Every year we tweak our approach to the kids' birthdays. As infants and toddlers it was nothing more than a day with mom and dad (we both own our own businesses), an outing to a favorite place (the beach, museum in Milwaukee, Day trip to Chicago) and a home cooked meal with their favorite foods.
With preschool came the pressure to "throw a party". A few times we rented a venue, invited 20+ kids, and let chaos unfold for 2 hours. For dual career parents flying without any grandparent assistance, this was doable. It took very little of our time, but felt over indulgent.
This year we went with a home party and a smaller number of kids for each party. My husband was delighted to see the furnished basement we've been paying for since buying this house in November 2010 finally being put to use (the kids have been too scared to play down there until recently). We also gave the kids a budget of $500 to cover: gifts, party, and supplies. Any remainder would be cash for them to save, spend, and or donate. Why the budget? It's a hidden gift, giving our kids the power to spend, and learn from overspending. We rather they make money mistakes at 9 rather than 19.
After watching his sister spend money on a lot of party favors (which she did not regret), he took a more austere approach:
- homemade cake which he helped to bake and decorate -- toppers ordered of of Amazon, recipe is Betty Crocker Midnight Chocolate (he gets it every year)
- Evites saying "let's reconnect" before school starts
- Guests built Lego free-style cards upon arrival, that were then raced down a homemade ramp
- Guests took plastic bracelets and did a modified ring toss over Lego towers
- Dinner of pizza (using Feed an Army $26 coupon from Rocky Roco's), corn on the cob, and melon.
- Prizes were given out to Lego Race winners, with 1st selecting 1st, from a stash of over-sized candies;
- Candy and popcorn consumed with watching Lego Batman movie (purchased at Barnes & Noble with a 30% off coupon plus another 10% off for being a member)
Connections were reinforced, friendships strengthened, and fun was had. Our son received all his presents, ordered off of Amazon Prime. I used my Amazon Prime credit card, which is paid in full each month, receiving 5% cash back that will be added to our travel fund.
The experience of having a budget for a party forced the kids to think about what resources at home we could use. For example, the ramp was a huge piece of cardboard that had been in the garage since we bought the house, coated with black spray paint purchased for a bat house yet to be mounted. We could see the wheels turn behind their eyes -- do I need to spend money on fancy plates when we have plain paper plates at home? One kid said yes, the other no. Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, but about maximizing your spending power to enjoy your time on this little blue dot sailing around the sun.
His actual birthday, with a 2nd cake. Happy 9th our love, next year it will be double digits.