of one of my favorite meals without me having to suggest it or lift a finger or find any ingredients makes for a wonderful surprise.

A movie night Whether it’s with the whole family or just with the adults, a movie night down in the family room with the lights off and a warm blanket is really enjoyable. Letting the person pick the movie and having everyone else make popcorn and bring beverages makes it even better.

Non-local treats I love Spring Grove Lemon Sour, but I can’t get it locally. I also really like birch syrup for my waffles but, again, I can’t get it at the store. If you have a chance to get a non-local food that someone loves, pick it up and hold onto it for a gift-giving occasion.

A helping hand I’m always working on projects. Some of them are household ones, in which case I will often expect help from a child. Many are personal ones, though, where I don’t necessarily expect any help. A helping hand on one of those personal projects for a few hours can make an enormous difference.

An afternoon of personal time I love spending time with my family, but sometimes I want to play a game or work on an individual project just for my own enjoyment. An afternoon of complete peace that I can bank on is something truly valuable to me.

A completed household task Few things are better than going downstairs to fill up the dishwasher only to find that someone’s already done it.

Party planning Take care of all of the inviting and meal planning for friends to come over for an afternoon and I’ll be thrilled.

I don’t really want things, in other words. I want experiences or little moves that make my life a little better or little reminders of the people that I love for my office.

Things take up space in your home and have to be revisited to continue to hav value. Experiences only take up space in your heart and mind. Keep that in mind and you’ll often find great gifts for the people in your life.

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