Birthday Extravagance or Frugality?

There are two sides of every coin — even a birthday one. In going through birthday themed news articles recently, I noticed one emphasizing frugality and another explaining birthday excess.

Since Carlie Faulk’s column for USA today is called Frugal Family, we can’t be surprised her message is to “make birthdays special, not expensive.”

She encourages a focus on experiences, noting “after years of planning in-depth activities for birthday parties, I finally realized that my kids were perfectly happy with free time to play with their friends. They didn’t need a lot of fancy, expensive activities to have fun….Give them a few resources, such as water balloons, basketballs, footballs or even chalk. Then step back and watch their imaginations work.”

Birthday Party Pressure

But what if you kid imagines a lavish birthday party? No wonder 58 percent of parents say cost is their primary worry in the run-up to a child’s growing a year older.

“Parents feel pressured to not only impress their children but other parents too,” parenting expert Juanita Cleare said about the statistical findings.

Yet two Moms interviewed in Scotland about throwing parties for kids said they want to be extravagant to celebrate their children.

Dundee Mom Nichola Queen treats her trio of little ones to birthday parties with clowns, face painters, and or bouncy castle because she didn’t get to have her own parties.

“My birthday is three days from my older sister’s. I never had a party when I was younger and I hated the feeling, and I didn’t want my kids to have that,” she told the Daily Record. “So I spend that little bit more giving them something I never had.”

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Lisa Soyusinmez, a mom near Glasgown, even gives her kids’ bedrooms a makeover to match her party theme. They’ve done Sleeping Beauty and Superheroes and spent as much as $1000 USD for the events.

Lisa has lost her own parents and brother and said she wants to go all out to let her children know they are her world. “I really go crazy in a good way. In the month building up to the birthday, I get them excited and make them feel special – because they are special.”

Seven Parties a Year?

For another perspective on the parent overseeing a birthday consider the plight of a mother of seven children. Four celebrate a birthday in the same three-week period, and two even on the same day (but they are not twins, there are 12 years between them). Her big challenge has been trying to do something different for each one. She noted, “Irrespective of the fact that they have enough siblings for a ready-made birthday party already, each child still looks forward to celebrating their respective birthdays with friends and classmates.”

Honestly, planning seven distinct children’s birthday parties a year would probably be the end of my love of bdays.

6 Tips to Control Birthday Party Costs

birthdays on a budgetPhoto credit: Kid’s Birthday Parties via Foter.com/ CC BY

Birthdays are often an excuse for extravagance. Celebrities might spend $5,000 on a cake or buying an $187,000 playhouse for their six-year-old. Or maybe you know families that hire a yacht for their 10-year-old’s party or host 50 kids at Disneyland for the day — 50!

Yet there are those of us who want to try and keep the birthday spending on a tight budget. After all, it’s the thought that counts, right? Plus, paying off credit card debt or keeping up with the mortgage payments is probably more important than a big, blowout bash for a nine-year-old.

Pop that Birthday Budget Balloon

Here, then, are six strategies to help you keep birthday party costs under control:

Accept Assistance.

No, there is no federal assistance program for party planners. But, you likely have friends and family who would be willing to help:

  • Instead of paying $70 to a bakery, ask a friend to contribute a freshly baked cake.
  • Ask grandma and grandpa to suggest some old school games that will save you from paying for a roving arcade truck or a big bouncy house out back. Kids like to play, after all. Maybe offering them some options they haven’t encountered before will win points for novelty while also giving family members a chance to prove they’re still pretty awesome.
  • Invite young cousins and neighborhood friends to be crafty and draw or paint decorations for the party. It will look homemade, sure, but the birthday honoree will also feel the love of their family and friends whenever they look about them.

Party Outdoors.

If you’re looking at a warm weather birthday, you might host a movie night on screen in a backyard, a field day at a neighborhood park, or an obstacle course in the cul de sac (having warned the neighbors first). These options are more affordable and again will encourage creativity that can make your party distinct.

budget birthday

Photo credit: ND Strupler via Foter.com / CC BY

Think Strategically about Timing.

