Our Thrifty And Simple Baby’s First Birthday Party

Happy 1st b-day Babywoods!

Babywoods is a year old! Ok actually she’s almost 15 months old, but sometimes Mommywoods doesn’t get around to writing articles exactly on time….

At any rate, our bebe crested her first annual milestone in late November and we feted her in style. Frugal style. Once again, I’m here to divest everyone of the commonly clung-to assumption that child-rearin’ is expensive.

A Photographer For A First Birthday Party?!

I have heard–and seen–tell of some lusciously adorned first birthday parties. We’re talking a custom cake, a hired photographer, snazzy decor, piles of gifts, and fabulous outfits for parents and kidlet. For a one-year-old. Who, I’m sorry, has no idea what’s going on. It seems the pressure to create a magical, opulent birthday experience for our kids has now extended to one-year-olds. Folks, this is going too far. Plus, if you hire a pony for a first birthday party, how exactly do you top yourself the next year? It sets a dangerous–not to mention expensive–precedent.

Fancy photo shoot (by mommy) in a hand-me-down dress

We all want to be good parents, we all want what’s best for our kids, but lavish birthday parties that they can’t even comprehend? I somehow doubt that’s what a one-year-old truly needs. And for that matter, I doubt that’s what a five-year-old or a sixteen-year-old needs either.

The notion that we can buy our children’s affection or shower them with material possessions in order to make them happy and healthy is nothing more than a scare tactic perpetrated by marketers.

Being a lover of holidays and special occasions and celebrations, I of course had a birthday party for wee Babywoods. But it was tempered, brief (in keeping with her attention span), and really, really cheap. Things like birthday parties are not an all or nothing proposition. Frugality–and especially lifelong extreme frugality, which I and many of you practice–doesn’t mandate that we purge all pleasure and whimsy from our lives.

Rather, it encourages us to get creative and identify ways to fully enjoy life absent the rampant consumerism touted by the mainstream. Frugality encourages a third way–it places us in between deprivation and consumption. It is the practice of finding enough and embracing contentment.

Our Frugal First Birthday Party

The cake in all its glory!

Guest list: me, Mr. Frugalwoods, Babywoods, Frugal Hound, and my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law. My in-laws visited us for the Thanksgiving week, so we decided to have Babywoods’ “party” then so they could join in the merriment.

Cake: Since we don’t feed Babywoods sugar (because why introduce something unhealthy when there’s no need?), I baked her a simple cake–with frosting–using this recipe. If I made it again, I’d use a lot less apple juice in the frosting because I thought it tasted weirdly sweet. To make this creation look more like a birthday cake, I cut the flat layer cake into tiny tiers using an upside-down glass bowl.

I bought birthday candles for $0.99 and stuck one in. We blew out the candle together, Babywoods licked all the frosting off, took a few bites of cake, and promptly dropped the rest in her lap. As you can see, this cake was not–ahem–all that attractive to put it mildly… and now we know why I am not a food blogger. Mr. FW said it looked like a stack of hamburgers with mayonnaise smeared on top. But, it was baked with love and actually tasted quite good–sort of like banana pancakes.

She was THRILLED with these faux flowers

Embracing the imperfection of doing things myself is an ongoing effort for me, but it’s a central element of my frugality. There is no perfection with a homemade cake–at least, not with one made by moi. While there might be greater ‘perfection’ with a store-bought cake, it’s likely you won’t be any happier with a cake you buy because you’ll judge it more harshly. I find that the more we spend, the more we expect. And high expectations are almost never met to their fullest. Plus, as previously mentioned, 98% of this cake ended up in a baby’s lap… so, yeah.

Photos: We snapped a few pics of all of us + the somewhat ill-looking cake and called it a day.

Decorations: Not gonna lie, we reused party hats we bought four years ago for Frugal Hound’s joint birthday party with one of our (human) friends. I also whipped out an old tablecloth of my mom’s that’s adorned with tulips to keep with our springtime, girly theme, which in retrospect didn’t make sense since it was November, but hey, it’s what we had. Maybe next year we’ll go autumnal hued, which is ideal since Frugal Hound would then match the decor.

