NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you've worked in an office, chances are you've celebrated colleagues' birthdays and other life milestones with expensive lunches out, cakes, gifts and more. Although it's always nice to have a chance to party, co-worker celebrations can really add up.
In a survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam, 75% percent of executives said employees are asked by peers to contribute money to pay for celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and retirements at least once per year, but requests sometimes come as frequently as once a month or even once a week.
"Though it's common for employees to pool resources to plan informal events and festivities to acknowledge personal milestones like staff birthdays or weddings, it's the frequency and amount requested that may cause employees to feel tapped out," says OfficeTeam Executive Director Robert Hosking.
If you're sick of spending too much to raise a glass with office friends, there are a few alternatives and ways to bow out gracefully. Experts weigh in with five alternatives to expensive office celebrations.
1. Don't be afraid to ask your boss to foot the bill
"If you want things to change, just tell your boss nicely, 'I want you to take me out to lunch,'" says Yorgen Edhlom, CEO of Accellion, which hosts monthly birthday lunches for everyone on staff.
"Don't be afraid to ask. If your boss isn't doing anything to celebrate, then it's time for you to ask. It's not like you're asking for a $5,000 or $10,000 raise -- it's a $10 or $15 lunch," Edhlom says. "Most employers will be grateful that you asked. It's important for you to feel good about the company that you work for."
Companies are always trying to figure out the next "smart thing" to do when it comes to making employees feel special, Edhlom says. Most realize that the "small gestures" such as a birthday lunch or cake really mean a lot to employees, and they'll do it if they can.
2. Say that you want to start a tradition
If the company won't pitch in for celebrations, initiate your own ideas, says Kirk Sears, managing partner at International Executive Recruiting.
"Find an accomplice or two and say, 'I'd like to suggest starting a new office tradition,'" Sears says. "Suggest a theme of 'Gifts for $1,' which are funny and easy to give. You can go to the dollar-store and pre-buy for the whole year for $20."
If buying cakes, pizzas or other unhealthy items are the problem, it's OK to say, "Hey, I want to eat healthy, I think we should stop the whole birthday junk food thing," Edhlom suggests.
Just make sure you don't offend someone who really looks forward to having cake.
"Some people are really passionate about those celebrations, and they may want an even bigger birthday cakes with even more whipped cream, so make sure you get a group consensus first," he advises.