Planning a party over lunch or dinner might suggest you will be offering a meal. Inviting folks between 2 and 5 saves you from this expectation — snacks will likely do the trick.
If you are going to serve food, keep the menu simple and find a friend who can let you borrow their membership to a bulk store such as Costco or Sam’s Club.

Price Package Deals.

If celebrating the big day is happening at a party venue, shop around to see who offers the best deal. Sometimes a party sticker price seems more expensive than a competitor. But compare it line by line to see what’s included in each offer.

Plan Ahead.

By keeping an eye on sales you can often find party items at reduced costs. This is a good way to keep control of party decoration costs, paper supplies and plastic cutlery, and anything that goes in the loot bags (if you decide your guests can’t go without swag).

Go Digital.

Spending money on paper invitations and envelopes, plus postage (if necessary) is an unnecessary expense for the budget conscious. It’s easy to set up an electronic invitation online at a site such as Evite or Punchbowl.

Budget Birthdays Special Too

Of course, the easiest way to cut party costs is to cut out the party. But, if that simply isn’t going to fly with the birthday boy or girl you are feting, take another take and keep the guest list small.

Yes, I believe I everyone deserves a big day on their birthday — but that doesn’t mean anyone should have to break the bank to make it happen.

Birthday Cake Gets Family Kicked off Plane

 

In unhappy birthday news, there was predictable social media outrage last month over the news of a couple being kicked off a flight for behavior surrounding their cake. Apparently JetBlue bumped the family en route to Las Vegas to celebrate a 40th from their flight because the proper storage of the birthday cake they were bringing along with them caused a ruckus.

Cameron and Minta Burke of New Jersey were traveling to Sin City to join up with family to celebrate Minta’s 40th. According to news reports, they brought a buttercream cake from a NYC bakery along too.

Only, where to put this birthday yumminess proved a big deal on board the flight. One flight attendant apparently asked them “nicely” to move the cake from one overboard bin to a second one. So Cameron did. Then, he was asked to move the cake underneath the seat in front of him. He did so.

But, then a second flight attendant got involved, and things got more difficult. Cameron told the news that he approached the flight attendants and “said everything was fine,” and was told, “this does not involve you.” When he was told he was being “non-complaint” he apparently asked one attendant if she’d been drinking, “because her behavior was not normal.” He probably regrets that question in retrospect.

Family Birthday Fun?

The video the family shared of the incident, shows them being interviewed by Port Authority police. Oh, and the couple’s children are there, one of them crying throughout all of this.

The icing on the cake, though? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one). Minta is wearing an “It’s My Birthday” tiara throughout.

Now, as big of a fan of birthdays as I am, I don’t believe your special day justifies bad behavior. JetBlue counters this family’s complaints with a statement that the family was agitated and making false accusations about the crew.

Still, it’s difficult not to agree (from outside of the situation) with Cameron’s words on the video: “For a cake? A cake? I moved the cake. It’s a birthday cake.”

This particular birthday cake caused this family to be kicked off the flight, their flight refunded, and their trip rebooked while the rest of the flight had to go through the boarding process again.

That’s a big deal for a birthday cake. Reading it was a regular buttercream cake (which is my least favorite), I offer the following suggestion to those traveling for a birthday surprise in the future — settle for local. Mina’s chosen West Village bakery may be a big deal in NYC, judging by its website, but in Vegas it seems safe there is another bakery available to make the cake. Or just have the specialty cake when you’re back home!

 

 

Sharing Birthdays at the Office

Birthdays are for celebrating with fun, flair, love and laughter. If I didn’t believe this, I probably wouldn’t have a blog devoted to birthdays.

Happily, I have some examples of people taking advantage of this special day to give their co-workers an extra helping of attention and affection. Loyal readers already know I am a big fan of feting people at work, if the individual decides to ignore my personal rule to not work on your birthday.

Office Birthday Fun

One recent blog post I saw featured a site devoted to discovering “a fresh approach to style through fun ideas for the wardrobe and home,” taking its own advice for an employee birthday.

