Simple Birthday Celebrations

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January is when I am always thinking about birthdays, since it’s my birthday month!  When it comes to my birthday, I am prone to be a diva about it, stretching my birthday into my birthday week and even month.  To clarify, I don’t expect or even desire material things.  Cards are nice, but gifts are totally unnecessary.  Simple acknowledgement is the best, though.

What I DO like, however, is to be able to lord over household decisions with the announcement that, “Well, it’s MY birthday!  (Or birthday week, or birthday month).”  I want to call the shots on what we have for dinner and what games are chosen for family game nights.

When I turned 50 last January, I played it up more and desired a bit more hoopla, but still no gifts.  This year, I only turned a boring 51, so I was much less interested in making any sort of big deal about my special day.

With birthdays on my mind, here are some ideas for reducing the cost and simplifying birthday celebrations.

Focus on special treatment

Whether it is a child or an adult, everyone likes to feel loved and receive special treatment.  Focus your birthday preparations with that in mind and you will be on the road to saving money and simplifying.  I like the “Queen/King for the Day” approach.  Let the birthday girl or boy know that on their special day, they get to be in charge.

Manage expectations

Since “special treatment” can mean different things to different people, it is helpful to manage expectations.  For children, you can say things like:

  • For your special day, you can choose the meal we prepare at home.
  • What one special gift would you like to request for your birthday?
  • What game or movie would you like for your birthday celebration?
  • Would you like to choose one friend to share your celebration with?

For adults, you might also need to rein in unreasonable expectations.  You can ask similar questions to the above.  The main thing is that you are getting on the same page as the birthday girl/boy about what they would like and what is reasonable given the household budget and time constraints.  I mean, who wouldn’t like a week-long cruise to celebrate their birthday?  That might be reasonable for some folks, but not most folks.

Give gifts of time

There are clearly material girls (and guys) out there, for whom “show me the money” is the way to their hearts.  Most people, however, are more interested in connection and being able to spend time with the people they love.  Preparing a meal, playing a game, doing a puzzle, taking a walk – these are examples of ways you can simply give the gift of your time to your loved ones.

Share a special meal

Birthday celebrations don’t have to involve restaurant meals, but they could if that is your preference.  At home, you could make a dish that is the birthday person’s favorite, or just a dish that is made only on special occasions.  Using the nice dishes or dressing up the table with the “special occasion” napkins and décor can also help highlight this special day.  And of course, a celebratory dessert might be just the ticket.

With young kids, they might enjoy being part of the preparation.  Making personal pizzas, or simply helping with the meal prep can be an enjoyable experience.  The main thing is letting the child call some shots (remember, they are royalty that day!) regardless of how weird the meal combination might turn out to be.

Beware the trappings of kid birthday parties

One way birthdays get out of hand is when planning a young child’s birthday party.  When our daughter, Rowan, was young, we had small-ish birthday parties, because both sets of grandparents lived close by.  We would invite our friends and family members, and perhaps a small number of children who were Rowan’s friends.

As homeschoolers, we conveniently missed out on the obligation to invite the whole class to any celebration.  And really, with appetizers, beer, and wine, the parties were a good bit of fun for the adults, too.  Even still, we did fall prey to the trappings of kid parties.  Each time, we would choose a theme (dinosaurs was one theme!), and we did succumb to creating party favor bags for the children a couple times.

After three or so of these party years, I suggested we do things differently.  Instead, we let Rowan choose an activity and invite a friend or two along.  Not only was this less expensive, it was way less hassle and waste.  No more one-use tablecloths and silly party favors.

Rowan never expressed dismay at not having a “real party,” and actually, she grew to dislike attending other kids’ birthday parties.  (Extra awesome, as I very-much-totally-and-utterly dislike parties!) 

Our “invite a friend” tradition has mellowed even further.  During the few years we were RVing, we were often away from home during Rowan’s birthday week.  Instead, we’d let her find some special activity to engage in where we were currently located.  In essence, it was “Queen for the Day” on the road.

Spend wisely on greeting cards

Have you noticed lately how expensive greeting cards are?  I’m still firmly in the “paper” card camp (versus ecards), but Geez Louise, cards are expensive.  Years ago, a local Hallmark store was going out of business, and I happened to notice the signs and stopped in.  I bought probably two years’ worth of birthday cards for 75% off – what a score!  It was pricey in the moment, but I saved hundreds of dollars over the course of the next couple of years by not having to buy cards.  Heck, I saved on the cost (time and money) of running the errand to GET cards, too!

The point is, cards are expensive.  Looking for ways to economize on greeting cards is a worthy adventure.  I enjoy picking out humorous birthday cards, but for other occasions, I am more likely to use beautiful blank cards to express my thoughts.  Depending on how you like to use greeting cards, consider buying lower-cost sets of cards that can be used for multiple occasions.  You can also buy extra cards when they are on sale, even if you don’t have a particular recipient in mind.

Spend wisely on wrapping, too

If you have ever read my thoughts on holiday wrapping, you know that I simultaneously think gift bags are the Devil and the greatest thing since sliced bread.  When I receive a gift in a gift bag, I experience a secret thrill, because I know for a fact I’ll be reusing that gift bag and saving money.  But I also shudder, because I hate that the person spent money not only on a gift, but also for tissue paper and a gift bag.

If you aren’t careful, you can easily add $10 or more to the cost of a gift through the purchase of cards, tissue paper, and gift bags.  Maybe that is ok with you, especially if you enjoy making lovely gift presentations.  Me?  Not so much.  My preference for birthdays is to buy as inexpensive a roll of birthday-looking paper (neutral is best!) as I can find and use it over and over until it is gone.  My family has accepted this quirk of mine, and no one is complaining.

The bottom line is that you CAN find ways to give cards and wrap gifts that are less expensive and better for the planet.  Think outside the box!

Don’t forget charitable donations

For the adults in your life, don’t forget that making a donation in their honor might also be a welcome gift.  I know it is MY favorite gift!  I would much prefer that a worthy organization receive a donation of whatever size over a material gift for me.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate receiving gifts, I do!  But my practical and minimalist nature just gravitates toward the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.”


What ways have you found to make birthday celebrations simpler and less costly?  Share below!  Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your thoughts!

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*Photo is not mine.  I don’t wrap gifts that nicely.

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