Growing up, I always hated the fact that I had a December birthday. I felt like “my day” got lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Now, as a parent, it’s very important to me to make birthdays special for my children. It seems like the trend these days are huge, extravagant events to celebrate the birthday boy or girl. This is not only time consuming and stressful, but also very, very expensive.
I’ve tried to come up with a way to make birthdays special and memorable for my children without breaking the bank (or my brain). Here are a few of my tips:
- Let the birthday boy/girl have control. It doesn’t cost anything extra to let them choose what they have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. They’re going to eat those meals anyway, so unless they choose something crazy like caviar or filet mignon, it’s a relatively cheap way to make them feel special.
- Have their birthday party during the week. This one is especially great for children are not yet school age. It’s much easier to have a party at 10am on a Wednesday than on a weekend. Not only does it reduce the guest list (dads and older siblings don’t tag along), but it also makes the whole event feel less rushed than a weekend or evening party.
- You don’t need to carry your theme through every little detail. I always stock up when I see solid colored plates and napkins in the clearance aisle. I’ve used orange (from after-Halloween), blue and red (from after the 4th), and yellow (from after Easter) plates and napkins at birthday parties. Streamers and balloons are very cheap and easy, you can even get them at a dollar store. And, you can reuse generic birthday decorations (well, not the balloons). If you buy a giant Lightning McQueen banner for your son’s Cars birthday party, you can never use that again. If you get one that just says “Happy Birthday!”, you can use it for every birthday in your family for years to come.
- Make one thing that is awesome and memorable. For me, it’s the cake. For some people, it’s a game or activity. Even before my first child turned one, I knew I wanted to make a 3D cake for each of my childrens’ birthdays. There are countless ideas online — one of my favorite sites is www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com. I also pull cute cakes out of magazines and save them in my magazine file for ideas later. Here are a few of the cakes I’ve made over the years:
- Don’t go overboard on activities. You don’t need to hire a magician or rent a bounce house to make a birthday party special. Kids have just as much fun running around playing tag as they do jumping in a $200 inflatable. It’s just unnecessary. Or, if you really want to have some things planned, an old-fashioned game of musical chairs, duck-duck-goose, or pin the tail on the donkey is sure to elicit fits of giggles.
- Goody bags are easy to make for free. There’s no rule that says each one has to be identical. Get some small bags and fill them with random things you have around the house: extra boxes of crayons or markers, a tub of playdough from that multipack you never opened, small picture frames, notepads, books, Happy Meal toys; the possibilities are endless. I especially like things that you can pick up for free at festivals. We live in a town that has tons of festivals, and we always end up leaving with a bag full of notebooks, whistles, stamps, and random toys for the kiddos. These are great things to use to stuff goody bags. And, if your child’s birthday falls soon after a candy-filled holiday like Halloween or Easter, you can throw in leftover candy too.
- Have your child pick a free activity for the whole family to do. Most kids love spending quality time with their family. You can let them pick something to do that doesn’t cost any money. A few ideas might be: game night, going on a nature walk or hike (these can even be fun in the winter, just bundle up), a family bike ride, feeding the ducks somewhere, take a bucket of pebbles to a lake and throw them in (this one is more fun for the younger kids), playing a sport in a park, sledding, building a snow fort, baking cookies, make a card table fort in the living room, draw a giant game board on your driveway with sidewalk chalk and play. I have a friend that took her 2 year old to a construction site on his birthday and let him watch the excavators for a while, because that’s what he was into at the time. You could also do something similar with a farmer plowing or a fire station (many are open to the public, call and check first). The most important part is the whole family being involved. Bring the camera and take lots of pictures to document the day. These are the kinds of things that make the day super special.
All in all, there are so many ways to make birthdays meaningful without spending much. When you are making your plans and jotting down ideas, stop and think “how much would that cost?”, and consider whether there is something cheaper or free that you could do instead.