Select Page

How to simplify a kid’s birthday party

Birthday celebrations are supposed to be fun, but they can turn into expensive nightmares full of wasted food and needless gifts. They repeat, of course, year after year, which means the delightful waste can continue for years if we’re not careful.

Good times.

My daughter turned four last week. It was also the first time ever that we had a “real party”—before then, it had just been family gatherings. So, I was stressed about a number of things: one being the money I might spend on one little girl’s party, and second, the unnecessary onslaught of gifts and clutter that would land in our home as a result.

It all worked out in the end, which was less to do with the actual party and more to do with our lead-up to the party.

Here are my takeaways.

1. Plan early. Set expectations early.

By plan, I don’t mean decide the menu or party favors, I mean sit down with the birthday child and ask what he or she wants for a party.

After all, this event is order to make them happy, so understanding what they want is key. Planning early will give you time to work with your kid to manage or change expectations.

My four-year-old had never had her own party and had very few expectations. She knew she wanted a party with friends but had no ideas beyond that. Since there were so many unknowns, I told her that we’ll indeed have a party. It’ll be a small one, but it’ll be BIG fun.

If your child wants a huge party at an expensive place with expectations you can’t handle, planning early will help you plan a celebration that everyone will enjoy.

2. Talk about priorities—yours and theirs.

Once you’ve re-adjusted high expectations, it’s time to get into details. But where to begin?

Start with yourself. Decide on the absolutely highest priorities, both you and your child. Think of this as negotiation; list your two highest priorities. If you and your kid have hugely different priorities, this might take diplomacy.

I asked my daughter about her two priorities, and she said: cupcakes and goody bags. I detest the wasteful goody bag concept, so I wasn’t sure what to do. This was an opportunity to negotiate my own priorities—I told her my priorities: no gifts and doing some good.

She didn’t scream in protest, but she raised an eyebrow about the no gifts part.  I told her one of the best birthdays I had growing up was when I took sweets and gifts to an orphanage and shared it with the kids there.

Here’s how I framed it: I told her I’d really like her to have a similarly awesome experience, like I did. She jumped on board. Her friends could bring small items to contribute to a toy drive for the children’s hospital, and in turn, our family would buy her a gift she would love.

We had $1 watercolor sets from the local craft store for her goody bags.

Photo by StaunchThrowback

3. Define “celebration.”

Birthday parties can be simple if we change our perspective from it being a “party” to it being a “celebration.” 

As you plan, 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 as their parents, they learn to love the things we value.

My four-year-old’s birthday was about friends, fun, and sharing gifts with sick kids in the hospital. Planning early helped us frame her birthday like 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 because you’re going against normal expectations.  Involve the rest of the immediate family in the birthday discussion—this will make the process a little easier.

My husband was energized by the toy drive idea; 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.

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’ve done everything you can by this point to set simplified expectations, the actual party planning should be simpler. Make choices that are easiest on you, the busy parent with minimalist expectations. Remember, most kids just want to have fun, run around, 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 weren’t perfect, but they were made by her. We did simple sandwiches and fruit for snacks.

7. Actually enjoy the day.

Having worked so hard to plan a perfect day and celebration for your little one, remember to relax and enjoy the day yourself.

I say this, because I had to tell myself this many times. Having grown up in a culture where I was taught to over-care for guests, I have a hard time not stressing when I host an event.

8. Close the loop.

A celebration doesn’t end when the last guest leaves the party. Talk about why the day was so much fun. And take notes on what worked for future meaningful birthday parties while it’s fresh on your mind.


At the end of the day, we had two big gifts for my daughter: a few books from friends that still insisted on bringing a gift, and a big box of art supplies for the kids at the children’s hospital. I was immensely grateful for our friends who’d contributed not only to the toy drive, but also toward my four-year-old’s memorable experience.

We’re excited about sending everyone a thank you card and a picture with my little one at the children’s hospital.

by Maya

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Anna

    For three (or is it four years) in a row we have had my son’s birthday party at the beach, about 4 miles from our home. He and his friends love it. We just hosted his 12th birthday party last Sunday and it was a blast. I don’t organize games, but I packed a bag of beach toys (frisbees, paddle ball set, plastic horseshoes, etc.), a big garden shovel, 2 5 gallon DIY center buckets, a big 3-D rip-stop fabric kite, and all of those were used at some point. Many of the boys brought their boogie boards and most of the kids spent a fair amount of time in the surf. We had two cars there so we also put up a sun shelter top, two beach umbrellas, and several folding beach chairs (other parents who stayed brought more chairs).

    Some siblings came along as well as 7 parents (besides my husband and myself) and we enjoyed the chance to chat and catch up over lunch and dessert. The party started at 11am, and because the weather was good and the kids were having fun (and behaving), I served lunch at about 1pm, and we stayed until almost 5pm. I always invite the families, too and about half of them stay at least for part of the time, rather than drop and run. At least 2 other families were still around at the end, so we had lots of help packing up and toting stuff back to the car.

    I baked two different flavored gluten-free, grain-free cakes from scratch the night before (super easy recipes) and “frosted” them both by pouring easy–to-melt & stir chocolate ganache over the tops, then chilling. Before I went to bed I put a 9 pound pork shoulder roast seasoned with only coarse sea salt and ground pepper into the oven to slow-roast for about 12+ at 250°F, then pulled it apart for shredded carnitas in the morning right before I left for the beach (packed in a big warm lidded casserole and wrapped in a couple towels and an insulated bag to keep it hot). In the morning while the roast finished up, I completed the food prep – I made big batches of fresh guacamole (5 large avos) and fresh heirloom tomato salsa from our CSA box, plus cut cucumber slices up for no-chip dipping, as well as rinsed a bunch of of cherry tomatoes. I also packed a bag of GF tortilla chips and 2 boxes of rice crackers, plus 3 hunks o’ cheese to put on a cheese board (English coastal cheddar, Danish Blue, and Chevre); oh yeah, I also opened a bag of toasted and seasoned nori sheet snacks (toasted seaweed similar to the sushi roll wraps) – several kids dug into those. I had two heirloom cantaloupe melons that I cut into bite-size chunks and served one bowl plain and the other dressed with plain coconut milk (oh yum – it was a big hit).

    The beverage was just a big rectangular jug of drinking water with a pull-out spigot from the grocery store and the kids all drank it without complaint (plus one parent brought a big box of hot coffee-house coffee, which was nice for the adults – wish I’d thought of that).

    For the most part the food was homemade, but quite easy to shop for, prepare and transport, and certainly not very expensive – and best of all, was super easy to serve at the beach on our fold-up rectangular table from Costco (forgot the tablecloth!). Everything was easy to eat with just a fork. It wasn’t typical kids’ party fare, but all the kids found something to eat and I didn’t compromise my ideals and serve junk. Everyone always says how nice it is and they keep coming back, with more and more parents staying for lunch each year, so I think it works really well and my son is extremely happy with his parties.

