My Frugal Simcha features reader’s stories about their beautiful simchas – on a budget. If you have hosted a budget-friendly wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Brit Milah or other simcha, we’d love to read about it! Please fill out this form to submit your story.
By Arielle Schachter
From the time my eldest child (a boy) was a toddler, I had decided that for his Bar Mitzvah, we would host a large Kiddush and call it a day. I had been to several beautiful ones in my shul and I thought I knew what I wanted.
Back then, when I was younger and more sleep deprived, I did not actually consider that a Bar Mitzvah also includes hosting people for Shabbat meals, and having everyone sleep in my home or the homes of my friends.
Fast forward about nine years and the Bar Mitzvah was looming and we had to make some decisions. We are blessed with four children, in the span of 3.5 years. So that means, we have a Bar Mitzvah, and then 5 months later, a twin girl B’not Mitzvah, and then a few years break until the next. All good stuff, but the expenses add up quickly.
We started to price caterers to do this fancy Kiddush I had always envisioned. The price of a catered Kiddush, and catered Shabbat meals was overwhelming to say the least. We were expecting to host 30+ for dinner, 60+ for lunch and the entire shul for Kiddush. Once I picked my mouth up off of the floor, we decided to revamp the entire event.
I am a big fan of shopping locally when possible, so I started with our local restaurants. As it turns out, our local Israeli restaurant does catering, and they were able to prepare a beautiful and unique Kiddush for the shul.
Instead of the typical salads, pastas, cholent and kugel, we had trays of wraps, 5 different types of salads and the restaurant’s world famous (to us at least) chummus. Since we were serving wraps, people had to make motzei over the wraps, so we included challah rolls for all from our local bakery. Everyone commented on the unique Kiddush, and we saved over a thousand dollars doing it this way.
Originally, we were going to have Shabbat meals at the shul. But the cost was way out of our range to have it catered and I did not want to do the cooking myself and make myself crazy. In addition, our shul does not have a cleaning crew until after Shabbat. So that meant if we had dinner in the shul, my husband and I would be sweeping the shul basement at 11pm. No thank you!
In the end, we called around and it turned out that the local Chinese restaurant does catering as well. We hosted Shabbat dinner in our home and the cost was a fraction (a tiny fraction) of the price of a typical Shabbat meal. Instead, we were able to order copious amounts of delicious Chinese food and everyone was happy. After the Kiddush in shul, we were also hosting all out of town guests for lunch (approximately 60 people) in our home.
After researching all of our options, we ended up ordering deli trays from our local Shoprite which has a massive kosher section. Truthfully, we could have done without the deli trays, after the huge delicious shul Kiddush, but we had no way of knowing that. We had delicious deli trays, a fruit tray and a vegetable tray back in our home, where we had set up as many tables as we could squeeze into the space. It was a casual lunch that lasted for hours.
Now to the clothing. Clothing six people for any event can be pricey. But in this case, we got very lucky. My parents wanted to pay for the boys’ suits and the girls’ dresses so that was taken off of my hands. I am still not one to spend anyone’s money freely, so when we took the girls shopping, we got lucky at Burlington. You can buy dresses there for $25 or less. We bought two adorable dresses and were thrilled.
But then we came home and lo and behold – in my daughters’ closet we found a beautiful hand me down dress from someone. We are the lucky recipients of many hand me downs from our shul members. The dress was so pretty, that both of my girls wanted to wear it. We actually returned one of the dresses to Burlington and one girl wore a beautiful hand me down. I was hoping at the Bar Mitzvah, a friend would claim that dress as her hand me down, but no one did (I even asked around).
My husband wore a suit that he already owned and I was able to clothe myself for about $80 (including new shoes). I borrowed a hat from a friend who is very fashionable, so I saved even more.
The final piece of our frugal simcha was the photography. I put the word out on Facebook that I was looking for a good local photographer who wouldn’t break the bank. The magic of Facebook smiled on me, and friends pointed me towards someone in town who was just breaking into the business. We met up and sealed the deal to be her first guinea pigs.
Since we had another simcha just five months down the road, I figured that the worst that could happen is that I would hate the pictures and I would hire a different person in a few months. Well, I was thrilled with the photographer. She was new, but knew exactly what shots she wanted to take and how to pose us. I did not hate one photo of myself which is a small miracle.
As soon as we saw the photos, we booked her for the next simcha. I will not tell you what I paid, but let’s just say that we were rewarded for being the first client.
Ask For Help
My final tips for a frugal Bar Mitzvah would be to ask around for money saving tips. By asking everyone I knew, I discovered that we have a local tablecloth gemach. By using them, we were able to have beautiful tablecloths for my home and for the shul. The gemach is free but they ask for a donation to a special tzedakah and we were happy to contribute. My friend’s teenage daughter did my makeup for me, and our friends all pitched in by decorating the shul for us, hosting friends, and bringing over treats.
It was a wonderful simcha and we felt that the focus was on the Bar Mitzvah boy himself and his accomplishments, rather than stressing over a fancy party that we cannot afford (or can afford, but has no meaning for us).
Arielle Schachter is a nurse/homeschooling mother of four who is happy not to follow the crowd (unless they are headed towards ice cream). She and her husband live in New Jersey.