Gifts: None. She’s a baby. She has no idea. We decided to give ourselves a pass on gifts for both her birthday and Christmas this year. We’ll have plenty of future birthdays and Christmases where she will know what’s going on and will find joy in opening presents (which I will most likely purchase used). No reason to force this tradition before she’s ready.

Decos + cake!

Photos: Ok, there were more photos. Since I adore taking pictures, my mother-in-law and I dressed Babywoods up in an amazing pink number I received as a hand-me-down and staged a mini photo-shoot in Babywoods’ pink bedroom. This was a totally unnecessary and superfluous activity, but I wanted an excuse to dress her up like a cream puff and snap photos. So there.

Crafts: Naturally, there was zero crafting involved, knowing as we do that I display remarkable ineptitude and loathing where crafts are concerned. See my unbelievably puerile centerpiece consisting of several party hats, some crepe paper leftover from my dad’s birthday party three years ago, and a popper from some distant, pre-baby New Year’s Eve.

Total Spent: $5

And it’s in the lap

And that, my friends, was that. I’d say we spent $5 total on the cake ingredients and candles. We didn’t have to worry about a meltdown in the middle of the fete, or that we wouldn’t get our money’s worth with a photographer, or that baby might not eat a fancy, store-bought cake.

We kept it simple, stress-free, and thrifty. And we have our photos to cherish, show her when she’s older, and hopefully engineer into some sort of embarrassingly large display at her wedding.

If a super-fancy first birthday is your thing–then go for it–but don’t feel that it’s the only option, or a ‘requirement,’ for demonstrating your love for your kiddo. My weakness is taking photos, perhaps yours is party planning! There’s nothing wrong with going all out if you earnestly want to–and have the excess money to expend. But don’t do it because you feel you should. Remove the notion of “should” and instead do whatever you and your child(ren) would most enjoy.

But Mrs. FW, How Do I Combat Family Pressure For Lavish Parties???

Babywoods: “what is this???”

I confess I’m blessed beyond belief with parents and in-laws who deeply respect the frugal lifestyle Mr. FW and I have chosen. However, I’m keenly aware that’s not the case for everyone–in fact, we had a Reader Case Study on this very topic a few months ago, which has excellent advice in the comments section.

Although I don’t speak from experience here–and so I’m hesitant to speak at all–I will say that you are the parents. You need to decide how you want to raise your child. You went through the hard work to bring them into this world–either through labor or adoption–and they are your responsibility.

While grandparents and extended family members play an important role in your child’s life, you are the final arbiter of what happens. Respectfully explain your wishes and be firm. It’s also important to be confident in your frugality. It’s not a weird or a bad thing to be frugal. Just as we don’t harangue people for choosing to be vegetarians, we shouldn’t disparage folks for their financial lifestyle choices.

What is crucial is that you and your partner/fellow parent are on the same page–that’s where you need to discuss and compromise and make decisions. Then, present a united front to the world and stand strong. After all, no one will care how you lived your life as much as you will and–dare I add–your children. They appear to watch and mimic everything we do, so, just sayin’.

Don’t Stress, Don’t Spend, Don’t Overdo It

Happy birthday!

One of reasons people think kids are super expensive is because parents do things like go nuts and spend hundreds of dollars on extravagant birthday parties. When I was a kid, the ultimate birthday party was having a sleepover at my house with a homemade cake and frozen pizzas. There was no renting out of a skating rink or hiring of a magician. The last year I had such a party? I turned 17. Oh yes, we were the cool kids.

I made invitations out of construction paper, my mom baked a cake, all of my friends came over, and we laughed ourselves silly watching movies in the basement all night long. One memorable year, my dad and I blew up 100 balloons and put them in the rec room and then my friends and I ran around tossing balloons at each other for a good two hours. You should know we were eleven years old at the time.