  2. Jen

    Great post! Lots of great ideas in here. I’m bookmarking this for future years. We just celebrated a first birthday for our younger child last weekend, and we had a lot of fun. We made all of the food and kept the guest list focused on her favorite people. It was just the right speed.
    We’ve tried to focus on keeping things simple for both kids’ parties. One thing (that can be free and far more meaningful) that we’ve done for both 1st birthdays is to ask guests for a personal contribution to a time capsule for the child to open on his/her 18th birthday, in lieu of a gift. Their contribution can be a poem, a wish, a story, a photo, or just some artifacts to inform him/her about how life was during his/her first year. The submissions have been wonderful, informative, creative and moving.
    For my daughter’s 3rd birthday, we asked for used clothes and accessories to go into her dress-up box, and now she has a bunch of fun items that have some history to them.
    I share your detest of landfill/goody bags. If we give something at all, I try to make it either imminently useful/usable, or something DIY that’s part of the party.
    To model good practices for both our kids and our guests, we minimize waste at our parties as much as possible, even when it means bringing compost buckets & recycling boxes to the park. The reusable plates by Recycline have really helped, and we just bring them home & run them through the dishwasher.

  3. Debbie

    What great suggestions! I’ve been amazed at how birthday parties for children seem to be over the top these days. As a kid, they were pretty simple and yet …I always felt special.

  4. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    I don’t have any ideas (yet) as we haven’t had our son’s birthday yet. But he turns one in 4 1/2 short months so I’ll be earmarking this post to use as a reference!

  5. Nadene

    How wonderful! I love your gift drive!
    I also hate the goodies bag and all the sweets. We make a little craft kits to do or for each child to take home. Usually it is something really simple and cheap, but fun and in keeping with our theme.
    Our whole family plans the theme, activities and food. We keep it as natural, healthy and as simple as possible.
    Over the years I realized that kids don’t eat the cake! They love the icing and decorations. I’m useless at creating fancy themed cakes, but I let the children build and decorate their cake/ cupcakes and it is such fun!
    Kids all love the good old party games! Pin the donkey’s tail was a hit! Tag, baloon games and team sports are great too.

  6. Sarah M

    We have two children who are still small, but this is something we are pretty stringent on. The kids have “birthday parties” with family only (usually just the grandpa & grandmas and great grandma) and every other year. They are always very frugal. The last one we did was for my son’s 3 yo birthday in June. We went to a local Jazz festival (about 5000 people go to relax, enjoy the community and eat good food!) and I had prepared a simple meal + cupcakes for everyone….that’s it! It was a big hit!
    During the “off” year we have a small birthday dinner for the child with their favorite food and open presents.
    Presents are *always* (for Christmas or birthdays), “Something to wear, something to Read, Something to Play With”. That keeps expectations down, and really, our kids have never been unhappy with the arrangement! 🙂

    Sarah M

  7. Hannah

    This post could not have come out at a better time. I am currently thinking about our daughter’s 2nd birthday. Her birthday is in the dead of winter and so, the option of outdoor party is out of the question. If your readers have any great suggestion for indoor birthday that doesn’t cost an arm (and a leg), I’d love to know. Because we have a large family, we will probably have to do 2 — one for her friends (from daycare etc) and antoher one for family .

  8. Laurissa

    Hate the article, hate the approach. I am so tired of children being used to further hippie agendas and make points. Like it’s the end of the freaking world if a kid ‘gasp’ gets presents for their bday. or plays games and eats sweets! OMG! For gods sake birthdays are one of the few times in childrens’ lives (maybe it’s just mine but I doubt it) when they get to be at the center of things, get gifts, have lots of their friends over to play games and eat cake and get goodies, is it really the end of the world if they get a few new toys or if you have to clean some stuff up when it’s over? I think it’s ridiculous to politicize your own child’s birthday and make it about a ‘lesson’ – there are 364 other days a year for that.

    • vik

      I agree 100%… It’s okay to live life with a “simple approach” but this is just a bit depressing…
      I read a story about this woman who said she never celebrates Christmas because she hates the planning and growing up her parents were hippies so as much as she wanted to celebrate it they always refusd so now she does not celebrate and denies her poor kids a chance to enjoy such a special day. this is what this reminds me of…give your kids a break. I LOVE going all out, I LOVE the look on their face when they open gifts… this is a sad sad post..

      • amber

        Obviously her daughter is not suffering and enjoyed her party very much. I think the point is that kids are just as content with small, simple parties as they are with huge ones. If you’ve ever seen a kid and a cardboard box, you know they don’t need a whole lot to be happy. I have a video of my own sister when she was 3 years old opening her presents and squealing with joy at just tearing the paper off the box. She’d scream “YAAAAAAAY!!!!!!” and “EEEEEEE!” at each one, but couldn’t care less what was inside and tossed each gift more or less over her shoulder as she went for the next shiny wrapping paper and box. She honestly would have been content if each guest had given her wrapping paper and a box! If we set expectations early on that parties are going to be simple affairs they’ll be content with that but if we set the bar super high they’re going to expect that each year and parties are just going to get crazier and crazier by the year as parents struggle to meet higher and higher expectations.

      • Not for me

        I also must agree, this is a sad portrait of a little girls birthday party. I was searching the web for some lower key, less expensively ridiculous party options (as seem to be the way these days) and found this which is the opposite extreme. Yuck! How about some moderation?

    • Jaime Havener

      I agree completely! And my 3 children and their guests love the loot bags!

    • sara

      It’s fine if you want to go all out. It’s a celebration. But looking back at my childhood, I hardly remember the gifts, what I remember is having fun with friends. I personally wouldn’t have wanted anything big just because that’s the kind of person I am. Luckily my kids are the same way and just want something simple like dinner out with the family and a friend or two, or maybe a sleepover with a simple theme. Nobody stresses about anything and just has fun. However, I have friends that do go all out and to me it seems too stressful to enjoy.

    • Pam

      I’m so thankful someone said it! It’s easy to push your sad no gluten/sugar/presents agenda on a 4 year old. Good luck w a 14 year old! Birthdays are special. Doesn’t have to be out of budget ridiculous, but some gifts are healthy. And hating on goodie bags?? Jeez…

  9. Imperfect People in love with a perfect God

    I LOVE THIS!!! I did a similar post but this one is AWESOME. We have a no gift policy too and I can’t imagine having 15+ gifts EVERY year! YIKES!!