Under the boasting headline, “We just took office birthdays to a whole new level,” the blogger talked about taking the weekly office meeting out of doors for a picnic at a table with fresh cut flowers and a breakfast taco spread. The coffee choices were also immensely important as the blog clearly has a product placement angle for an espresso machine…Nevertheless, the images are lovely, and the birthday celebrant probably enjoyed being made to feel extra special on her birthday.

office birthdays

Birthday Co-Worker Collusion

Those watching Good Morning Britain recently could actually see Kate Garraway having a good time on her birthday as her coworkers surprised her on the program’s set. The Sun reported her kids and her parents joined the host live on air for her 50th. Her co-workers also treated her to a plate of doughnuts, a present, and a highlight reel of her past career on television. This included some memories even the host groaned and grimaced over!

office birthday
Plus they offered the national show’s audience at home a glimpse of Garraway during her school days. This reminded me of the practice in several cultures of shaming the birthday person on their big day.

Related reading:

Employee Birthday Benefits

30 Today? Have a Pepper Person

Brace for a Birthday Flour Storm

Birthday Games Around the World

In my research of birthdays around the world, I was recently reading Barbara Rinkoff’s (1967) book on this topic. Although there is some gender stereotyping in here that makes me cringe — one activity is labeled as being for “boys and tomboys” — I appreciate her thorough overview of how one might celebrate birthdays with a global perspective.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the country-specific games she suggests for kids’ birthday parties. Maybe you can get some ideas from these to entertain young ones on a birthday or any other day.

Birthday games

Photo credit: januartha via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Birthday Games in Brazil

This one from Brazil is one of my favorites from the book: Hit the Penny. Put a coin atop a broomstick or bamboo pole stuck in the ground (or, inside, into a tree stand). Draw a circle about 3 feet in diameter around the pole. Kids then stand 4 to 6 feet from the stick and try to knock the coin from the pole using pennies. Knocking the coin off the pole and outside the circle = one point while inside the circle = no points. Me, I’d tweak that last rule and make inside the circle one point and outside three to make the game more competitive for all.

Another from Brazil, the one for boys and tomboys actually, is Luta de Galo (Chicken Fight). Two players stick a hankie into their waistband or belt and fold their right arms across their chests. They then try to get the opponent’s hankie while hopping on a right foot only and using only the left hand.

Fire and Finding Stuff Games

Bird’s Alive is a unique one from Denmark, where apparently they are more open to children and flames. Children sit in a circle and pass a lighted paper or stick to one another saying “Bird’s Alive” as they do. They may blow on the paper or stick to keep the flame alive but the player who is holding the stick when the flame goes out must pay a forfeit. These typically involve being silly — dancing with a broom, neighing like a horse, or crying like a baby.

The English game Hunt the Thimble is easy to set up and could be challenging. Everyone playing leaves the room while a thimble is hidden. The children are signaled to return. The one who finds the thimble first is the winner.

Games Requiring Concentration

Germany’s Kommando Bimberle has everyone sitting around a table. One child commands “do this with your hands” or “don’t do this with your hands.” If listeners do the wrong thing, they must put something of their on the table. When a previously specified number of things is on the table for one person, they must again pay the forfeit (a la Demark). (Am I the only one who sees this one as training for strip poker?)

An Israeli game of skill involves placing a bottle on the floor. Children take turns kneeling on a chair and, with one hand behind their backs, trying to drop peanuts into the bottle. This game is aptly named Peanuts in the Bottle.

Energetic Birthday Games

Japanese children play Hanakago (The Flower Basket). Each child is given a name of a flower. They must remember this throughout the game as they sit on a chair or pillow in a circle in the room. The child who is IT does not have a chair. IT calls out two flowers and those two children must switch seats quickly while IT tries to claim one of the two available chairs. IT may also call Hanakago which forces all players to find a new seat.

In the Philippines they play Pusa at Aso (Cat and Dog). All the players sit in a circle as cats. One child sits in the middle and is Dog. He or she guards a pile of shoes, sticks or stone standing in for bones. The cats try to sneak one of the dog’s bones from the pile. Dog tries to protect them by tagging cats, but Dog cannot move around the circle and can only use his hands and feet to touch the cats. If a Cat is tagged, that Cat becomes Dog.

