Personal success often translates into a time for celebration.
You just got a promotion at work. You just got a great new job. You just got engaged. You found out you’re expecting a child. You paid off your car. You paid off your house. You sold your house. There are lots of reasons that life offers us for a celebration of some kind or another.
However, celebration often translates into expense in the modern world. When we think of celebrating a major personal event like those things, we tend to think of going out for a nice dinner or buying a treat for oneself. In other words, we tend to think of a celebration of personal success as being centered around spending money.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
There are a multitude of ways to commemorate a special event in your life without breaking the bank with a huge expensive meal or an overpriced treat that you don’t really want or need. Here are some free or very low-cost ways to celebrate momentous events in your life.
Give yourself a day or two off.
This is my absolute favorite way to celebrate a big life event. I “treat” myself to some time off from typical responsibilities.
I’ll clear my schedule, burn a vacation day (in my world, that means using some backup articles), and devote that day to simply doing something that I enjoy that I rarely have time for. I’ll spread some elaborate six hour long board game out on the table and play it with a few friends. I’ll spend the entire afternoon curled up with a book. I’ll hike a thirteen mile trail. I’ll make some crazy complicated recipe I’ve been yearning to try.
To me, that’s a celebration. A celebration is about doing something outside of the norm, and for busy people, the thing that’s typically outside of the norm is extra time, not extra money. We effectively “celebrate” by spending money on treats most days of our lives, so why not make an authentic celebration by not spending money and instead spending another valuable resource, time?
Have a potluck dinner party.
People often want to celebrate a special occasion by having a special meal with friends. Why not make the celebration a little more low-key and simply have a potluck dinner party?
Just plan a main course for everyone and ask friends to bring sides and drinks. You’ll find that you’re each spending far less than you would if you went out for a celebratory meal, but that you’re all together around the table laughing and sharing ideas and memories.
The goal of this is to center the focus of the celebratory meal around the people and not around the service or food. At a potluck, the focus really is on the people gathered around the table, the connections they have, the connections they’re growing, the conversations, the laughter, and the communal environment. That, to me, is celebration, and it can happen around my kitchen table with a pot of slow cooked soup, some dinner rolls that a friend brought, and a bottle of wine brought by another friend.
Take some photos.
On my last day at my previous job, I spent an hour or so taking pictures of some of the specific things I wanted to remember.
I took some pictures of my office before I packed up my personal belongings. I took some pictures of my coworkers around the office. I took a picture of the basement server room that I often visited. I took some pictures of the outside of the building, too.
Those pictures were a perfect kind of closure and, honestly, I look at them far more than I do at any of the “going away” gifts that my coworkers gave to me. Those pictures from that last day at work show up sometimes on my photo screensaver and it reminds me of the aspects of that job that I really loved.
It was a great “going away” gift to myself, and since then I’ve taken lots of pictures of things on the cusp of change. I wish now I had pictures of my great-grandmother’s house, for example, because I knew the last time I was in her house was going to be the last time I was there. I’d love to have some pictures of her dining room armoire or of her china cabinet, or of her favorite chair in her front room.
Taking a bunch of photographs is a great way to mark and celebrate a rite of passage or a change in your life, and you’ll often be surprised how meaningful those photographs are later on in life.
Plant a commemorative tree.
Another powerful way to celebrate a life change is to simply plant a tree. Plant a tree when you have a child. Plant a tree when you leave a job. Plant a tree when you get engaged, or when you get married. Plant a tree the day you move into a new house.
The simple act of planting the tree can feel like a celebration, but it’s actually far more than that. That tree will grow over time, and as time passes, you can visit that tree and see the changes in it. Those changes often serve as a great mirror of the changes in your own life since that celebratory event.
Not only that, picking a sapling and heading out to a place to plant it with a few friends and a few tools, and then turning over the soil and placing the sapling in the ground, then perhaps putting up a small fence to protect it… all of it feels very much like a ritual, a moment where you’re really commemorating some kind of change in your life.
Make a collective journal.
If you know someone else is about to go through a major life change, one thing you can do to make for a very special celebration of that moment is to make a collective journal for that person.
It’s easy. Find a cheap journal or a notebook and start it off by writing an entry in it congratulating them on their life change and offering whatever advice you can for their upcoming changes. If someone is about to become a parent, write down some parenting advice. If someone is about to change jobs, offer some advice on establishing yourself in a new workplace.
Then simply pass that journal around to several thoughtful people who might also sensibly contribute to such a journal. Encourage each person to take a page and offer congratulations and advice.
I’ve received a journal like this at one point in the past, and I’ve organized the giving of such a journal many times before. Each time, that journal became a centerpiece of the celebration. I’ve had people write to me years later and mentioning the shared journal they received.
All you need for this is an inexpensive notebook or journal. If you have an old unused one laying around, that’s absolutely perfect for this kind of project. Just get it started well in advance (if you can) and write the first entry yourself to give others some kind of template.
Save something meaningful.
In the back of a cabinet at our house, I have a bottle of one of the best wines I’ve ever shared with my wife. We shared it together at a winery in the Pacific Northwest in 2004 and it’s still sealed.
That was our last vacation together as a childless married couple, and I’ve wanted to save it to drink with her when our last child moves out of the house. Wine typically ages very well, so I’m sure it will be just fine when the time comes.
That bottle of wine didn’t cost very much – less than $20, I’m sure – but it is going to be an incredibly meaningful part of a celebration in a few years. It will be part of how we mark a transition back to living in a house with just the two of us, with our children out on our own.
When you’re taking on a life change that you know will wind down someday, like buying a house together or having a child that will someday move out, put aside something inexpensive now that you can use to celebrate when that period comes to an end. A bottle of wine is perfect for this. Get an inexpensive bottle that you both enjoy and stick it in a cupboard somewhere. Simply opening that bottle together will be all the celebration you need when the time comes.
Celebrations can be special and momentous without breaking the bank. It just takes a little bit of thought and sometimes a little bit of planning. May your next celebration be wonderful and memorable, and may it not hamper your financial plans.