How to give this summer while sticking to a tight budget

It’s official. We’ve entered an annual season of celebration. It starts with end-of-the-year concerts and school programs, rolls right through Mother’s Day and prom, peaks with graduation, and cruises right on into summer with Father’s Day and wedding season.

If your family is anything like ours, your calendar is booked solid with parties and open houses and you’re on the prowl for gifts to give to those who mean the most to you.

Nothing ushers the beauty of humanity to its fullest like a spirit of generosity. People long to give good gifts to those they love. The old maxim, it’s more blessed to give than receive, is true. From our earliest years, we loved the way our parents’ faces lit up when we picked flowers from the front yard or drew them a special card.

But generosity and budgets? They can at best be tenuous partners and at worst dueling enemies. Is it possible to give freely without demolishing your own financial goals? You betcha. Does it take time and intention? Indeed.

Planning is key

Here’s the thing. Holidays, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, graduations — while the number and significance of each change from year to year, they pop up on the calendar each spin around the sun.

There’s no reason to be caught off-guard by Mother’s Day or graduation season or heaven forbid Christmas, which comes around every Dec. 25 no matter what you do. For everyone, this will look a little different. Perhaps you will choose to budget for gift giving out of your general spending.

Our family chooses to set aside a determined percentage of our income for the express purpose of generosity (beyond charitable giving). This allows us flexibility to see how much we have in what we refer to as the Generous Fund (not creative but it works) and then give from that amount.

For our family, planning also involves talking about specific dollar amounts for specific occasions a couple of months out from the actual gift giving date. The more planning you can do, the better.

Afford it

Look here. I love your big, beautiful generous soul. Every time someone is running for a cause, you make a donation. When that adorable little girl from down the street arrives on your doorstep selling cookies or candles or candy bars, you just can’t stop yourself. You never miss sending out a birthday card or dropping a dollar or two in the bucket.

I love doing all of the above, too. However, there have been times when we could not afford to give to extra causes no matter how much my heart longed to do so. If you give a gift but then can’t afford to purchase your groceries so you have put those on your credit card, it’s not really a gift.

Tough words I know, but our money has finite limits. Stretching yourself beyond what you can afford to give is not wise and leads to problems.

Stop diminishing gifts

I don’t know when it happened to me, but somewhere along the way I began to add the word “just” to my vernacular way too often. I’m “just” a mom. I’m “just” able to give a small gift. Listen here, if all you can afford to give the teacher at the end of the year is a $5 gift card or a dozen homemade cookies, then that’s still a good gift. You’re still giving to them an acknowledgement of your gratitude for their sacrifice. Of course, we all have been impacted by very good gifts that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

A heartfelt letter of encouragement, a handmade item that comes from your child, or even a small gift card still allows you to offer thanks or congratulations. Every bit counts.

Spread out the cluster

The biggest challenge to gift giving for weddings or graduations (and even teacher gifts at the end of the year) is that we often feel bombarded with the need to give multiple gifts all at once. Even if you’ve planned ahead and budgeted, it can feel a bit overwhelming.

Many years ago, I decided to give high school graduates a special postcard to celebrate their achievements. It was stamped and addressed to me and allowed them to fill out their favorite snacks and school supply needs.

In the instructions I paired with the card, I encouraged them to fill out the postcard when they took off for college in the fall. As long as they included their new address, I would send them a care package when they needed it, filled with some homemade goodies and items they might need. With that care package, I sent another post card.

This allowed me to not only give a meaningful gift, but also to spread out the gift giving to months throughout the year, instead a concentrated period of time.

This spring and summer, live life large. Celebrate the big wins. Cherish those you love. But be wise about the ways you show your generosity by making the most of every penny. After all, the more money you save and budget, the more you’ll be able to give in the long run.