  10. Stacey

    Giving my child a birthday party with friends and family is one of my favorite roles, and my birthday boy or girl pretty much has free reign where it comes to the theme and food. I keep it frugal by (inexpertly) making and decorating my own cakes or cupcakes. I decorate the room the night before the party so that my child has a big surprise waiting for him or her when she wakes up on his/her special day. I usually make a special birthday banner and decorations for my child. For the first five years of my child’s life, I save these decorations, along with cards and other memorabilia in a large ziplock bag and put these bags into their special box. I don’t care what theme my child picks (it is not MY birthday party), so Disney princesses, Strawberry Shortcake, Star Wars, and Pokemon have all made appearances. I do not give dollar store junk as party favors and instead try to give small Lego kits, art supplies, t-shirts, etc. All candy and other treats are high fructose corn syrup-free.

    Frankly, I do not feel that it is a good idea to turn a child’s special day into a Morality Play for that child and his/her guests. A birthday is a very special day for a child and, while I think it is imperative that we teach our children to give to those less fortunate, this is a day you should celebrate and allow others to celebrate the miracle that is your child. Moreover, remember that one of your roles as a host is not to make your guests feel uncomfortable. I have been to parties when I have been asked not to bring a gift or to make a donation in lieu of a gift and the whole experience is very uncomfortable. Then to later want to invite that child to my child’s birthday party? I think that this whole idea, while laudable in theory, is just not right. A better idea is to work with your child to donate some of the gifts that he or she did not like as much or a portion of his/her birthday money or gift cards to charity. You’d be teaching your child the importance of giving back but not using your child’s party as a bully pulpit.

    Your children are young right now, and they don’t really understand. But they will someday, and unless you encircle your family with people who believe exactly as you do (also a bad idea), you will either have to change how you celebrate your child’s birthday or isolate your child from friends whose parents are not so like-minded.

    • Noel

      I agree! thanks for posting 🙂

    • Karen

      Very well put. I agree that this is a day of celebration and to each their own, but I use Christmas and sometimes just regular days to go through my kids stuff and donate. Their birthday is HUGE celebration. I make everything myself but we make it a big deal.

  11. Kika

    For my daughter’s recent fifth party we did a book exchange in lieu of gifts and party favors (each child went home with a new book). Food still always seems to end up costing a fair bit, it seems. We made homemade ice cream, homemade herbal iced tea and Nourishing Gourmet’s Brownie Pudding Cake (yum!). The kids painted tshirts with fabric paint (I already had these supplies on hand) and played outside. A nice party, although fairly simple.

  12. Sharon

    I love simple parties-so much less stress and way more fun (for everyone!). We forego the goodie bags and always have a pinata. Whatever comes out of the pinata they get to take home (we usually try to put a variety of snacks and some special candy).

    Our oldest is turning 11 next week. I suggested to him that he could pick an activity to do with a friend in lieu of a party-he JUMPED at that and is taking a friend golfing (with dad) on his birthday…I hope to start doing this with the littler ones, too.

  13. Jennifer

    I actually love to throw parties, so I have to restrain myself for my kids’ sake so that I don’t spoil them to death. They get a “friend-party” every other year, starting at age 4– with tastefully done games, decorations, favors, etc. (No junky goody bags, though!) On the odd years, we just celebrate with cake & ice cream & gifts as a family.

    When we do parties, I’m big on old-fashioned fun. We don’t go to Chuck E. Cheese or rent a bounce-house. I’ve found that what kids seem to really want out of a party is to have fun with their friends, and I don’t think we should have to spend a lot of money to accomplish that goal! We do simple games like hula-hoops, tin-can toss, silly string, bubbles, or playing with slime.

    Also, for money-saving, I never plan on having a meal during the party (even if serving dinosaur-shaped sandwiches or whatever would go perfectly with the theme!) I’ve noticed at kids’ parties that the last thing kids want to do is sit down and eat–it’s almost a chore! They’d rather run around, play games, and have fun; sit down for ice cream or cupcakes; and then run around and have more fun.

  14. Sharon

    I think it’s interesting that a couple commenters had such strong feelings against the no-gift policy…it’s got me thinking this morning.
    We’ve never done that (honestly, because my kids have never wanted to!),but I have thought about it from time to time and been to a few parties hosted by friends that were done that way. I thought about it differently this year when we celebrated our newly adopted daughter’s 5 th bday party. It was her first bday party ever and she was SO excited about it. It was a perfect time for our friends and family to gather and just to completely celebrate her—it really helped me focus on why we do have bday parties-to celebrate people! 🙂
    I guess it depends on the “culture” of your family, or your family dynamics…is your child over-indulged? do they have too much? is their heart not turned toward those in need? or, is your child in need of some affirmation, some positive attention, a little boost to their heart?
    Be a student of your child, and then decide what kind of a party fits them best!

    • Maya

      True Sharon. you said it so so well. It all depends on the family. We have never tied gifts to birthdays. We ALWAYS have bakes cakes and cookies for friends’ birthdays and my kids LOVE that. I get things for my kids when we need them or when I find a good deal. They are certainly not waiting all year to get gifts just on their birthdays.
      As adults, we love to get gifts too – so why wouldn’t kids love gifts, right?

    • Suzie

      ‘Be a student of your child’ great words of wisdom in your post Sharon, I enjoyed reading it. I also feel I must be a student of myself too to see what motivates my decisions about doing my first proper party as my excited child turns 5. I am noticing feeling some pressure regarding parties now my child has started school and parties are getting more flamboyant and expensive, and its interesting to examine the thoughts surrounding i ‘should’ do what is more widely socially expected, rather than what i FEEL to be right and trying to follow that instead. I think the most important thing is that our child has a wonderful day doing what makes THEM feel happiest. If someone feels uncomfortable not giving a present at the request of the other parent, then they need to examine why they themselves feel uncomfortable. Its fine if they request no presents and you do request presents. If something is not done with ‘meaning’, then it is ‘meaning-less’ so I don’t see the necessity for the child to receive 30 presents from all the class mates most of which will never be played with and its extra expense and consumerism. I am thinking about having a party on the beach or making dens in the forest, but I am also excited about going to our friends Frozen themed party with a real singing Elsa. I personally i’d prefer to be in a less materialistic world so less presents is more in our house. After Christmas we had a good clear out of accumulated toys as there was so much stuff the kids couldn’t even see half of it to play with it, and all of us were much happier and had a great time playing with the toys we can now easily access. Our presence with our children is a greater gift than any present we can ever give them. I am grateful to read ALL the variety of opinions on this as I embark on planning a meaningful birthday for my daughter.

  15. LMC

    I’m with Laurissa. What is so wrong with birthday gifts? They don’t have to be expensive. I think it’s good to teach kids about giving to others, and trying to think of a thoughtful gift. I do think this whole approach is more about the parents’ issues than about the child, and that isn’t right.

