Celebrating birthdays without breaking your budget

I love birthdays. I love the cake. I love the presents. I love the yearly traditions.

It doesn’t matter if it’s my birthday or my daughter’s birthday or my husband’s birthday or even if it’s your birthday.

I want to celebrate. I want to mark another good year of living or start anew if it’s been a year full of struggle.

Birthdays provide an opportunity for each of us to celebrate the people who really count in our lives and to be showered upon with blessings when it’s our turn to add another candle to the cake.

But birthdays can be expensive. In fact, one glance at Pinterest produces the evidence that some toddler’s birthday cost more than my wedding reception. It can be difficult to know when to spend and when to splurge.

The good news is, no matter your age or birthday theme, you can still throw a party and make memories without making a mess of finances. Here’s how the Royal family celebrates big but keeps expenses low.

Birthday freebies

Did you know that your favorite restaurants and stores love to celebrate your birthdays, too? To thank you for being a loyal customer (or maybe just to entice you to come and spend a few dollars), many offer freebies on birthdays and anniversaries. Most of these free coupons come via email. So if you haven’t already, be sure you register with your favorite restaurant and store eClubs.

I always highly recommend establishing an email account that you use exclusively for coupons and freebies. That way you don’t miss an important work email or neglect an email from church or school because it’s tossed in with ads from retailers. Birthday offers typically begin hitting your inbox a week or two before your big day. Be sure that you print them immediately and take a good look at the expiration date.

You’ll also want to consider which offers require a purchase. I like to consider myself a freebie purist, so you’ll rarely find me cashing in a coupon for a free dessert with entrée purchase. Instead, I stick to the offers that require little or no purchases.

Always be sure to ask your favorite local restaurants or stores if they have birthday incentives.

Reusable décor

Moms email me on a regular basis asking where it’s cheapest to buy birthday party décor, plates and napkins. Typically, I respond with, “Just say no!” There are so many adorable birthday themes, and it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in needing it all — the plates, the napkins, the goodie bags, the tablecloth, the coordinating balloons. But the honest, difficult truth is that all of that stuff is going to end up the trash. You don’t need it to have a fun birthday.

Instead, over the years we have purchased special reusable pieces including an “It’s My Birthday!” sash that my girls love, a red plate that is used on special days throughout the year, and solid color bowls and décor that we can use with a number of holidays. I always suggest buying red because it fits the most holidays, characters and themes and a number of sports teams, too. If you feel like you must purchase disposable party goods, stick to character napkins and solid plates, cups and balloons. That way, you can reuse the extras for other occasions.

Count the cost

With both of our daughters, we try to keep a running tab on birthday celebrations. Early on in their lives, we decided to do friend parties only on milestone years (for us, it’s the ages of 5, 10 and 16) and family parties on the off years. When age appropriate, we’ve allowed them to manage their own budgets. It’s amazing what kids are willing to give up when they know they get to keep any money that is left over.

You also might consider an experience rather than a party, too. If it will cost the same amount of cash to throw a party for 15 or take one special friend to the museum or zoo for the day, your child might opt for a more low-key celebration. Regardless, you have to set a budget and pay attention to what you’re spending.

It’s not a bad thing that you want to bless your child (or spouse or friend), but it’s very easy to let your spending to get out of whack in the name of just one more — one more gift, one more guest, one more food item, one more piece of décor. Stay strong. Your bank account will thank you in the end.