>>Do you have any tips for how to make a low cost bris?<<
Well, everyone has a different idea of what they consider low cost, but I’ll share what we’ve done.
Generally, an important principle in saving money is to look ahead and plan in advance. If you know you’re having a boy, you can think about what kind of menu you’ll want to serve, and take advantage of sales to buy the non perishables. You can do the same with paper goods and any decorations.
But we don’t know what we’re having until the baby is born, so planning ahead isn’t something I can do. I mentioned a few weeks ago taking advantage of a sale on turkey and commented at the time that if we had a boy, we would use it for the seuda. We had talked about making a late afternoon bris if it was a boy, and serving fleishigs. But you know the saying – ‘man plans, and G-d laughs’ – since our bris was on erev yom tov, the late afternoon idea was changed to the typical morning dairy spread and the turkeys stayed in the freezer.
But what you can do is minimize your costs by doing whatever you can yourself. If you hire a caterer to do the set up, food preparation, serving, and clean up, it’s going to cost you a lot more than if you do any or all of those yourself. We do all of the preparations ourselves, and can serve foods comparable to what the caterers serve for a lot less.
What do we serve? We had bagels, rice cakes, and whole wheat matza (dh and I don’t eat bread and we have friends who also don’t), egg salad, tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, cheddar and muenster cheese slices, sliced tomatoes and purple onions, salad, cream cheese, butter, fruit salad, and a bowl of whole fruit. We put out orange juice, milk, coffee, and herbal teas. We decided against cake and cookies this time, though in the past we’ve also put out a variety of danishes and cookies. I considered serving scrambled eggs, but it decided to keep it simple and not worry about how to keep the eggs hot without getting rubbery if they sat in the warmer for a while. Basically, it’s your typical bris morning spread.
Food preparation for us was making the egg and tuna salads, cutting up the fruit (pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew) for the fruit salad and slicing the veggies for the platters. The biggest expense was the chalav yisroel butter and cream cheese – we bought way more than we needed and I usually wouldn’t spend more than $2 a pound for either of them. Because there was a sale last week, the sliced cheese at the take out counter happened to be less than buying a block and slicing it ourselves, but I would have bought it sliced even if it was more. There are times when it’s worth it to pay a little more and have a little less to do!
Setting up the room and cleaning up take a solid chunk of time, but it’s not hard and generally it’s the kind of thing our family enjoys doing together. Because there was a non family member there who was involved and very, um, instructive towards my kids, it made it a lot less enjoyable for them than it would usually be. But as far as the money saving aspect, that was another way to keep costs down.
We bought paper goods at the local dollar store, so that wasn’t very expensive. My mother in law took my girls shopping for those items, though, and covered the costs, so I can’t include that in what we ourselves paid for.
Since my dh did the shopping for the food and I haven’t seen the receipts, I can’t share the breakdown of how much we spent. It was around $200 for the food, and less than $100 for the rental of the room from the shul (less expensive because we’re members). We set up for 50 people but could have easily fed double that number (except for the cheese, which was almost finished). These milchig leftovers came in handy on Shavuos, since people sent food for two of the four yom tov meals, and when an hour before yom tov we realized that’s all there would be, we didn’t have any last minute pressure because we were able to supplement for the other meals with what I had in the freezer and what we had from the bris. I don’t know whether to consider the extra food costs for the bris as bris costs or my food budget costs, but either way, it all evens out.
We considered having the bris in our house, but felt that space constraints would make it less comfortable for everyone, and therefore the cost of renting the shul space was worthwhile. But if someone had a large enough home, they could save on that cost by having it all in their home.
The rav/mohel who performed the bris doesn’t charge and refused to take money when we tried to get him to accept payment. Since we’ve asked the same rav for all of our brissim since living in this city, I don’t have personal experience with other mohelim. Just last night a Christian women at the homeschool curriculum sale asked me about mohelim and their costs; she was asking for a friend with who wants to circumcise their son ritually though they aren’t Jewish, who had gotten quotes of $600. I have no idea if that’s standard, though it seems expensive to me. If that’s actually the going rate, then using the mohel we did obviously was a big money saver, though that wasn’t our primary motivation.