  16. Ann

    I am with Laurissa and the others. What is wrong with allowing your child to receive gifts on his or her birthday? The author has forced her agenda on her child’s celebration. To me, that doesn’t feel authentic in any way. The child might develop bitterness that her birthday parties and its rules are really all about the mom and what she wants. Yet, isn’t a birthday supposed to be about the child and celebrating that life??? I’m not for being crazy and over the top in extravagance. But allowing a child to be celebrated on her birthday seems in order.

  17. Lisa

    My son is 9 years old, and we have had “friend” birthday parties since he turned 5. Usually it was a party at the local bowling alley, which is one of his favorite things to do. Last year, he told us that he wanted a “home party”. I didn’t really get it at first, but basically he just wanted his friends to come over and play. I was a little worried thinking “can this really be a fun birthday party; how is this going to work”, but it turned out great. Our house is small, but that didn’t matter – the boys played inside and outside (his birthday is December 18th – luckily we had good weather so there were no snowboots, etc. needed). The boys enjoyed just playing together. After all the boys arrived we took their orders for sub sandwiches which we bought from the sub shop around the corner, and we had ice cream and cake. The only other planned activity was a pinata which we set up in the garage – the boys LOVED this!. Their “goody bags” were just bags with the candy from the pinata and a mini football, which were also a big hit. The boys did bring gifts. After the party, my son and I went through his toy shelves to sort out some toys for donation to the Children’s Home. A very simple, inexpensive party which the birthday boy and the guests had great fun! And last weekend, two of my son’s best friends (twins) (who did attend my son’s party) who every year have a huge party at a local gymnastics gym (read: expensive and overdone) had their birthday party at their house with a pinata in the front yard – maybe we’ve started a new trend! 🙂

  18. beth (managing what matters most)

    What perfecting timing. I’m planning a birthday party for my 14 yr old this week. We only do parties including their friends every other year. I really like the point about talking to your child about priorities. Thanks for all the tips.

  19. Kika

    In response to some of the comments totally opposed to a giftless party – I believe there are many ways to celebrate a child without gifts we do not need. Next week I will attend a baby shower (or “meet and greet”); the mother of the new baby has requested new or gently used items to donate to the local women’s shelter as she doesn’t actually need anything for her child. Will this diminish the value of the celebration? I don’t believe it will. Also, I don’t think we need to put our values on a shelf just b/c other people choose to celebrate a certain way. (As in, since most people prefer parties full of plastic toys we must do the same). A further example: we will not go out trick-or-treating this year even though I respect other families’ choice to do so. One of my daugthers has food allergies but I also believe it is a waste of our money and negatively affects our health to eat all that junk food. We have family who struggle to get two meals a day so I have a hard time buying into the idea that just because that is what people do here, in North America, that we must follow suit. The traditions surrounding various holidays/events are also cultural. In the part of Africa my husband comes from, the person having the birthday or wedding would not expect gifts at all but would welcome guests with food and music, for instance. Material gifts do not make or break the celebration. My goal is not to add fuel to the fire but to explain a different point of view.

    • Emily @ Live Renewed

      I completely agree with this. Celebrating a child’s life is completely different than them receiving lots of presents from friends. In fact, I think that random gifts from others could quite possibly take away from the celebration of the child’s life by making them too focused on stuff and what they are getting as presents. It is just perpetuating the materialistic culture that we live in. I don’t want my children to think that they only way to celebrate their life or make them feel special is for them to receive gifts. I want them to know that they are special because God created them that way – a special unique individual person, not one who is defined by their things.

      Celebrating a child’s life can be done through family and friends, games, words of encouragement, pictures, songs, etc. Celebration does not = presents. At least in my book.

      This is a great post! Thanks for all the ideas for keeping the self-centeredness and over-indulgence, that birthday parties can often turn in to, in check.

  20. Jenna

    I love how you involved your daughter in her birthday. I see a lot of parents planning everything out only to find their child wants something totally different. Lots of lucky children at the Children’s Hospital!

  21. Monica

    Life is all about balance right? My daughter is so lucky to be spoiled 365 days of the year by well-meaning grandmothers and aunts that we are very much looking forward to our 1 small gift Christmas. I was already worried about what her first birthday was going to be like so I am SO very thankful for this blog article.

    My primary concern is how overwhelming and scary it can all be when you are just a little one. I think calling it a “celebration” is wonderful. You are celebrating your child’s birth. I think so many of the suggestions are great. Your daughter’s priorities were cupcakes and goody bags, and you delivered! I’m sure if your daughter had said her priorities were gifts you would have altered the party to fit her desires.

    There is nothing wrong with keeping your values in mind when planning a birthday celebration. If your family is vegan you wouldn’t throw a meaty-bbq party, so why would you throw a lavish celebration when you are trying to live a more SIMPLE life.

    Thank you again for this post. I was dreading my daughter’s first birthday because my family expects a lavish party and I now see that we can find ways to celebrate and honor her first year without overwhelming me, my daughter and my husband.

  22. Annette

    Sharon, I like your advice of being a “student” of your child. And I think we can all learn that there are many differing and good ways of throwing a party… I love all the creativity here! This post is an excellent reminder to not feel the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”-type birthday parties, whatever they may be. Looking back at my childhood, there were birthdays when I had a host of friends over, others when I invited my two favorite friends for a sleepover, and others when just my grandparents came and we ate my favorite dinner and cake! EVERYone was special because of the love behind them all! My son just turned seven and for his birthday we said he could invite three friends over for a “Wii party.” Afterall, playing the Wii is his favorite past-time. There was NO agenda, NO decorations…. just an afternoon of playing inside and out, eating some pizza and ice cream cake (which he helped to make), and opening some presents. The boys laughed and enjoyed themselves the ENTIRE time! This worked so much better than his 5th birthday party (Super-hero-themed) when we invited way too many people, had way too many gifts, and there was way too much chaos so that he looked exhausted and overwhelmed the whole time.

  23. Paula@Simply Sandwich

    Bravo!! Parties these days are getting out of control! Great suggestions!

  24. Travel with Kids

    We’ve done parties both ways — with and without gifts — and I think the ones without gifts turned out to be more fun. (There are many variable with each party of course, so concluding that this was all because of a lack presents could be a bit of a stretch.)

    I tend to think that when there are gifts given the focus is on the presents, when there aren’t any gifts the focus is on the fun, the friends — and probably the cake too.

    I will say this however, I think the child has to be a willing participant (which mine always were). If they’re “forced” to go without gifts when all their friends got presents at their parties then this — as some commenters have already written — might foster a bit of bitterness and end up backfiring.

