As I was saying before I fell asleep a couple of nights ago, Purim is a lot of fun. And it can be done fairly inexpensively, but it often ends up costing at least somewhat more.
Costumes are easy. Keep a bin for costume type clothes, whether you hit the stores for leftover costumes on November 1st, check out Value Village (I once got a Pakistani silk suit for $7 that I wore a 2 or 3 times for Purim), or just toss in bits and pieces of adult clothes that would make a jazzy kid costume. Of course you could go all out and rent a really fancy costume from a costume supply place, but there's no need.
Giving charity to 2 people isn't optional, but you don't have to give a fortune. I usually give $18 each these days because the numerical equivalent of "chai" (life) is 18, but when I was a single parent with 3 school-age kids I sometimes gave $10 apiece.
Then there's mishloach manot, the gifts of food. At it's most basic the mitzvah is fulfilled with 2 types of food given to one person. But you also usually want to reciprocate and give a basket or bag to everyone who gives to you. And 2 items of food looks pretty skimpy, so you toss in a few nuts and a couple of candies to go with the cookies and the cake and pretty soon you've spent at least $20 on food. Plus most people try to package the food attractively and that also costs money. I've often bought brown lunch bags and drawn on them with coloured scented markers as an inexpensive packaging alternative.
This year I'm faced with the school fundraiser. For $5 per household you can send to as many people as you like. The school (read: a group of mothers) puts together boxes and baskets and volunteer drivers deliver them for you on Purim day. If up to x many people send to one family they get a small box, if more people send to them they get something bigger, and so on up to a few really big baskets that usually go to the rabbis. I'm sure each small box costs the school less than $5 to put together, so it's a great fundraiser for the school.
I went online and made a tentative list, totalled it up and found it would cost $75. Plus I'm already committed to buying a dozen cookies from another organization for $20 (also a fundraiser, and one I've supported for several years). Now, $75 is more than I would spend on the bags and contents if I packed them myself. I use the cookies in the bags, but would probably spend about another $30 on everything else I'd need (including a few extra cookies because a dozen isn't enough). So the convenience cost of doing it through the school is about $45. I still haven't decided what I'm going to do.
A month after Purim comes Passover, the 8 day festival that commemorates the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We eat matzo (kind of like a large flat cracker, made of flour and water and baked very quickly in a very hot oven) to remember how we left Egypt in a hurry and didn't have time for our bread to rise. That, in and of itself, wouldn't be too difficult.
But we also get rid of all our bread, pasta, cereals, cookies, etc. that contain flour made of any of the 5 grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt). The pots and pans and dishes that we use throughout the year get put away and out come new sets of everything that get used just over 1 week per year. The whole house is cleaned to get rid of every crumb that may be hiding in a pocket, under a sofa cushion or on the floor. The kitchen gets very special treatment. It's intense.
We have 2 seders, special meals where we read the story of the Exodus and discuss it. I host the seders for our family because we're the only ones that really keep kosher and we normally have 14 people before we even get around to inviting any guests (and usually we have a few of those as well). The food bills at Pesach are horrendous. We only use very special dairy products, supervised from the time of milking. We eat a lot of meat during 4 full festival days plus Shabbat and a couple of semi-festival days. Normally we only eat meat on Shabbat. We go through a lot of wine and grape juice because you each have to have 4 cups at each seder, plus there's kiddush on all the other festive meals, which you say over a cup of wine. We have a lot more people over than we do the rest of the year. It all adds up.
I figure I usually spend about $1,000 on Pesach food and related products plus about another $400 to board Dog for 10 days. He can't eat his usual food if he stays home and I don't think his tummy would do too well on matzo and tunafish (some of the human tummies have issues after a few days of matzo). Besides he loves where he goes. The dogs aren't crated or in a kennel. They have the run of the house, dog beds in the family's bedroom, go hiking through the woods for a couple of hours a day, can eat a gourmet raw food diet, play outside with the other boarding dogs and the 3 family dogs on their fenced acreage and just generally have a riot. I'm surprised he ever wants to come home. And I know there are places that charge as much or more but keep the dogs in wire and concrete kennels and runs and feed them Dog Chow. At best, I might save $5 per day. Believe me, it's not worth it.
But how do we pay for it all? That will be the subject of Part 3, Parnassah.