Birthday celebrations are meant to be fun. However, they often turn into expensive nightmares with wasted food and unnecessary gifts. They also come year after year, which means the waste continues for years to come!
My older daughter turned four last week. It was also the first time ever that we had a real “party” since all the others in the previous years have just been family gatherings. Needless to say, I was incredibly stressed about a number of things – the primary one being the money my friends and I might spend towards this one little girl’s party and secondly, the amount of unnecessary gifts and clutter that would land in my home as a result.
I planned over weeks and weeks and even lost a few nights of sleep over it, but it worked out really well in the end. The real reason it worked had less to do with the actual party and had more to do with the “approach” for the party.
In this post, I hope to share just that – my “approach” — with the hope it will help some of you have less complicated, less wasteful and more enjoyable birthday parties. So here are my takeways from my most recent experience.
1. Start planning early. Set expectations early.
In order to have a simple birthday party, you need to plan early. By plan, I don’t mean decide the menu or party favors, this is more about setting expectations; sitting together with the birthday child to learn about what he or she wants for a party.
After all, these parties are to make them happy, so understanding what they want is key. Planning early will give you time to change, modify or work with your child to manage or change some expectations as well.
My four-year-old had never really had her own party and had very few expectations. She knew she wanted a “party” with friends but said nothing beyond that. Since there were so many unknowns, I told her early on that “we will indeed have a party. It might be a small one, but it will be BIG fun.”
If you have a child that wants an absolutely HUGE party at an expensive place with expectations you cannot handle, getting an early start on the “planning” should help you plan a celebration that both you and your child will enjoy.
2. Talk about priorities – yours and theirs.
Once you’ve re-adjusted any high level expectations, it’s time to get into some details. But where do you start?
Start with yourselves! Find our what the absolutely highest priorities are for both your child and you. Think of this step a simple negotiation. Start by listing the two highest priorities for yourself and your child. If your child and you differ largely on your priorities, this step might require some work.
When I asked my daughter what her two absolutely highest priorities were, she said “cupcakes and goody bags.” As someone who absolutely detests the wasteful goody bag concept, I had no idea what to do. But I figured this was an opportunity to negotiate my own priorities, considering I could creatively manage the goody bag situation.
I then explained my own priorities, which were “no gifts and doing some good.” She did not scream in protest, but she wondered a bit about the no gifts part. I told her that one of the best birthdays I had growing up was the one in which I took sweets and gifts over to an orphanage and shared it with the kids there.
When I took time to explain the fact that I’d really like her to have a similarly awesome experience, she jumped on board. Her friends could bring along small items to contribute to her toy drive for the children’s hospital, and in turn, we (my husband and I ) would buy her a gift she would love.
We had $1 watercolor sets from Michael’s for her goody bags.
Photo by StaunchThrowback
3. Define a “celebration” — spread the joy and take pride.
Birthday parties can be incredibly simple if we change our perspective from it being a “party” to it being a “celebration.” This holistic approach will make the party planning SO much easier.
As you plan the party, take time to talk about the years that have gone by, the milestones and memories of people and experiences from previous celebrations. Children cherish what we cherish, and they learn to love the things we value as their parents.
For my four-year-old, her birthday was about friends, fun, and sharing gifts with the sick kids in the hospital. Planning early helped us talk about her birthday as ALL of this. She beamed with pride every time I told a relative or a friend about her choice to forgo her own gifts for the sake of the kids in the hospital.
4. Involve the family
Having a simple, frugal birthday party could be hard if you are going against the norm and expectations of friends and the extended family. Involve the rest of the immediate family in the birthday discussion — this will make the process a little easier.
My husband was completely energized when we told him about the toy drive — all of a sudden, the whole celebration became more fun and meaningful. The fact that we were doing something nobody else we knew had done didn’t seem to matter. (My more demanding two-and-a-half-year-old made no mention of her missing princesses and fairies either.)
5. Communicate with friends
Explain your approach to a few close friends, especially if it involves them in some way (such as with our no-gift policy). Since it was my daughter’s first party, and it was going to be quite different from a normal party, I wanted to have individual conversations with a few friends. It helped them understand my perspective, and it helped me feel comfortable with my own decisions. It also gave them time to explain the no-gift concept to their own kids.
6. Simplify the actual party – less is more.
If you’ave done everything you can up to this point to set simplified expectations, the actual party planning should be simpler. As a busy parent who has set up minimal expectations, make choices that are easiest on you. Remember, most kids just want to have fun and eat cake.
Choose one fun activity based on what you can handle. Choose a time of the day when kids are happy.
My daughter created her own labels for each goody bag. They did not look perfect, but they were handmade by her. We stuck with simple sandwiches and fresh fruit for snacks.
7. Enjoy the day!
Having worked so hard to plan a perfect day and celebration for your little one, remember to enjoy the day yourself.
I say this because I had to tell myself that plenty of times. Having grown up in a culture where we were taught to over-care for our guests, I have a really hard time not stressing out when I host an event.
8. Close the loop
A celebration does not end with just the party. Talk about why the day was so much fun, both with your own child as well as her friends. And take notes on the best parts for more fun and meaningful birthday parties in the future.
At the end of the day, we had two big gifts for my daughter — a few books from friends that insisted on bringing something for her, and a whole big box of art supplies for the kids at the children’s hospital. I felt immense gratitude towards our friends who had contributed not only to the toy drive for the sick kids at the hospital, but also towards giving my four-year-old a valuable experience.
We are excited about sending everyone a thank you card and a picture with my little one at children’s hospital.
Do birthday parties complicate your life? What are YOUR ideas for a simple, inexpensive and meaningful birthday party?