    As well, the one clear plus of having a gift party is for the gift-givers. If it’s done thoughtfully, then buying a gift for a friend can be a really rewarding and enriching experience. If, on the other hand, the parent just runs to the store and grabs the quickest, easiest thing off the shelf, then that’s the worst of both worlds — and I think that’s what ends up happening a majority of the time. And it’s this that has brought about the backlash against gift giving.

    Good post and comments. Thanks to everyone.

  25. Anitra

    We just had a party for my 2-year-old this past weekend! I wanted to do something special and celebrate her birthday with friends and family; but little kids REALLY don’t need a “themed” party or lots of activities. We ended up having 4 other young kids (ages 1-4), some adult friends & family, about a dozen people total. The only decoration was 2 dozen helium filled balloons (which all the kids LOVED), and the only food was cupcakes & ice cream (and some coffee & soda for the adults). No special activities or games at this age, just opening the presents (near the end so the other kids didn’t have too much time to be jealous) and singing “Happy Birthday”. For the rest of the time, we just let the kids run around and have fun.

    I’d say it was a success – my daughter is still talking about it 3 days later, singing “Happy Birthday” and listing off all the friends and family who were there.

    • Lauren

      We’re planning our daughter’s second birthday party for this weekend, and my only plans are a couple dozen balloons and cupcakes as well. 🙂 At such a young age, she doesn’t care about all the extra stuff.

      We’re not against presents, but I hate having useless things around the house. So often, as someone else posted, birthday presents are bought last minute and just end up sitting around. With her first birthday we specifically asked people not to bring presents and bring a side dish/ dessert instead to our bbq party in the park, but it completely backfired. People must have thought I was joking, and so it was really awkward for the guests who respected our wishes and came without a gift. Most people ended up bringing food and a gift, and then I felt bad for them spending more money on a party that was supposed to be so simple.

      We love parties, but this year we decided not to have a big one; instead we’re just going over to my parent’s and inviting a few friends. I didn’t specify gifts/no-gifts, we’ll just donate any Elena doesn’t play with. It’s easier for me not to stress over. It’s a shame we can’t just have a celebration of her birth without the emphasis on presents, but it’s so ingrained in our cultural expectations.

      • Anitra

        I agree with you on the presents. I was happy that by inviting a handful of people, we got (a) fewer presents, (b) presents that fit our daughter’s likes/personality well and (c) nothing extravagant. There may still be one or two that eventually fall by the wayside, but we can generally donate, re-gift, or consign them.

        At this young age, we generally don’t buy our own kid(s) presents for their birthdays; or if we do, we save them for a rainy/bored day. It’s nice to spread out the “new” toys so they’re not so overwhelming.

  26. gretchen from lifenut

    Yeah…I am with Laurissa, too.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong, at all, with getting and receiving gifts.

    For many people, it’s a deep pleasure to find the perfect gift for someone they love.

    I think it is possible to teach social responsibility and empathy any day of the year. Why make that the focus on the ONE day when the kid has the green light to be the star of the day?

    I am all for keeping parties/celebrations small and manageable. Cake and ice cream in our backyard with close friends and family works for me. So does gift giving.

    I think there is room in a child’s brain and heart to be socially aware and to be a gracious, grateful receiver of gifts. It’s not one or the other.

  27. Kelly

    We are torn on this idea as well. Our daughter will turn six in December – we’ve thrown two ‘friend parties’ so far. When she turned 4, it was just 5 pre-school friends over for cake at our house – although – we did ‘kick it up a notch’ and fill our family room with blue balloons for an ‘under-the-sea’ theme. The kids LOVED that! Last year, she wanted to invite MANY more friends from her class and church- and how can you tell a 5 yr. old to pick only her 5-7 VERY BEST FRIENDS because we live in a small house and its the middle of winter so a backyard party isn’t feasible? Luckily, we had a GREAT children’s museum in our town with VERY affordable party rates AND best of all – no limit on the # of kids we could invite. The party was highly enjoyable, but we did end up with TONS of presents that were more or less junk that were donated to goodwill 6 mo. later. We’ve since moved to a bigger city (unfortunately our house isn’t that much bigger than the one we lived in before) BUT with higher price tags on birthday party facilities. We’d like to try out the donations idea instead of gifts (especially because her birthday is right before Christmas!) – but the bigger question is: how do you host an affordable friend party that the children enjoy without leaving any friends out AND not breaking the bank in the middle of winter??

    • Stacey

      I have had issues with this as well! My daughter will turn 6 on December 12. Last year, she wanted to have a Strawberry Shortcake party at our rather small house. I intended to invite just the girls in her pre-K class, only to find out that my daughter went ahead and invited the boys! Eleven kids RSVP’d “yes”. I spent the next three weeks coming up with lots of strawberry-related party games (think “strawberry and spoon” race). I found a 24-pack of glitter glue at the local Staples and used them as “prizes” (everyone got one and they were highly prized). Kids each took home some of the plastic strawberries we used in the games, organic strawberry lollipops, strawberry shortcake gummies, and their glitter glue prize. For cake, I divided the kids between my kitchen and dining room. I gave each child a plain cupcake and put out tons of frosting and decorations. While grownups supervised, the kids decorated their own cupcakes. WOW! WHAT A MESS! Make sure you roll up any rugs before the kids arrive! We then sang “Happy Birthday” and the cupcakes were gone in about 60 seconds. The party was over by 3:00 — we had everything cleaned up in about 30 minutes and then relaxed the rest of the day.

      I think you bite the bullet and have it at your house — there will be tons of chaos, but it is only for two hours, and your birthday girl will just love it. Wish me luck — my daughter is now requesting a garden party — in December???

  28. FoodontheTable

    There are so many good ideas here. The first time I saw a gift drive was a birthday party in April where the host asked for books to donate to a local literacy organization. I thought it was such a great idea – I’m stealing it!

  29. Maya

    I wanted to take a minute to respond to those that commented on the no-gift policy with a couple of notes –
    1. I said “talk about priorities”. My header was not “no gift policy” exactly because I do not know what anyone’s priorities are. If gifts work for you and your child, please do not have a no-gift policy! I am in no way assuming what works for me should work for you 🙂
    2. As a parent, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong in guiding our kids and telling them what we value as long as we give them an opportunity to talk about their perspective. And that is what I suggest we do.
    And please do not take my suggestions for a birthday party as suggestions for parenting because in the end, we all should do what works for us 🙂

  30. Alison @ Femita

    In my experience a meaningful birthday party is all about the company. Of course you should plan some great activities and provide your kid’s favorite food, but in the end he/she will remember the laughs and general atmosphere, not your special cupcakes!

