Happy Birthdays on a Budget

by Miriam Reed

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There are certain times of year when living on a budget is harder than usual, and my children's birthdays used to rank right at the top of the list. Birthdays are supposed to be special, and for much of my life, special has meant expensive. When my oldest daughter had her first birthday, my husband and I spared no expense to make her birthday party special, right down to the matching cups, plates, and birthday hats! Of course, she was sleepy, irritable, and more than a little overwhelmed by it all. When my second daughter's first birthday rolled around, we were a one-income family struggling to feed ourselves everyday, let alone everyone we knew. But this was our baby's first birthday, so we pulled out the credit cards and had our usual blast!

Well a lot has changed since those first birthday parties. Our financial IQ has gone up and the size of the birthday bashes has gone down. Surprisingly, scaling back our birthday celebrations has made them more enjoyable by putting the focus back where it was supposed to be all along and that is on our children. Now my husband and I can actually enjoy our kids' birthdays instead of frantically running around trying to buy food and decorations for fifty of our "closest" friends and family members. (And we also enjoy not getting those dreaded "party charges" on the following month's credit card statement!) Here are some ideas to make your child's birthday more special, not just more expensive.

  1. Have a cake cutting. Our family first tried this on my oldest daughter's second birthday. It was a big hit! Invite everyone over for cake and ice cream, and have only cake and ice cream. If your guests know what you are serving, they can eat before they come. The party goes by much quicker (no waiting forever to cut the cake), and the cake and ice cream are all most kids want anyway.
  2. Have a private party. Private as in only the people who live in your house. This has become our personal favorite. We buy a small, decorated one layer cake from the grocery store for less than $10. We buy party hats and blowers. We sing happy birthday, blow out the candles, and open the presents! Of course, you could make it even more affordable and fun by baking your own cake.
  3. Have a slumber party. Another variation on the private party idea is a slumber party. How often does your entire family get together in one room, and stay up all night eating, laughing, and talking? Kids love to stay up late, so pop in a movie, pop up some popcorn, and party into the wee hours of the morning!
  4. Plan a family field trip. If your child has a favorite place like the zoo or skating rink, plan a trip for their birthday. If you really want to go all out, plan a trip to a nearby theme park. You could even invite one of your child's friends to tag along.
  5. Send birthday announcements. Many friends and relatives don't remember your child's birthday until they get a party invitation in the mail. Make cute cards announcing your child's birthday and include a recent photo of them. Keep one for yourself as a special memento of your child's birthday. This is also a great way to distribute those school day pictures that you keep forgetting to give out!
  6. Give the gift of time. Nothing will make your child feel more special than your undivided attention. From sunrise to sundown, spend an entire day with your child doing the things they like to do. Eat their favorite breakfast, play with their favorite toys, watch their favorite video, and even take a nap with them!
  7. There's no place like - hotel! Now this is certainly not the most affordable option, but for older kids, this can be a blast! Go to a nice, local hotel (preferably with a pool) and spend a mini-vacation enjoying your child's birthday. Depending on the day of the week and time of year, you may find a pretty good rate. And lots of places include breakfast in their room rate.And if all else fails…
  8. Have a birthday party! Sometimes there is nothing like a good old-fashioned birthday party. But the truth is, it doesn't have to be so expensive. If you are smart, you can cut back on the decorations (no matching cups and plates), shrink the menu (hot dogs and chips anyone?), and have a great time! Check out Boardman's Birthday Party Ideas at boardmanweb.com/party/ for lots of great (and inexpensive) party themes, decoration ideas, and games.

Birthdays are special because they are a celebration of the greatest gift you will ever receive, which is your child. Remember, birthdays are supposed to be fun, not stressful. If your child is old enough, ask them what they would like to do for their birthday. The answer may pleasantly surprise you! Whatever you do to celebrate, you can't go wrong if you keep the focus on spending time with your child instead of spending money on decorations. So relax and put the "happy" back in your child's birthday. You'll be glad you did!

Take the Next Step

  • Looking for discounted party supplies? Check out Shindigz discounted and clearance items with party supply savings up to 85%.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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