Posted by: chroniclesofgrace | June 16, 2011

8 Ways to Make Family Birthdays Great on a Budget

We were flipping through photo albums a while back and I almost laughed out loud at all I did for my kids’ birthdays when they were too little to even remember any of it.  My older kids first and second birthdays included guests lists that often topped 50 people, commercial party favors and decorations, jump houses and anything else that the glossy catalogs could talk me into.  Now, I have nothing against these kinds of parties today, but looking back we really couldn’t afford the expense that these would take and often went into debt to “keep up with the Joneses”.  All of my children’s friends had these types of expensive birthday parties and somehow I it seeped into my brain that if my child didn’t have one too(and invite all the friends who had invited them to their parties) then my child would be scarred for life and become a social outcast(not that I ever said these things outloud:).  Like so many things, it comes down to a matter of the heart and motivation.  Why am I throwing this party? to impress others? to make myself feel good? so my child will like me? Does it fit in with the goals we have for our children and family?  Do we have the time and finances for it? Will this make an already self-absorbed child more self-absorbed?

As so many things in our lives changed when my husband was called to go to seminary, this area of our lives did too.  There was no money in the budget for large parties and with four children whose birthdays are spread throughout the year I could quite easily always have always been planning someone’s special day.  It took some time, but eventually I came up with some guidelines that work for our family. 

1) You don’t NEED to have a party every year for every child!  Once I truly realized the truth in this guideline, there was such freedom!  We could celebrate & recognize the child’s special day without going through all the expensive and time intensive hoopla! And guess what? None of my children have been scarred or are social outcasts!  So, for our family, we switch off each year.  Our boys get parties one year and the girls get parties the next.  What surprised me was that they didn’t even seem to mind…on their “off years”, we still celebrate, but it’s as a family and usually involves a fun family activity.  Other families we know only do big celebrations in birthdays that are the multiples of 4 or 5.

2)When you do have parties, make a budget beforehand.  Determine what you can reasonably spend BEFORE you start planning.  If you don’t, you may find that you have spent way more than you had planned. If your budget is limited here are a few areas that will give you the biggest cost savings:

  • Although it’s tempting to buy the invitations from the store or online(they are just so cute!), it is often cheaper to make your own from the computer with paper you already have on hand or simply purchase some from the dollar store.  If you are really short on time or money, just call or e-mail the invited families. In reality, one of those invitations MAY make it into the scrapbook, but the rest will be thrown away by the parents when the party is over.
  • If your child has chosen a certain character or theme, only purchase one character party item(ex. cake plates) and then purchase the less expensive solid color coordinating napkins, cups, balloons, tablecloths, etc from the dollar store. 
  • Homemade cake or cupcakes are always cheaper than store bought.  (Ex. box of cake mix plus frosting adds up to under $5 vs. $20+ for store bought cake.  Making from scratch is even cheaper!)  If your child really wants a certain character for their cake, purchase the special candle from the party store of the character and you will still be money ahead.
  • By scheduling your party in the late morning or early afternoon, you can get away with not serving a meal.  Some simple snacks, drinks and your cake will be plenty(and what kid really remembers what kind of food they are served anyway?).
  • Schedule some type of craft project during the party that will be the party favor for the guests to take home rather than a full goody bag.

3) When you do have parties, keep the guest list short! You don’t have to invite every friend or acquaintance that your child has ever made or even everyone who has invited your child to their party in the past year. This year my oldest turned 10 and he was allowed to invite 1/2 his age in friends(5 – not including siblings).  Keeping the party smaller cuts down on the expenses, cuts down on the number of gifts(really what child in America needs MORE clutter, I mean toys?)  and actually gives the birthday child a chance to interact with each one of their guests, making it more memorable for the child and the guests.  At the same time, help your child in planning the guest list and ask them to pray about and possibly invite at least one person who might need a friend(maybe they are new in town, new to your church, don’t seem to have as many friends, etc).

4)When you do have parties, keep the time span short! Marathon parties can tend to test a mother’s sanity and too much free time can give kids a chance to start getting into trouble.  I like to have them in the late afternoon for about 2 hours, which cuts down on the need to serve a meal(see above).  Timeline is often: 1/2 hour for kids to arrive; 1/2 hour for games; 1/2 hour for craft; 1/2 hour for cake & presents.

5)When you do have parties, make them fun and memorable!  I was not blessed with a creative gene, but love to use ideas from those who were blessed with it.  The best thing I’ve found is to invite your child to come up with a theme.  Then do an online search to see what others have already done – no sense in re-inventing the wheel! My favorite sites for this are Birthday Party Ideas , Amazing Moms and The Best Birthday.  The first one has listed themes by ideas, by age and awarded some for their ideas so that it’s easy to read through and see what others have done.  I write down my favorite ideas as well as what supplies would be needed.  I usually try to do some fun games for prizes(usually candy or dollar store items) and the favor is usually some kind of craft project that they can take home(love 2 for 1’s).

6) When you do have parties, coach your child on how to be a good host. Just because the day is to celebrate them doesn’t mean that it’s all about them. They need to have good manners, make sure everyone is included and having a good time, remember to say thank you, learn how to make people feel comfortable and serve their guests.

7) When you don’t have parties, make birthdays fun and memorable! In our home, the birthday child always gets to choose the dinner & the dessert.  We also pull out their baby books and tell them their birth stories and now that they are older, we pray as a family for the birthday child and share what qualities in them we are grateful for.  Fun family activities don’t require a lot of planning or expense either.  I often try to plan to go somewhere that we’ve been wanting to go and make it coincide it with a child’s birthday(trip to a special park or restaurant, a movie, miniature golf, a local theater production, etc) which gives me another 2 for 1:)

8)Whether you have a party or not, make some time on or near your child’s birthday to spend some time in prayer for them, possibly even fasting(though I don’t recommend setting up fasting for the day you make their special dessert:) and preferably with your spouse.  Evaluate and praise God for growth you’ve seen in them; pray for areas of sin that you see in them; choose a specific scripture you want to pray for the coming year; make goals for things you would like to teach them in the coming year; pray for their friendships; their future spouse, their educational and career choices and anything else God may place on your heart. Honestly, this is a newer guideline for me, but one that I am now trying to implement as it will give me a set milestone each year to focus on each child, but I love it because it’s FREE(well, technically it was bought at the greatest price ever, the blood of my Savior enabling me to come boldly before the throne of grace) but also because it also lasts for eternity, long past the birthday itself.

So what traditions/guidelines do you have for your children’s birthdays?

Blessings!

-J

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