Birthdays – It seems like they come around every blasted year!

I just read a post from www.mamafishsaves.com on Mustard Seed Money, which got me thinking, we have struggled a lot with birthdays.

Why?  What could be wrong with birthdays?  They are happy, celebratory occasions, right?  Nothing is wrong with having a birthday and celebrating a birthday.  But, we are trying to raise our children to

  • love more
  • consume less
  • have more fun
  • have less weighing them down

So, after a ‘typical’ birthday, have we helped with this?  Well, what do I mean by a ‘typical’ birthday?  It seems that most of the time now, you have a birthday party with all of your friends.  (We had one of these during our childhood, not one every year.  I think the next trend will be a birthday celebration twice per year, but that’s just a guess.).  Of course, this needs to be a themed party, with a lot of decorations.  You need to have an over the top Instagram/Etsy worthy cake.  Your child will receive a pile of gifts from people who have no idea what to get for them.  So, the vast majority of it will be a waste, cluttering up your house, unused, until you finally get tired of dealing with it, and you pay someone to haul it to the landfill.  Then, of course you pump everyone full of candy, cake and pop, finally sending them home with a gift bag.  Which, appropriately enough, contains nothing that they really need, so this stuff also clutters their homes, until they pay to move it to the landfill.  But at least you got them back on that one!  Then there is also the family party, which brings another pile of presents.  These presents are much better targeted as the people giving them are often closer to your child.  But you still end up with many more presents than you really need.  Stop and ask, ‘How many Lego sets does my child really need?’  So, at the end of this, you are tired, and you haven’t really had time to connect with your child whose day of birth you are celebrating.  You are definitely sending a ‘consume more’ message to your child, that’s what the whole event became.  If the above list is something that you want to impress upon your children, which we do, well, the ‘typical’ birthday has failed you.  (As I read them over, I am hoping that you realize that the ‘love more’ is referring to loving others, not loving Legos more, or binge watching Netflix shows, etc.)

So, what can be done about this?  We have made quite a few corrections, and our family has been good about working on this with us.  We ask for things that are more experience related.  We want our kids to spend time with uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends.  Experiences are more valuable than things.  For example, instead of a birthday gift, aunts and uncles have taken our kid’s horseback riding.  Our kids get to do this with their aunt, uncle and cousins, and they look forward to this so much that it is an annual gift now.  We have also asked for passes to the local zoo and museum.   Tickets to a play gets one of my daughters REALLY excited, and she attends with her grandparents, just her and them.  Being able to pick out the restaurant where they go to eat with one set of grandparents is always talked about excitedly the days before.  They still receive some ‘things’, and they are happy to receive a swimsuit, or shoes that they actually have a need for.  And do you know what?  This definitely reduces the amount of toys that they have to play with.  But, they still have plenty of toys, they have never been short of something to play with.  They have never even complained about these types of gifts.  I think one reason for this is that we explain all of this to them (And THEY ARE LISTENING!  I just received a letter my 11 year old daughter wrote and gave me to give back to her at age 21.  I choke up a little thinking about it, I will definitely post on that soon!).  We show them the amount of time we spend tending to the stuff in our lives.  We make them help take care of the stuff, which REALLY helps them understand.  We explain how if we continually spend all the money we make we have no freedom of time, we will need to keep working since we haven’t saved.  Does this mean they still don’t want another Lego set?  No, they still do.  But, they get 1-2 sets still for their birthday, just not 5-10 sets.  So far, they seem to be surviving just fine.  

While our ‘work’ on this has been largely successful, as we will see next time (sorry, on lunch break, and out of time), it has not always been successful.  We had one birthday ‘gift’ boomerang (I guess it was really trampoline, now I have given away too much!) in our face.  It really made me realize how important every decision we make is.  You can waste your money easily by just going with the flow and with a little thought you can spend your money on something that delivers incredible value.  The choice is yours.  But, more on this next time.

  • love more
  • consume less
  • have more fun
  • have less weighing them down

6 thoughts on “Birthdays – It seems like they come around every blasted year!

  1. It’s a conundrum. I get why we do it. But for me personally, growing up, I never received birthday presents. Not because I wasn’t loved or anything, lol. We just didn’t have the money and/or the ingrained tradition of doing so. I do remember a few times we were able to eat out on our birthdays, and I also remember a few occasions we got cake. But that was it. My wife on the other hand, their family goes the whole 9 yards when it comes to birthdays. I was not used to it in the beginning, but it does provide some fond memories that one can look back on. So I do have mixed feelings between that and the consumer life-styles it espouses.

  2. Rachel Dyk

    When my kids were really little like 3ish, when asked by others what they wanted for their birthday, they always replied, “Cake!” I was already planning on making them a cake. So what more did we need than a family singing around a homemade cake(some of these looked kinda rough on the outside, but were super tasty!)? I wish we had stayed closer to this tradition and skipped the presents. We are doing the same thing tamale is talking about, less stuff. Now we get to pick what we want for dinner on our birthday. It usually ends up fish sticks and french fries, but lately with a little suggestions, the girls are starting to pick meals like salmon and steak! So now my husband I get a little treat as well! We’re teaching our kids that time around the table with some good home cooked food and a little cake is something to look forward to and it’s building those family memories.

  3. My daughter’s 5th birthday is at the end of the month, and we’re struggling with this right now as well. She’s been to several parties in the past few months. One was an amazing Moana-themed affair with the whole house decorated like an island, henna tattoos, a ridiculously awesome cake, costumes, etc. I’ll say that the child’s mother has a passion for this type of event planning, so it was as much about her having fun as it was doing it for her son. At two other parties the parents rented a bounce house. With all of these, the kids attending walked away with a gift bag.
    We’re at the point where we are getting fun dollar store gifts (or Target’s cheap section) rather than buying every kid a $20 Lego set or something that we don’t even know if they’ll like. So far the birthday kids have genuinely seemed to like the small stuffed animal, sticker books, mini football, or other little thing we’ve gotten. If they’re like my daughter, they’ve got way more crap than they even know what to do with. Expensive toys seem to sit on the shelf while throwaway trinkets get used all the time. I read someone else say they instituted a “used gifts only” rule, where people didn’t have to bring a present, but if they wanted to just bring something used. I kind of like that idea!
    I’m going to have to make some quick decisions about how to swing this year’s party. I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of money adding more clutter to my home or others’, but I want it to be an enjoyable time for everyone. My wife and I may be fighting an uphill battle, but at least we’re fighting!

    1. Keep fighting, and that used idea is genius! Kid’s always get sick of their stuff, to move it on to another kid is perfect! We just had the best birthday ever for my mother-in-law. We went to a local park on the water, grilled her some good steaks with some sides, and we just talked, and then swam in the water. My in-laws loved it, my kids loved it, my wife and I loved it, and it was inexpensive, and we got a chance to visit. It was awesome.

  4. I’m telling people no gifts and that I want to spend time with them doing something to create a memory. I am trying to take my parents on a cruise next year for my birthday and I want to pay. They’ve given me so many gifts over the years that I want to give something back to them 🙂 We’ll see how receptive they are!!!

    1. Mustard, both of those things are awesome! Keep it up!

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