I have a love/hate relationship with my babies’ birthdays. As I’ve mentioned before, this celebration stuff is a big honking deal for me. With four children, that could easily become oppressive. Maybe that’s dramatic, but at the very least, it’s a lot of opportunities to get irresponsible with our money and be generally overwhelmed. Especially today, when the nefarious duo of social media and consumerism tells us that everything is supposed to be An Event.
A couple of years ago, I started a new system for birthdays. You may have to tweak it to work for you, depending on the ages of your kids, the timing of their birthdays, or literally any of the other ways in which you and I are different, but this is what works for me:
Our kids’ birthdays are spread somewhat nicely throughout the year, so we get to plan by fiscal quarter. We had babies in April, August, October, and December. All year, I set aside at least $20 from every paycheck for the birthday envelope. Sometimes it’s $40, if there’s not a lot of time between two birthdays, or we have bigger than usual plans. Occasionally it’s $10, if that’s what circumstances dictate. But the bottom line is, every two weeks, like clockwork, I am tucking away something for the next birthday, and while I don’t track it to the penny, it always seems to work out pretty fair.
Have you ever had a kid’s birthday sneak up on you? Not like you forget their actual birthday, but you forget to plan for it, because life is so busy and going by so fast? Knowing the money is slowly and consistently being accrued helps a lot with that! Three of my kids’ birthdays come around major holidays: Easter, Halloween, and frigging CHRISTMAS. I am frequently shook by how much their Uterus Liberation Day sneaks up on me. Do you have any idea how much I am thinking about birthday cake and party hats when I’m neck-deep in unstuffed stockings and hijinking elves?
Of course, I have to save more aggressively for that one, too, because mid-October and Christmas do not have as many weeks between them as say, Christmas and Easter. Another strategy I have used is to front-load the Christmas “birthday savings account” in January, so that nobody is feeling more or less celebrated than anybody else.
Now that I’ve got birthday money to spend, what do I do with it? Well, let’s start with things I do not do with it:
- Breathtaking bakery cakes
- Goodie bags
- Pinterest-worthy decorations
- Party packages at trampoline parks, etc.
We give them a choice: a simple party at home with friends (basically a play date with cake and balloons), or a family outing. The more elaborate your party, the less gifts you will have to open from us. Usually, this translates to some very simple decorations, activities, and a homemade cake. Why? Because my kids like presents. They would rather have something special to open and keep, than customized water bottles and matching paper straws. Family outings can be more elaborate, because we are only taking ourselves out for a good time. Over the years, we have done things like zoo memberships, trampoline parks, and the arcade. All of which would be impossible to pull off with a dozen of their closest friends.
*I did promise each child a Chuck E Cheese or similar birthday party, limit one (1) per lifetime. The year they choose this, that is their party and the bulk of their present from Mom and Dad, so they are advised to weigh their options carefully. So far, only one child has done it. We planned it for an off-day for lower rates, and did not purchase any additional decor, etc. When you choose to party at the kid casino, you get cake and a designated driver, the end.
Do you like fancy cakes? I sure do! I have very little talent for it, and even less training, but I decided to make it my Thing, anyway. Every year, we scour Pinterest for the perfect cake: something that suits the birthday child’s current interest, but isn’t so overly complicated that it turns into an episode of Nailed It.
Some years, I crush it.
Some years, I have a new baby and a lot of “help” from the birthday child.
Regardless, we have fun, we make memories, and with so many kids to bake cakes for, I get a little better at the craft every year. Decorating supplies are not terribly expensive, and I plan ahead and use Michael’s coupons to cut costs further. It costs about $3 to make a massive tub of marshmallow fondant, and all of my favorite cake recipes work fine with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour blend. Someday, I will learn to work with gumpaste, but for now, clean plastic characters sit on cakes just as well. I rarely spend more than $10 on this endeavor, as it is meant to be eaten.
I have a profound, almost irrational hatred for goodie bag fodder (as does every parent I know), so I like to plan activities with a take-home component. We have done stuffed animal adoptions, painted canvases, and fire station tours, where they give out free hats and activity books. One year, we did a punch piñata, which was filled with things like cans of playdoh and puzzles from the dollar store.
As you may have guessed, I have birthday on the brain. Darrling #3, AKA: Fire Marshall, is going to turn five(!!). For the first time, he chose a party at home. I will do a post next week on our celebration, but it will incorporate everything here: homemade cake, activities over plastic doodads, and some unforgettable memory-making. I am so excited to celebrate him, and very excited to share the results with you!