Updated on 10.29.08

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Birthday Party Edition

Trent Hamm

My son’s third birthday party approaches and we decided to have a small party for him, inviting three of his friends to participate (so that there would be four of them and they could “pair up” in various permutations, not leaving any kids out).

We’ve already planned carefully for it. We elected to have a party in the morning before naptime, we’re going to make our own cake and have a simple lunch for the kids, and we’ll have him open presents first, since his “big” present is something he can play with with all of the kids. We’re not planning anything too organized, mostly because we’re talking about three year old kids.

I intend to just set up a camera on a tripod in the corner, taping the area where he’ll open presents, eat cake, and eat lunch, and I’ll probably move it when they go into the other room to play.

What’s fun about this is that we’ve realized that the party isn’t costing us much at all, but it’ll create great memories for our son. We’re making our own cake and meal, plus virtually all the entertainment is made up of things we already own.

Getting started early with the frugality, indeed.

Post-Divorce Finances: 7 Steps to Rebuilding Your Financial House Excellent, excellent advice. I had a reader named Amanda who wrote to me recently because of this very situation. (@ wise bread)

What Kind of Shopping Experience Will You Put Up With to Get a Lower Price? I don’t tolerate dirty stores. Period. (@ queercents)

How Much of Your Mortgage Is Going Toward Clutter Storage? Wow. Thinking about a mortgage in this light is pretty impressive. (@ unclutterer)

Saving Money Through Stockpiling This logic is why our pantry is usually pretty full and why it’s always very easy for us to throw together a snap meal any time we want. We tend to stock up big time when we see big sales. (@ money saving mom)

Seven Unique Side Hustles to Keep Your Family Finances Afloat When I was in high school, I spent multiple summers helping my dad with his small-scale commercial fishing business. Every afternoon, we’d run 1,600 hooks out in the river to catch catfish. Every morning, we’d go raise them. Over and over and over again. (@ frugal dad)

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Deanna says:


    Good job on keeping it simple, I used to be amazed when my children were little, all our friends had these huge expensive blow outs for their little 2 and 3 yo kids that would cost anywhere from $1K to $3K sometimes……I could never figure out whey they did it. My kids birthdays have always been simple affairs. After they turned about 10, they were allowed to invite a few friends for an overnight. I’d rent videos and video games, a few pizzas and Dr. Pepper. They were happy. We have a ton of fun photographs and all kids want anyway (just like anyone else) is that their birthday is remembered and celebrated.

  2. Lisa says:

    Thank you for not doing one of those over the top parties that are really more for impressing other adults than children having fun.

    Once I had a party where I hid lollipops all over the back yard. The kids had a blast and the parents had fun watching them. Like you said, it doesn’t take much and your child will remember it. We all need reminders to keep the focus on the fun.

  3. Kevin says:

    We recently had our son’s first birthday at a local park and invited immediate family only. It was simple – just fried chicken with a few sides (most relatives volunteered to bring something) and cake. I think it cost us a total of $50 or so, but in the future we’re just going to do something similar to what you’re doing – no ponies or clowns or any of that junk.

  4. Anna says:

    Sounds like an excellent plan, well suited for children that age. At any age you can Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

    Third birthday…three guests. I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb for children’s birthday parties is to invite as many guests as the child’s new birthday age. Much better, especially for such young children, than having hordes of overexcited three-year-olds (or four-year-olds, etc.) After a point, with much older children and teenagers, you might invite only their closest friends. At that age you consult the child, of course.

  5. Frugal Dad says:

    Thanks for including my article on unique side hustles. I enjoyed this week’s roundup, particularly the mortgage-to-clutter post. That’s an interesting way to look at the cost of clutter, and a great reminder that I need to clean out my garage!

    Enjoy the birthday party–such a fun age!

  6. Khaki says:

    In regard to how much mortgage is going to clutter storage, how much money is going toward a rarely used guest room? It is waaaaaaay more cost efficient and sanity saving for me to pay to keep guests at a nearby hotel than to pay for a larger than needed home.

  7. MO says:

    Are you making the cake?
    Anything fancy?
    Post pix of it!!

  8. DIY Joe says:

    This year for our girl’s combination birthday party, my wife found 2 cake form kits: One was a GIANT cupcake (I want one for my birthday) and the other was a cute teddy bear. It required a little more effort on her part (but both came with recipes to make the larger than average cakes), but they were WAY cheaper than paying someone to do it. A little effort can save you a bundle.

  9. doctor S says:

    I must asy, I do not remember much from when I was very little, however, I do remember some of my birthdays and the images of them really to resonate in my mind. You are doing a great thing for putting so much thought into this birthday. As we get older now we notice people try to get others expensive gifts or throw them expensive ritzy parties for celebrating, but no one will every argue that the best gift is something that required a ton of thought. Happy bday to the young one!