Birthday Games

Photo credit: David Maddison via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

South Africans form a wide circle of girls with a circle of boys inside facing out towards their girl partners. An extra boy, IT, is in the center of the circle. He winks at a girl and she tries to get to IT before her partner tags her. If she reaches IT without being tagged by her partner, her partner becomes IT. This Knikkertjie (Winking Game) could easily be played without the gender divisions and just partnered up children.

Ultimately, the lesson learned from this variety of games is that the world is full of creative ideas. And, even more importantly, that we know how to have a good time at birthday parties!

 

 

 

Birthday Cake Ban – Seriously?

Birthday cake debate

Photo credit: mandarinaAsesina via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Another birthday tradition is poised to bite the dust.  In the midst of the current dietary campaign against sugar, birthday cakes are facing ban from the school classroom.

Yes, I’ve written before about school’s banning the practice of sharing birthdays at school due to concerns about time taken from classwork or worries about creating an expectation of providing snacks for the entire class. But today’s blog is inspired by a Daily Mail story about a Mom’s complaint that 85% of the families in her child’s kindergarten class voted against bringing cake to school on the special day.

The mother didn’t want her child having sugar overload either. Yet, doing the math, she noted that with 20 kids in the class it would work out to a cupcake every two weeks — at most.

“Why can’t we just let kids live?” the mother wrote.

Another parent commenting on the post added: “The world has officially gone nuts.”
So long as those nuts aren’t in a cake being handed out to a small child in school!
The kindergarten in question wasn’t going to stop celebrating student birthdays — thank goodness — but planned to do so with sugar-free snacks.
Yes, there are plenty of fun, healthy alternatives to make a child feel special on their big day. I’m not opposed to a school taking a vote and ridding a classroom of sugared sweets, as long as they don’t do away with the celebrating all together.
Yet, the Mom’s words “can’t we just let kids live” resonate with me. Are we parents or police? I worry sometimes that the advice we get about how to insure our kids will be healthy and successful is taking the parenting thing too far. I am trying to go with moderation as my mantra (although anyone who saw me actually slicing my own piece of a birthday cake would be welcome to remind me of those words before I dig in!).

Tips for Handling Tandem Birthdays Tips

Brits Christine and David Lilley, turned 75 in 2016 within three days of one another. To celebrate, they did a tandem jump from an airplane. What an impressive way to shuck off the “getting old” blues!

The news of their brave leap, though, put me in mind of another aspect of planning a special birthday — handling the tandem birthday. Perhaps this is spouse’s having birthdays within days of one another (as with the Lilley’s). Or, the more likely fraught (unless you are the spouse of someone as obsessed with birthdays as me) shared birthday day or week of young siblings.

In my neighborhood there is a family of five with four birthdays all in December. Another neighbor’s two kids are both January born. So, what’s to be done to be sure each birthday gets the ba-ba-boom it deserves?

One Mom’s group considered the question for its community suggested separate parties will help each child feel special. Yet, they did caution that it was a good idea to weigh the financial considerations and gauge the ages of the celebrants in making the choice. Other advice was to ask the children what they want — maybe sharing sounds good to them. But definitely let them each make their own guest list.

 

In a WhatToExpect.com forum on the topic, people suggested that the kids share their birthday parties until they are old enough to complain. Others added that giving each child a separate cake and avoiding joint gifts help. One respondent posted a pic of a 25-year-old and a 1-year-old both getting their own smash cakes!

Another post in a different parenting discussion thread on the issue offered great advice: “Long story short: be open to any/all ideas, including your children’s.”

By the way, while searching the web for shared birthday tidbits, I came across this jaw-dropping world record. According to Guinness, “the only verified example of a family producing five single children with coincident birthdays is that of Catherine (1952), Carol (1953), Charles (1956), Claudia (1961) and Cecilia (1966), born to Carolyn and Ralph Cummins (USA) all on 20 February. The random odds against five single siblings sharing a birthdate are one in 17,797,577,730 – almost 4 times the world’s population.”

Tweet: The random odds
against five single siblings sharing a birthdate are one in
17,797,577,730 – almost 4 times the world’s population.