Some time ago, for close friends, we started making certificates for birthdays and special events. We invite the recipient to join us for an activity that we think they would enjoy -- miniature golf, bowling, or lunch and a movie. I just gave one for a sleepover with the promise of a full ice cream sundae bar at the house. (Having ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries at the house is far more economical than a trip to Coldstone, so we always try to have all the fixings on hand.)
Coordinate with the parents beforehand and get a date for the activity. You can make the certificate on the computer or the kids can make them for their friends. I have made certificates for my friends, too, for babysitting, or delivery of a home-cooked meal. I've even made them for my husband. Last Valentine's Day, he got a certificate for a hike in the nearby mountains and certificates that allowed him complete authority over the remote control for the evening. Guess which got redeemed first?
A former state deputy attorney general and current stay-at-home mom, Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla has three kids and ten years of experience stretching one salary to cover the necessities and more. She's all about saving money whenever you can, so you have it to spend on whatever you want!