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Hey Picky people! Today we have a guest post from my buddy, Mrs. COD. Mrs. COD is a former high school teacher who, thanks to paying off student loan debts, is now able to stay at home with her two rambunctious little boys.  She blogs about frugality and smarter money decisions at Enjoy!

Hi there, Picky readers! I’m Mrs. COD, or Changing Our Default, and I’m a big fan of the Picky Pinchers. My husband and I are blogging together about our journey from fear to taking control of our financial future. We’re changing lots of the typical spendy defaults to live a joyfully frugal life!

Is anybody else tempted to descend into a pit of shame when on social media and looking at what some friends do for the kids’ birthdays? Oh no! I didn’t get my kid a designer cake or a pile of presents or a pony! What kind of parent am I?

Fear not, Picky parents! Having a child doesn’t have to mean spending an arm and a leg every time their birthday rolls around. There are plenty of frugal ways to create a memorable birthday for a kid.

Let’s remember some common sense. No kid will be scarred by not getting every birthday wish granted them on a silver platter. With my baby’s second birthday coming up next month, I’m planning how to give him a fun, special occasion without us having to go into debt to make that happen.

Between the party (or parties), the cake, and the gifts, birthdays can get out of control fast! Don’t believe the hype; birthdays need not steer you off your financially frugal course. If you’re like us, you’re striving to save money wherever you can, and these are some of my favorite strategies!

How to Throw a Fun and Frugal Kids’ Party


    1. Limit guests. My brother, a dad of four, instituted this helpful rule for his kids: the age they would be was the number of friends they could invite. Fourth birthday = four friends. Another idea: only do “friend” shindigs every two years. On the off years, kids can have a simple family celebration at home
    2. Don’t bother with invitations, or if you wish, do them online. It’s perfectly easy and acceptable to just use word of mouth or text/call those you’re inviting.
    3. Forget about decorations. Maybe this is just my un-craftiness showing, but they are just unnecessary. If you want a little festive decoration, a roll of streamers and a few balloons will do the trick. It doesn’t need to cost a lot. We’ve gotten party napkins, plates, etc., from our local thrift store. I also handmade a basic poster for Mini COD’s first birthday last year.
    4. Host the fête on your home turf, not a paid venue. Yes, that means you’ll have to tidy up a bit. If you’re lucky enough to have pleasant weather, take the gang to a local park or forest preserve. Fresh air for the frugal win!
    5. I don’t know who decided guests needed “goody bags” at kids’ birthday parties, but can we just agree to let that tradition die? No parents want their kids coming home with more junk food. Entertaining them for a couple of hours and feeding them cake should be sufficient.


  1. Make the cake yourself! (Or enlist Grandma’s help, like I did last year.) The confections on Cake Boss are incredible, but I don’t even want to think of how much those cost. Even a “cheap” bakery cake from your grocer is way pricier than homemade. And let’s face it, your three-year-old will not care one bit whether their cake’s Paw Patrol design is perfectly done. He just wants cake! Flour, butter, sugar, eggs. Baking a cake is not that hard. Decorating it can be hard, but that’s what Pinterest is for. (Even if your attempt fails, it’ll make for an entertaining story for years to come.) I’ve had so much fun making my kids’ cakes the past three years. Age 2: Curious George. He recognized it as a monkey, so I figured that was a win. Age 3: Paw Patrol. Turned out sort-of-okay-looking and tasted delicious! (Grandma’s cake for mini COD turned out notably better.)
  2. Don’t schedule the birthday party during mealtime, but if you must, keep it simple. It’s tough to do in this era of increasing allergies. Grill out basic picnic food or throw together some homemade pizzas.
  3. Birthdays don’t have to mean going to a restaurant. Let your child request a favorite meal you’ll (surprise, surprise) make at home. If you’re dying to take them out, perhaps something smaller, like an ice cream date, would be fun.


    1. Don’t spend too much on birthday presents! Yep, that’s a tough one for us parents (and grandparents). We love to make our kids happy. But you can give good gifts to your child without spending a ton. Again, thrift stores and garage sales are fine for birthday gift shopping. Otherwise, be sure to be on the lookout for sales if there’s a specific gift you want.
    2. Along the same lines, limit the quantity of gifts (even free or cheap ones!). Let us not forget the lesson of Dudley Dursley, Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin. The little brat threw a fit upon counting his stacks of presents only to discover fewer than the previous year. I’m sorry, but 35+ presents on a kid’s birthday seems excessive, no? We’re not Beyonce, after all. I know it’s a relative thing, but what child could possibly appreciate that many gifts? They’re much more likely to use and enjoy a few well-chosen gifts rather than piles upon piles of stuff.

  1. Experiences! Suggest to grandparents and others some experiences that might be better than possessions. These may work best with older children, who can understand the concept better than toddlers. Zoo passes, theater tickets, karate lessons, and the like are all great gift options that won’t clutter your house. Plus, research shows people derive more pleasure from experiences than from possessions. *Tip: if Grandma craves the joy of watching the kids open physical presents, she can give a small symbolic item to accompany the experience gift (animal stickers when giving a zoo pass, for example).


First Birthdays

A special note for those fabled First Birthday extravaganzas: when your kid is turning one, they don’t care it’s their birthday! Not one bit! They don’t need presents or fancy cakes or special outfits.

A one-year-old’s birthday party is for the parents, not the kid. Have a party if you want, but don’t go crazy thinking your child’s future hangs on the quality of that party. Invite a few friends or family over to watch the kid smash cake all over his face, snap a few pics, and be done with it.

Take a deep breath; you’ve just survived one year of parenting! Congrats!

Other Fun Ideas

Consider some meaningful gestures or gifts for your child:

  • Write a letter to your child every year on their birthday. Tell them why they’re special, recount goofy or sweet memories, and encourage them by talking about hopes for the future
  • Show the birthday kid fun pictures of them a year ago (or longer) so they can see how much they’ve changed and grown.

You Control the Birthday

The last thing I want to do is come off as judgmental of parents who are really gung-ho about birthdays. Parents need to do what’s best for their family, and that includes being smart about money. If we have the cash for zoo trips or restaurant meals or lavish parties, we can spend it on those things. However, as with anything in life that costs money, prioritizing is vital. Spend your money where it’s worth the most to you, and don’t spend it if you don’t have it!

Kids are a ton of fun, and it’s awesome to celebrate them each year and make them feel special. You are still an awesome parent without spending wildly on your kids’ birthdays! Trust me; they’ll still have a blast.

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