Being thoughtful on a budget

Inexpensive Etiquette

by Rebecca Rogge

From dinner invitations to birthday parties, life is full of situations calling for good manners and inspiring benevolence towards others. Sometimes, however, it can feel like the cost of etiquette is sneakily high for a $20 bottle of wine as a hostess gift here, a $5 birthday card there, wrapping paper, thank you cards, get well flowers, etc. The list goes on and on, and suddenly you've spent hundreds of dollars on the seemingly inconsequential. But what should you do? How do you keep your costs low while maintaining etiquette that would make your mother proud?

Hostess Gifts

When you are invited into someone's home, whether for a dinner party or a casual get-together, old-fashioned courtesy dictates you bring a small token to express your gratitude and brighten up your harried hostess's evening. Usual suspects include a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, or a scented candle, costs of which can quickly add up for the social butterfly. The key to saving on these expenses is to plan ahead, instead of running to the store on the way to dinner at friends' and grabbing the first item you see. Many stores offer bulk discounts, like saving 10% when you buy six bottles of wine. If you purchase the extra items, you'll have them on hand when you need them. Or, buy local; an inexpensive bottle of local wine implies more panache and thoughtfulness than a cheap, recognizable brand. When candles go on sale at your favorite retailer, stock up; assess how often you receive social invitations (once a month? every two weeks?) and purchase accordingly.

Cheap Correspondence

The popularity of snail mail may be declining, but there's nothing like a heart-felt, handwritten note to express gratitude, love, or congratulatory wishes. Unfortunately, the cost can quickly add up after purchasing cards for seemingly endless events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baby showers, and so on.

To recognize these events without breaking the bank, try purchasing cards in bulk. Instead of individualized cards sporting cheesy, pre-written messages, purchase a box or two of heavy-weight cards featuring your monogram.

Alternatively, explore custom-printed cards; many online retailers offer a wide variety of individualized cards at reasonable prices. Also, keep an eye out for bargains to popular paper product retailers. Around holidays like Christmas or Mother's Day, these stores often offer discounted prices on all the cards in the store, making it the perfect time to stock up on cards to cover occasions for the next three or six months.

Perfectly Priced Presents

It's the age-old etiquette quandary: you're invited to the baby shower, birthday or engagement party of an acquaintance, and want to bring a gift but have no idea how much to spend or what to buy. First, set a mental limit. Don't allow yourself to feel guilted into purchasing something that is more expensive than you can afford. For many recipients, consider a gift card; these can be purchased online at a discounted rate. For close friends and family, keep a list of birthdays with you when you're shopping; when you come across a great deal that would appeal to a particular family member, snatch it up, cross it off your list, and store it until the next birthday.

Frugal Florals

Buying flowers can be tricky. Fresh flowers can't be purchased ahead of time and rarely go on sale. Getting a good deal on flowers isn't impossible. If you buy flowers often, keep an eye out for discounted certificates to florist chains from deal sites like Groupon or Rue La La. Certificates can be stashed and saved for a later date. Scope out local grocery stores and notice which ones offer overpriced wilters and which feature fresh, frugal posies, so you'll automatically know where to go when you make your next flower purchase. Dress up basic blooms by removing the standard-issue cellophane and wrapping them in brightly colored tissue or wrapping paper, tied with a ribbon. Or, if you have a garden, clip your own flowers for a fresh, frugal gift.

The key elements to remember when navigating social situations are to plan ahead and to put a personalized touch on whatever you're giving. Never feel obligated to give a gift you can't afford, but always take the time to make sure your recipient knows you're thinking of her, no matter what the occasion.

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