Until fairly recently, I was the “fun money” provider in my household, and life was pretty good. While my husband covered necessities like food, shelter and monthly bills, I was more of the cruise director, paying for extras, like trips to Dairy Queen, splurges at Target, or new clothes for back-to-school.
Then, like many people, I lost my job. Nowadays, we make do with far less, and that means cutting corners and denying requests for many things we would have purchased in the past. It’s all gone fairly well, until my son’s ninth birthday this week. Not only, I realized, would I have to pull off a birthday celebration on a tight budget, but I’d have to be OK with that.
It’s one thing to live cheaply on an average day, but your child’s birthday? The Mommy Guilt set in.
While we never over-indulged our kids on their birthdays, I knew we’d have to scale back even more this year. Would my son still feel special? By getting creative, and losing the guilt, I decided yes. Here’s what I did, and what you can try:
Downsize the party — By the time a child is 9, the huge, whole-class parties are almost a thing of the past, anyway. Even if we had been more flush, I would have suggested more of an intimate hang-out with my son’s best friends. That said, we opted to let him take a handful of friends bowling, order a pizza, then come home for store-bought cupcakes and ice cream. And I ditched the party bags, finally. Total cost: $75.
Get creative: The night before, after he had gone to bed, I hung streamers from my son’s bedroom door, and scattered balloons in the hallway. I bought a ‘Happy Birthday’ banner and set it up in the kitchen. He was thrilled with it all. Total cost: $3.
Do the unexpected: I’m normally all about eating a healthy breakfast, but I mostly skipped that this year. My son was thrilled to see a bag of mini-donuts on the table (yes, along with some fruit). I also made a homemade mini-pizza to put in his lunch, instead of the usual PB&J. Oh, and he got to watch cartoons before school — another usual no-no. Total cost: $5.
Look for deals: I found a great digital watch at my local Big Box retailer for just $10. It works great, and made my son feel “old.” He was thrilled, and I looked like I spent more than I did. His sister gave him a multi-pack of gum, which sounds cheap, but when you’re 9 and don’t usually have gum on hand, it’s a little slice of heaven. A quick trip to the dollar store unearthed a few other finds to make him smile. Total gift cost: $15.
Stop comparing: If there’s one thing that will get moms into heated debates, it’s Birthday Wars. It’s so easy to compare your child’s birthday to another’s, especially as parents drop more and more money on these celebrations. Stop comparing your birthday plans and budgets with your friends’. Make your child’s day special, in your own way, and let go of the need to Go Big.
Years from now, I’m sure my son will look back fondly on his low-key ninth birthday, at least as much as the others spent at jump centers or roller rinks. If you have to go low-budget for your child’s birthday, yours will, too.
Other articles by Karen Kinsey:
How I beat tween procrastination syndrome
Sticking up for your kids: Do’s and Don’ts
5 surprising results when you ban video games