    • Maya

      So true!! It is all about the people and the laughs. I do think too much of the other stuff distracts from the real “fun” 🙂

  31. Eliza

    Don’t forget the thank you notes!! One of the best things that my parents have ever taught me is to write a thank you for every gift/special experiences. I cannot express how grateful I am for that. It would also really send the message home to guests about the importance of this particular party by having the note mention how great it was to drop the gifts off to the children or something. For young kids, it’s great when a child does a drawing and the parent writes a short note (you can make photocopies for everyone).

  32. JMS

    What I want to know is how do you adjust those high expectations? I hear ya on sharing priorities and all that, but some kids are strong willed enough to have their own priorities and not care if they don’t match yours.

    • Maya

      JMS –
      Depending on what it is, I will put my foot down or just give in. As parents, we have to pick our battles right?
      Like I said, I had never imagined I would ever do goodybags since I think they are just wasteful. But for my little one, it seemed like that was the ONLY Thing that mattered ….
      My daughter is also just 4 – so I really have no experience with older kids. And yes, my younger one is certainly going to be a lot more difficult, I can say for sure 🙂
      But I have to be patient and try – every single time 🙂

  33. SM2B

    I understand your goal of “no presents” for your child’s birthday and I love the idea of getting her involved in making part of the party. However I am curious – how will you explain to her why she may (and most likely will) be expected to give presents to her friends on their birthdays when her party didn’t allow gifts for her? Was this just a one time thing? If this is to be a long/life philosophy how do you plan to explain the culture discrepancies?

    • Maya

      I am not sure I completely understand your question ….but let me try to answer you.
      I grew up outside of the US. My kids were both born in the Unites States. So as it is, we are very used to (as are my kids) different cultures and practices. My kids are okay with doing things differently since they see that we do so many fun things that their friends do not do either. (We also belong to a multicultural storytime group).

      The no gifts is certainly not a life long thing. I think the approach will be the same. Life brings different lessons and I might have completely different priorities next year.

  34. Sally

    I cringe at the expectations we sometimes put on ourselves as parents, birthday party extravaganzas are one of them. From the beginning, we decided our children (we have 4 and there is no way I would ever do a party for each of them every year) would only get a friends b-day party at the ages of 4, 8, 12 and maybe 16 (we haven’t reached that age yet and don’t know what our children’s expectations will be at that age). This has worked out wonderfully and I love that my children are not begging for certain activities/parties all year. The other years it’s just our little family. They too have asked to adjust it to what they want. For my one son’s 8th b-day, he just wanted to take his best friend bowling. This year my other son turns 12 and he just wants his 2 good friends over for a sleep over and movie night with a couple of snacks that are normally not things I would buy. The other thing we have done that has worked is limit the # of kids invited to the age they are turning. 4 little girls at my daughters 4 year old party was all I could manage, but 8 boys at my other sons 8th birthday party was perfect because all he wanted to do was play soccer at the park with them. Really I think if we get in the mindset of trying to out do previous years (or other people for that matter) just for the sake of “creating memories” we are just setting ourselves up for frustration and failure. Really if we listen to our kids and see what they really want or what their priorities are like the author suggests, we would probably come up with a different party than the one we first thought of.

    • Maya

      Thank you Sally – I am thrilled to think that this approach will most possibly work as my kids grow up too 🙂

  35. Abbie

    Interesting discussion! We live in a community where the parties tend to be over the top. We are really focused on keeping things simple for a number of reasons – sanity is but one, finances another.

    I am all for simple parties, and in fact have not yet had a party for our 2 year old who, frankly, would not have had much of a clue. We did the same thing for our older daughter, and hosted her first neighborhood/friend party the year she turned 3. Luckily my girls are summer babies, so the outdoor party is always an option, and that year we just put a wading pool in the yard and basically let the neighborhood kids splash. We never do a theme. One year we did the beach party someone posted about above. Last year we had 6 girls over when my older daughter turned 8, and we played simple and old-fashioned games the whole time – musical chairs; freeze tag; blindman’s bluff, etc. (A huge hit was a game where each girl had a balloon tied to her ankle and had to run around and try to pop everyone else’s while keeping her own balloon un-popped. Last one with an intact balloon wins!) After the party was over we heard from lots of parents that their daughters reported it was the best party they had ever attended. The party was described by some parents who lingered at the beginning as “retro.” (That struck me as funny!)

    As for the goody bag thing, here is what we do. I buy paper lunch bags from the dollar store – $1.00 for a big pack and hopefully not as objectionable as plastic. My daughter decorates them with paint, we punch a hole in the top with a hole-puncher, and tie them with ribbon. Inside are things like seed packets, an organic lollipop (I buy a package from Trader Joes), stickers or temporary tattoos, and a small snack like an individual package of goldfish.

    I hope others will continue to contribute to this discussion – there are some really great ideas here!

  36. Maya

    Thank you all for such a great discussion and sharing of your ideas. What is “meaningful” certainly differs for each of us and of course we can only do what we can afford based on our pocketbooks. But as a few people have said, I hope we all do our best we can to make the birthday child and ourselves happy and not to please someone else. So many great ideas here – I never imagined I would use my own post as a reference but I will be bookmarking this post myself for the comments!

  37. Kiasa

    My daughter’s 4th birthday party is in 3 weeks and so we are in the process of inviting friends and such. Since we live in 600sq ft in Manhattan (4 of us, soon to be 5) and live on a tight budget we are planning on keeping things simple. I’ll be making a few batches of homemade playdough the week before the party and we will take that (plus plastic tablecloths, cookie cutters, etc), cupcakes and a few snacks to a big green field in Central Park. The kids can just run and play or have a blast with the playdough. We are doing “no gifts” because we just don’t have the space for more toys.

    Last year one of our good friends taped bubble wrap to the floor in her narrow hallway and the kids LoVED it. They ran on it the whole time. It was hilarious.

  38. vik

    well Kika,
    When I got baby gifts, I actually saved them so that my children 20 years down can pass those same gifts down and they will have things from when they were born… but we are individuals and thats what makes this country so great. I am just annoyed at how everyone tries to act like goody bags are evil and gifts are not needed….get real

  39. Andrea (@ Puppy Dog Tales)

    I love this idea. We have yet to have a “big” party for either of our boys b/c I just think it’s so unnecessary and sets and unrealistic expectation for future years.

  40. Scarlet

    The last birthday party we went to, they asked for canned goods for a local food shelter. I thought it was a fantastic idea!

  41. Elizabeth

    I am struggling with these issues as I plan my little boy’s birthday party for next month. He will be turning 4 and this will be his first friend party. We will probably have it at the YMCA, mainly because I am a little afraid of having little kids ages 3 and 4 running around my small house! There is an extra expense with this, but it simplifies the party for me because I don’t have to worry about preparing the house for the party or the clean up afterwards. I want to spoil him since this is his first party inviting more than just family. As others said, being with all his friends and playing are the things he is most looking forward to. This post and all the comments are giving me lots to think about.

