Holiday costs very easily spiral out of control, and like all other holidays, a person can enjoy the spirit of things without unnecessarily spending lots of money. So I thought I’d share a little about some ways I keep Purim related expenses in check. Some of these ideas will help you now; some require advance planning and can be put into use at different times of the year.
Mishloach manos – (also called shalach manos, this is the gift of food that is traditionally given on Purim to friends) – I set a limit of $1 for each family shalach manos (the kids send their own and my budget for them is lower). Lest you think this looks cheap and chintzy because of my low budget, you’re wrong. I actually have to be careful not to make it too nice because I don’t want anyone to feel outdone, which is why I lowered my price from $2 to $1. I know how little I spend, but most people wouldn’t be able to accurately guess by looking at it. This price range allows me to send nice foods while keeping it simple – and it doesn’t overwhelm anyone.
We really enjoy preparing and giving mishloach manos (I try to keep the main list to thirty, and with the kids friends it goes up to fifty or so), so it’s not a pressure for us. For some people, they might be best off by significantly cutting down the amount of people they give to. As you see, we don’t spend huge sums of money that would make this financially stressful.
Food – Keeping food costs down is typical of my food saving strategies – make homemade foods, buy packaged foods in advance when they are on sale, buy at discount stores, etc. This year I’ll be sending two sets of mishloach manos. One will contain a half pint of homemade (home canned) salsa with a 7.5 oz bag of Garden of Eatin’ organic blue corn chips. I bought a few cases of the chips when a store heavily discounted them to move them fast – .50 per bag (usually they’re several dollars each). The salsa was made with tomatoes that I bought for $3 per case, tomatillos that I got free, and ended up a very nominal cost.
The second set of mishloach manos include organic chocolate bars, natural strawberry kiwi juice boxes, and 5 homemade sugar cookies that spell out Purim in Hebrew. Again, I bought the chocolate and juice boxes when I saw them heavily discounted. I don’t wait until a few days before Purim to start thinking about it. The chocolate and juice were bought six weeks in advance, the chips were bought ten weeks in advance; all of these purchases were included in my regular monthly grocery budget. My monthly food budget always includes any holiday expenses, which is nice since it keeps my financial outlay in that area constant.
Containers – The canning jars I’m sending the salsa in I bought in August 2008 for $1.30 a dozen (they were new and I shared about how I did that here – look halfway down the post). So each brand new jar, including the lid and ring, cost me about .12 cents. If I were to buy a dozen jars new right now, it would be at least $6/.50 a jar.
After Christmas, I bought all of the non-seasonally themed candy gift boxes that were available at clearance prices, 75% off. So I paid .25 cents for each one. I didn’t know what I’d be sending for Purim and if this would be the right size, but figured better to buy it and have them than to regret not having them later on – it turns out that these will be a little small for my needs this year so they’ll be stored for next year. I bought nice sized gift bags that were 75% off after Valentines Day that are large enough to fit the salsa and chips. Those were also .25 each.
The second mishloach manos is wrapped in cellophane we were given a couple of years ago by someone cleaning out their basement – they gave us a number of unused rolls because they didn’t want to store something they wouldn’t be using until the following year. The kids are all very good at being creative with what we have. I was out of ribbon to tie the cellophane up with, so we found a roll of thin black string, and then the kids used the thin threads of tinsel (the kind you use as metallic ‘grass’ at bottom of baskets) to tie on top of the string to make it look more festive. I had gone to Trader Joe’s with my toddler the day we prepared these, and got a few helium balloons while we were shopping. Some of the older kids snipped off lengths of the ribbon it was tied with to wrap theirs with.
When I send gift bags, I don’t write on the labels, so that the person receiving it can save it for future gift giving if they so choose. Gift bags are expensive and it’s a shame for them to only get used once, don’t you think? It won’t surprise you that I save the containers we receive on Purim. I let the kids choose from these throughout the year when they need to take something to a birthday part, and the following Purim they can choose from those containers to send mishloach manos to their friends.
As I mentioned yesterday, the kids made a lot of containers this year, so they didn’t take much from what I was stored in the Purim box (they used mostly card stock and paper plates). If you learn to look at containers that are already coming into your house with an alternative idea in mind, you’ll see lots of free containers that you can use. For example, the little plastic baskets that cherry tomatoes come in, the lidded microwaveable containers that some frozen vegetables come in, foam containers that one local grocery packages their discounted vegetables in – there are so many choices. When I bought pearl onions that came in a small purple net bag, I saved them. You can recycle jars or cans, then decorate them for this purpose. The kids did this last year for Chanuka food gifts to our parents (one example was when they layered dried beans in glass jars, added spice bags and instructions for cooking). You get the idea!
Costumes – I’ve made a number of costumes from cheaply purchased clothing at the thrift store. Sometimes I buy it to use as is, sometimes I buy it for the fabric. I’ve purchased elegant used formal wear made of nice fabrics like silk, taffeta, and velvet evening gowns (if there’s a stain somewhere on it you can get these very cheaply), taken the item apart, and then resewn it into dress up gowns for girls, and king costumes (jacket/cape with pantaloons) for boys. I once bought a blue cotton sheet to make a prairie girl’s dress, and the bonnet and matching apron came from a old cotton robe that was checked red and white. Costumes are fun to sew because it doesn’t matter if they are perfect, and your kids will think you’re incredible just by whipping together something basic. You can also buy costumes at the thrift store after Halloween, or buy them new when they are deeply discounted after Halloween. I can’t usually go to yard sales because my dh takes our vehicle to work on Sundays, but I have gotten some nice costumes for the littles in the past (lion, Tweety bird, horse) for just a dollar or two. Don’t forget to ask friends if they have something you can borrow before running out to buy something. We’ve rarely spent more than a few dollars at the very most for a costume.
Seuda – (festive Purim meal) – I’ve been flabbergasted by how much people spend on this. Last year we spent $15 for 13 people. That was the first time we had a dairy meal for Purim, but it was very nice and everyone enjoyed it. We had homemade challah rolls with butter, thick vegetable soup, homemade pizza (equal to about three or four pies), chevre (goat cheese), cottage cheese, roasted potatoes and yams with rosemary, and a big fresh salad. And we put out orange juice and milk to drink, in addition to water. For dessert we had banana chocolate chip cake, chocolate cake (both cakes were from shalach manos), and rice pudding.
This year I was thinking I’d be hard pressed to beat that price, particularly since this year we’ll be having a family of 9, in addition to our family of 11, and then our three parents as well (23 people total). But you don’t have to keep it to less than $1 a person for it to be very affordable. Providentially, tonight my dh came home and told me a friend wants to empty his freezer in preparation for Pesach (Passover) and give us three pans of food from his daughter’s wedding – meatballs, chicken, and a cooked vegetable dish. This is really nice food, and since I also want to empty my freezer for Pesach, this will be used for our Purim meal.
Remember an important mitzva of the day is to give charity to those in need that at least equals what you spend on mishloach manos. This is above and beyond regular tithing, and it’s not the place to cut costs!