I think there’s nothing wrong with embracing simple pleasures and toning down the escalating arms race of designer cupcakes and custom party favor bags. So what if all the other parents are doing it? Just say no. And you know what? I kind of bet kids will have a fabulous time just, you know, being kids. They’re pretty good at that.

How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?

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140 Responses

  1. I actually just wrote a post about this on Friday, because my middle son (9) was headed off to a friends party at Lazer Quest. I checked the prices while there and they were $20-$30 per kid-not including cake-so with 15 kids that part cost somewhere between $300 and $450. For two hours. Ouch!

    I have three kids at very different ages-13, 9, and 1-so what I do is different for each. For the older two, I let them have friends over to play, watch movies, play video games, and do make your own pizzas. I also create a birthday poster each year that I save-total cost is under $5 and we have a great keepsake for every year of their lives. I do go all out on the cake, but I make and decorate it myself. I made a huge, elaborate Totoro cake (complete with acorns and soots) for my one year olds birthday, but the cost was likely under $5. That same cake would cost $50 or more if I bought it! I started making birthday cakes when my oldest turned 1 because he had egg and dairy allergies, and I’ve kept going to this day. Fun parties don’t need to cost a lot!

    • Roselyne Bourgault-Gervais says:

      Yes! We also do full parties (we had 20 people over for our 2-year-old’s birthday party last spring, for example, and it’s looking to shape up the same way when she turns 3…) The joys of large families who live close by and want to participate, plus a few daycare friends who live walking distance away and are adorable and semi-related (and then you get their families…)

      But, y’know? Feeding 20 people ham and potato salad (on sale around that time of year), and really amazing and well-decorated (and homemade!) cake, costs about 30$ worth of ingredients. Add some balloons (dollar store…) and some appropriate activities (go outside! Blow bubbles! Throw pebbles in the creek! Draw on rocks with chalk! Etc) and you’ve got a bunch of well-fed and happy people and well-fed and entertained toddlers, for fairly minimal cost.

      I REALLY like your make-your-own-pizza suggestion. I’m gonna keep that in mind for next time. 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    Growing up, my birthday parties always, always were raining. Always. I’m a deep-winter birthday (August, southern hemisphere, serious winter rainfall area), so my mom, who is an outstanding baker always made me a really fun cake, set out sweets and chips of various kinds, nothing elaborate or pricey at all, just a few bowls of party food and cold drink… and my dad, bless him, ”ran” the show. He devised the most incredible games, all indoors (our lounge was a decent size… but still), and had us run ragged by the end. Pick a box, musical statues, a tombola (he had all the relevant gambling tables, don’t ask why), simon says, pin the tail on the donkey… memory games… all of it. At a time, especially in very conservative 80s South Africa, when dads generally weren’t terribly involved in young kids birthday parties, my dad LOVED it. I never had more than about 8 guests until I was much older, and even then, it was kept reasonable, and certainly never had it at any sort of ”venue” except the year that he was ill and dying (my 12th birthday), and my mom just borrowed her neighbour’s van and took us all to the rollerskating rink and served cake and cool drink from a cool box, and though it was of course great fun, the interactive fun we had at my house, winning silly little prizes and playing weird games was way better and are some of my clearest childhood memories. Memories, clear ones, cannot be replaced!

    • Cindy says:

      I’m sorry you lost your father at such a young age. How nice that you have wonderful memories of him.

      • Caroline says:

        thank you! It was many years ago now, and I think my mom was amazing – not that I was remotely aware at the time, of course, being a selfish pre-teen – just keeping the wheels turning when things like ”let’s take 8 over-excited tweens to a rollerskating rink for 2 hours” must have featured quite low on her wishlist.

  3. Honestly at one they won’t even remember the party so it’s for the parents. When they get older it will be more interesting as they may want or ask for a party. Still I think you have the right idea. Party at home, low key.

  4. TPOHappiness says:

    What an adorable baby! We haven’t yet had our son’s first birthday but we plan on throwing a very frugal party as well. A friend of mine is an amateur photographer and loves to take pictures of him so it will be nice we’ll have that portion covered.