    Also, just wanted to ask a question – how do you feel about inviting your child’s entire class to the party? My son goes to a small preschool. We know most of the parents and children in his class, but there are several we don’t know. I’m undecided on whether to invite all 8 kids or just the 5 we know. On the one hand, I don’t want to leave anyone out or hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other hand, I wonder if it would seem strange to the 3 families we don’t know to invite them since we don’t even know their last names, haven’t had playdates with them, etc. Any advice? Thank you!

  42. David

    I think the most insightful comment is “Remember, most kids just want to have fun and eat cake. ” At my age (49), that’s the only thing that I remember from any birthday parties when I was a child.

    • carisa

      heck, I’m 35 now and all I want out of a party now is cake and fun time!! 🙂

  43. Angie Pearl

    While I can see your point about the no gifts…everytime I am invited to a party that does not allow gifts, I feel awful for the child. It makes me uncomfortable even if the children are used to it. I always try to give something little such as a gift card for icecream. However, my favorite parties have been simple parties at someone’s home.

  44. CS

    While I certainly concur with the goal of a simple, inexpensive birthday party, I am not in agreement about the no-gifts policy. I love receiving presents, and even more than receiving them, I love selecting them and giving them. It’s a big part of the birthday joy for nearly everyone I know–young and old. Handmade and inexpensive gifts are sometimes the most delightful of all. Can’t see the point in discouraging them.

  45. Kim Corbell

    I have a step son who will be 4 this month and I ofcourse want to give him a great party. We live out on a farm so we’re kind of away from everyone. It’s hard to get a party together. These tips are helpful to keep sane during party planning time!

  46. Jane Cooper

    I love the whole kids party thing it brings back really great memories of when my kids were smaller, we used to have a variety of childrens entertainers depending in their age and the venue, it was great fun

  47. Andy

    Kids partys can really go to far these days. I was at a party a few weeks ago ( i was booked as there child photographer) This party had over 100 guests a big hired venue with DJ, bouncy castle games, 3 course meal the works. It was almost like a wedding reception. The thing was this was a first birthday party. The baby whos day it was slept most of the party and the parents even made him wake up for his cake cutting….. Yes at 12 months old.
    A simple party with games and party bags is often more fun than going all out. And much much cheaper

  48. Alijoy

    Great post! I LOVE the idea of it being a celebration – because it really is. We have tried a few different things in our family. We have a son who will be 8 a few days before Christmas, a daughter who turned 6 in the summer and an 8 month old.
    We make our days special by having the birthday child choose the meals for the day (usually a sugar cereal for breakfast and birthday celebration fare for dinner – pizza and cake). They wake up to their rooms filled with balloons and happy birthday streamers on the doorframe and bannered across the kitchen. They get to wear a “it’s my birthday pin”.
    Because our kids birthdays are outside of school times, we sent a treat to school on the last day of school with a note saying, “help us celebrate ___’s birthday” – ie. “have a break on us” (with a Kit Kat bar).
    Our son with the December birthday has had a few “regular parties”, a book exchange party (everyone brought a book and took home a book, he got presents from family) and last year we had a “twoonie Party”. Everyone was asked to bring 2 twoonies (we are Canadian – a $2 coin) and one would go to a charity named by my son and one would stay with him. We would match whatever amount was given to him for both events. He then could go and choose an item of his choice. He also received gifts from family. He loved this approach last year- and spent a lot of time counting his money and deciding what it was he wanted to purchase. He is already looking forward to that again this year. We have had this party at our church using a big blow-up slide (the church owns a few), mini sticks and general free play. One year when we had enough snow we added outdoor tobogganing time.
    We struggle with this concept – our son does attend a lot of parties over the year and as he gets older he is realizing the differences. We continue to stress that this is a celebration about relationships. It isn’t all about “things to get”. Despite our efforts, he has a room filled with things he doesn’t use on a regular basis. Because our event is at the church we have kept our costs low and it allows him to invite more friends than most spaces can accommodate. His birthday is followed by Christmas where the kids receive items from family as well as 3 from us.
    As for our daughter, we are always up at our cottage when her birthday arrives and so she too has only known a celebration amongst family members. It has been special as she can invite cousins she only sees once a year. As she gets older we may venture into the “group event” once school starts but it has been hard to get connected with all of her friends when off school for 2 months.
    I love the time capsule idea for the 1st year birthday.
    As for loot bags, we have our kids write simple “thank you for coming to my party” cards and we insert a $5 gift card for a local store. It cuts down on the waste and allows the kids to find something they would like themselves.

    Thanks for all of the comments – there are some great ideas.

  49. Julie

    Excellent detailed article with lots of useful information. I always like to decorate my sons birthday cake – a different theme each year – he always lets me know 🙂 Some of the tips would have been helpful to me I wish I had read them years ago. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Kim

    Really a helpful article. My Son is going to be 5 year older and i am already thinking to have a memorable yet meaningful Party for him. Your tips will definitely help me.

  51. Carisa

    My daughter’s 5th birthday is next month and we have made arrangements to have her and 10 friends enjoy her birthday at an indoor playground followed by lunch and cupcakes. I have been trying to figure out how to talk to my daughter about not receiving gifts this year and a hospital toy drive is the perfect solution!! She was actually in the hospital a year ago for an emergency appendectomy, so she will be able to completely relate with hospitalized children needing toys or art supplies. Wonderful!! Thank you!!

  52. Courtney

    Wow, never thought birthday parties would be so controversial! I loved the article and how you wanted to not only provide your daughter with the things she deemed important, but also wanted her to experience one of your own most memorable experiences. I think that we, as parents, need to consider our child’s desires above our own. One way to do this is to consider Gary Chapman’s Love Languages book. If we really want our child to feel celebrated on his or her birthday, let’s consider their own love language. Some children feel most loved by receiving thoughtful gifts. If this is the case, then by all means, bring on the gifts! At the same time though, remember that they will feel celebrated by gifts that have been well thought-out – so invite only those who know your child well enough to give such a gift. On the other hand, some children feel most loved through one’s words, so maybe try a card-party where everyone is asked to write a loving note/poem/etc to the child that they can cherish for years. Or, as many people have mentioned, maybe ‘doing’ something with their friends is what is most important – so provide an experience as the birthday gift, such as taking them bowling, to the beach, to a zoo, etc. Remember, this is about our children, and what they need from others to feel most celebrated and loved… isn’t about what we, as parents, need. It isn’t about our love language, and I know that sometimes it is difficult for those of us who have different languages than our children, to set aside our own preferences. I, for one, love new experiences, but my four-yr old son would most likely prefer some sweet notes from friends and family on his special day…along with a big piece of cake, of course!