  10. Aya @ thrive says:

    Brilliant! Big parties at Chucky Cheese is over-rated anyway…if they still even happen. Little kids can have fun anywhere and on their birthday, I think you can get it right any way you do it as long as there’s cake, toys and people they love.

  11. cynthia says:

    You may have already planned for this, but it is nice to give small gifts to the other children as they leave the party. It is nice for the other children and I think helps to teach sharing to the birthday child. For my daughter’s 4th birthday we got small white paper bags and she decorated each one. She really enjoyed doing it, too. Happy Birthday!

  12. Ryan McLean says:

    Sounds like your son is going to have a fun and frugal birthday party. Good luck and have fun. Let us know how it goes and how your son likes his gifts.

  13. AD says:

    Re: Shopping experience, I’m with you. I search for a lot of deals online, but when it comes to store shopping, I refuse to put up with bad service and dirty stores. I’ll never shop at Target because of their return policies and the way they treat customers like thieves. Maybe they have to do that, but I certainly don’t have to shop there.

    If I shop in a store, it’s usually somewhere like Nordstrom. I get handwritten thank-you notes, personal attention, and returns are very easy. There’s a freakin’ live piano player, and if I call ahead to inquire about an item, they’ll pull every one in my size and have it in a dressing room for me. My mouth dropped open on that one. I don’t even spend that much. My biggest shopping trip at Nordstrom was maybe $200 during one of their big sales. I know that’s chump change compared to what other people spend in there, but you get the same service no matter who you are.

    I think good customer service is hard to come by these days, and I’m willing to pay extra and drive across town to get it, rather than reward subpar companies. I also find that I have to replace cheap clothing more often, so it’s worth it to get something nicer that won’t fall apart.

  14. glendale attorney says:

    Wow, I wish I could do something small for my daughter. I have such a big family that I wouldn’t be able to get away with inviting only 3 people. It’s bad enough that I have to tell some family members that I’m not havng a party just so I can keep the cost down. I still end up spending at least $500!

  15. bethh says:

    I rather doubt your son will remember the party (the first birthday I can vaguely recall was my 5th!) but that makes it even BETTER that you’re being smart and frugal. Plus it’s a good standard to set for the other parents in your son’s social circle.

    I have mixed feelings about take-away party favors. I think they seem unnecessary, but I don’t have kids and am a billion years away from my own childhood, so what do I know?

  16. Adrienne says:

    My son’s turning 4 next week (don’t know how that happened). I always make his cake. It’s the little things that make it special. For his 3rd birthday I spelled his name out in M&Ms on the top of a very simple cake. He still talks about it. This year I’m going to try the “dirt & worms” cake (crushed choc cookies with gummy worms sticking out). I guarentee it won’t even matter what the cake tastes like.

    One issue I always have with b-day parties is too much stuff from relatives. I try to tell them to go easy on the presents but it never seems to work. Any ideas?

  17. DivaJean says:

    We tend to alternate years as to parties at home with friends over versus other types of celebrations.

    This year, my son took his two besties to the amusement park for the day– as his present and party combined. Last year he had a handful of friends over for cake and games. It was shocking how few kids knew how to play simple board games- and they loved it!

    My daughter had a home party this year- but last year was a bus trip to American Girl– as her present and party. She spent money from the grandparents and was able to budget for exactly what doll and items she wanted.

    My two youngest are just now entering the party years- my three year old daughter will have her first “party” next year when she turns 4.

  18. kristine says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree about goodie bags. I prefer that the thing the kids take away is the happy memory, not candy and junk they don’t need, that parents eventually find stuffed under the back seat of the car. I am never grateful to another parent who gave my kid a bag of candy to take home.

    It may teach the Bday child that it is not all about them, but it teaches all the kids to expect presents just for being guests.

    I see this amplified in the ridiculously extravagant wedding favors and bridal party gifts. Sometimes the sharing of the day should be enough.

    I don’t do cards, either. Stupid custom. Write a note!

  19. Lynette says:

    Trent it would be interesting to know what you got your son. What games have you got organised for the kiddies?

  20. Flea says:

    It is kind of pointless when I see parents throwing over the top birthday parties inviting 50-60 people and having clowns and wotnot for a kids 2nd birthday.

    How bout taking that money and putting it in their college fund?

  21. LC says:

    Yuck, goodie bags. More junk for kids to bring home. Kind of like Happy Meals.
    No offense, its a nice gesture but not necessary. The party is nice enough, they don’t need to take anything home.

  22. Do you notice that the third and fourth links are kind of contradictory. Not exactly, I realize, but as I try to declutter and save money, I often have trouble balancing it all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *