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Spent Mama: For kids' birthday parties, simple traditions take the cake

Erin Guerrieri
by Erin Guerrieri , Dimespring 30 (@scoutingjoy)

Before my children were of the party-going age, a friend warned us of the “birthday party circuit” he and his family were experiencing with their then 1-year-old. He explained a trend in which parents were seemingly trying to outdo each other with bigger and better birthday parties, often resulting in things like a 2-year-old's birthday party with a slew of petting zoo animals, jumpy castle, character appearances and a life-sized tiered cake that likely cost more than my wedding. When he further explained that the merits of the goodie bags were being compared by the other parents, my jaw hit the floor.

Logistically, the size of our family limits the number of birthday parties my kids can even attend. If we went to every party each of the four kids gets an invite to, we’d be spending all of our weekends at parties. We also simply cannot afford to buy gifts for each of those parties. I love getting the “no gifts, please” invitations because not only does it jive with our own personal philosophy of “our kids do not need any more stuff!”, but it also means that we can go and celebrate with that friend without feeling a financial obligation. And goodie bags? Again  our kids do not need any more stuff.

READ: Spent Mama: Kids earn their keep with household chores

As far as how we handle our own kids’ birthdays, it’s getting trickier as they get older and more aware of what their peers are doing, but my husband and I think our parents were onto something with the simplicity factor. When I was little and had actual friends (kindergarten), I invited four or five of them to my house, where my mom put pretzels in a bowl and made a homemade cake. My friends and I played with each other and with the toys that already existed in our home.

The focus was on friends and celebrating, and while I’m sure I was excited about getting a new Lite Brite, I don’t remember many of the things I received. My memories are of my family and friends and the time we spent together and, bonus: my parents didn’t have to go into debt to create those memories.

READ: Spent Mama: Sneaky school costs

We’re obviously still developing our traditions and until now we’ve only had family birthday parties, but I hope we don’t lose sight of the value of memories and quality time. That’s what I want my kids to take away from their childhood birthdays, because that Lite Brite just didn’t last that long.


How does your family handle birthdays? Do you pull out all the stops or lean to the modest side? I’d love to know how other families tackle these celebrations!

Erin Guerrieri, aka Spent Mama, is a mother of four children (all under the age of 5) who blogs regularly about her journey as a mom on a budget. Erin is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.