    • Ginny

      I love that you brought up Gary Chapman’s, 5 Love Languages, I totally agree with that! I think this book is especially important when we’re planning our child’s party. It’s theirs, not ours. And sometimes that’s hard for us to remember. What appeals to our child, gifts, quality time, kind words, etc? Whatever their language is, I think we have to appreciate that and go with it, even if that means, doing some things we wouldn’t really want to do. i.e. extravagant gifts, goody bags, too much candy and cake.

      My daughter turns 1 in July and I’m dreading the extravagance that some people may be expecting. (We recently went to a family members, 1st birthday and they rented a church gym, with a giant bouncy castle and had a lot of food, cake and people. I got a lot of comments about doing something EXACTLY like that for my daughter’s 1st birthday. Ummm, not happening, she’s 1!)

      Anyways, I’m a “quality time” person and having her grandparents and uncle and aunt and possibly the great-grandparents she has in town are the only people I want at the party, for this year. I grew up with only my parents and sister in town, so I’m used to having low-key parties and I don’t understand the point of inviting everybody to her birthday party. My husband, on the other hand, has basically all his aunts, uncles, cousins, etc in town and he’s always had birthday parties with all of them. It’s not just 12 people either, it’s triple that! Our house is too small, we don’t have that kind of money and its just not something I want to do with her.

      While I do want to make her birthdays special, I was thinking more of, she picks the meals for the day (when she’s older of course), she gets to nap in mommy and daddy’s bed, we could even take her to dinner, just us and her, at a reasonably priced place, she can have 2-3 friends over, stuff like that.
      But this will depend on what her love language and personality turn out to be, as to how we do birthday’s for her.

      But I will say, we will do them simply and frugally, that’s what I want to teach her. But we will have fun and she will get treated special, because it is the day we were blessed with her! We love her everyday and show it everyday, but her birthday will be a little more special.

  53. Contemporary Mami

    Love the post! Can’t wait to plan something simple for my sons first birthday. He won’t even remember it and it shouldn’t be about the gifts or materialistic things. Should be about the time spent with other babies. 🙂

  54. Kimberly

    I love, Love, LOVE this post! Has tons of ideas that I can use for an upcoming birthday party for my lil man!

  55. Terri

    In defense of the no gift policy, I think a lot of parents are simply getting tapped out by all the parties our kids get invited to. I have grade school boys, and all their friends want Legos. Even small sets are expensive. I’m actually relieved to go to the annual combined party (3 boys) where they just ask for a donation for the local animal shelter…otherwise it could easily cost guests $60 or more just to let their boys attend this party!

  56. courtney

    we’re definitely doing a no gift policy as well for my son. he has so much stuff he now has 4 rooms full of toys.. i literally have NO ROOM LEFT and have told everyone absolutely no toys for his birthday.

    not that he cares tbh, he has so much stuff he really doesnt care about gifts. its silly that some commenters are trying to say youre using your kid. you certainly arent. who doesnt feel good giving to others?

  57. Rhys Wheatley

    Thank you very much Maya for a great post, plenty of useful info.


  58. Andrea

    Can’t believe how judgemental both sides are. I am the mother of 4 and we are not “well to do”. My children have great birthdays, sometimes we invite family and friends typically, my parents come for a birthday party (when you have 4 kids it always feels like a party) where my daughter/son picks the meal and I bake their favorite homemade cake. They receive a gift from us, not based on how much it is but what they really need/want. I have lengthy conversations with them about choosing what they really want, we talk about other toys they’ve received in the past that were used briefly and thrown away or weren’t good quality etc. They also receive a gift from my parents. They have never asked me why they didn’t receive more gifts or a more expensive gift etc. If we have a larger party, inviting friends, I make the food, healthy/yummy/inexpensive and dessert. We have only done these for 1st Birthdays thus far. Be intuitive, know your child and what they like and make sure they know how special they are and how much you love them and how excited you are to celebrate the day they were born! My favorite part their birthday is being there when they wake up to say Happy Birthday “Birthday girl (or boy)” Today is your day! I think my genuine excitement makes them feel really special (at least i hope it does). This Christmas we gave our oldest two daughters (6 and 8) activity gifts. We enrolled one daughter in a gymnastics class and the other in a karate class. We can’t normally afford to do that so it is a really great gift to them.

  59. Heather

    We have 10 kids and do family-only ‘parties’. We have pop-tarts for breakfast, they pick dinner (at home or restaurant) and they pick a cake (homemade or store bought). Usually grandma comes over or out with us too. Works for us. 🙂

  60. Paul Clark

    My wife choose a simple option of running an amazing race party. She organised it all herself. It was cheap but the kids had a ball. People we spoke to said they couldn’t imagine organising something like that so my wife and I developed an app called “The Fantastic Race”. It is a configurable party organiser. If takes you through the setup, gives you a timetable and checklist of what to get. Most importantly runs the party for you. The App is available for the IPad, IPhone, IPod and Android phones and tablets. (

  61. Scrapless Press

    I have two kids and when they were little we would gather a small (less than 5) group of friends and do something like the family fun park or Dave & Busters. It was cheaper than a huge party and more intimate. The kids had a great time.

  62. ROY

    Wonderful tips!! Kids are so special in our life and we always want them happy and always wish to fulfill their dreams. Birthday is the most special day for us and kids off course. I live these ideas of celebrating birthday in budget because it not necessary that all time will remain same.

  63. charlene

    My grandaughter came on vacation & spent her first bithday age 8 with us; my immediate family being 3 people small including her dad -at times leaves me feeling inadequate with the other half that sees her everday and has more family members. However, I’ve awaken from that misconception I’ve imposed on myself and I’ve firmly decided not to put myself under the pressure of buying things to express to her my love or let it become a shallow show of appreciation of her. I can only hope as years progress and we share in birthdays and memories with her she will set the bar in her own life that keeping up with any ones ideas, set of standards, or expectations is not as important as designing and aquiring one’s own. As well as learning that people are priceless and the most precious gift one can have.

  64. charlene

    So far we’ve explored many of nyc parks, and are going down the list of the many free & family fun things to do in the city. I only hope she sees the visit itself as a fantastic birthday gift.

  65. Tara Newman

    These are some good ideas but won’t always work for older kids in the tech generation. I have my 18th coming up soon, and funny fact is that you posted this exactly on my 12th birthday. I think just going to the movies with friends will be good. Do a bit of shopping. But yeah, my mum is like Leonard’s mum from The Big Bang Theory. She says that my birth was her accomplishment not mine and that if I want a party I need to plan for it and pay for it myself. Still hoping for a phone for my 18th though.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.