    As for the gifts… the gift will be his first piece of cake. I mean, seriously, what more could we want than a bunch of flavored sugar goodness?

  5. So great to hear you took this route. We don’t have kids but all of our friends have had kids in the last few years so we’ve seen the exorbitant parties they through on the first birthday. It’s all for them as the kid obviously isn’t going to remember it. Just another way for parents to compete with one another on who can buy the most crap for their kids.

  6. Jill says:

    I love this so much. We are very much on board with having experiences over stuff, even where parties are concerned. Our 9 year old has, for the last two years, invited one friend to go out to a cheap dinner (my husband lets them sit at the table alone while he’s off at another one), and then to a hockey game (that my husband is refereeing) together. It was such a hit with his best buddy, that the friend declined his mother’s usual offer of “let’s invite 30 friends over for a massive party” and asked to do the same thing for his bday, inviting our son as his guest. For both birthday and Christmas gifts, we ask extended family members to contribute to family road trips instead of giving presents.
    Our 4 year old’s birthday falls on New Year’s Eve. We celebrate as a family, with a special meal – boxed pizza and a $5 cake from the grocery store – and play board games until bedtime (nobody can make it til midnight. We’re just not hardcore enough!).

  7. Pauline says:

    My Granddaughter is now 9 and her birthday is at the end of the school year. She has 20 kids in her class and by the time her birthday came around she had been to 17 very expensive parties. On her birthday we arranged for her entire class to walk over to a local ice cream shop together just after school. All the kids had an ice cream each and sat at the tables feeling very grown up (they were 6 years old at the time). The parents picked up their kids from there about 45 minutes later. All the kids still talk about it as being one of the best parties!

  8. Christine says:

    Remember when they are in elementary school you are “required” to invite either the entire class or everyone of your child’s gender in the class to the party so no one is left out. Of course your child has made other friends by then as well plus cousins etc.

    When the kids were real little, relatives would get them Birthday and Christmas presents. There would be so many presents that we didn’t end up giving them what we bought. You could tell that the kids were overwhelmed.

    • Dorothy says:

      I’d push back hard on this “rule” if it’s a rule at your school.

      A rule many families follow is that the child may have the number of guests equal to her age. That may even be too many. But surely you don’t need more than 6 guests at a six-year old’s party.

      There’s no law that say you have yo serve a meal, or accept presents, or do any particular activity. As the hosts, the parents set the tone and make the plans, not the school.

      • Jill says:

        Agreed. I think if the kid is going to hand out invites at school, it could be a bit awkward, but these days it’s easy to text or instant message parents of children who are invited. No need to invite an entire class of 30! That was definitely the norm when I was younger, but I’m 38, and it’s not done where I live anymore. (and “how do I pick who to invite” is another reason we like family celebrations, or invite-your-best-bud rules instead)

      • Laura schmit says:

        It’s a rule at our children’s school as well. Unless I am good friends with the parent, it is difficult to get an invite to only one or two classmates. The teachers will not pass the invites out unless there is one for every child unless gender party only. Most of the time, like this year, we had to invited every child but ultimately, only the good friends show up.

        • isabelle says:

          My kid is in elementary school and we don’t have such rule. She does not invite the whole class and she does not get invited for all parties and it’s ok. It’s part of life, to learn that you will not be included all the time. That said I’m ok with this because she has a good circle of friends. If my kid was an “outcast” it would break my heart. I always make sure to tell my kid to be really discrete when inviting her friends and to not rub in into other kid’s face that they are not invited.

    • Daybyday says:

      That isn’t the rule in our schools (we’ve now been in two different elementary districts across the country) …some parents still do it and my kids hate those parties as they don’t get to celebrate their own friend with all the other 20+ kids they never see socially other than these parties. We didn’t do it and it helped my kids understand why they wouldn’t always be invited to others parties either… a very good social lesson. Our budget is always about the same and they are allowed invite more kids if they have an at home party or less kids at a venue party. So far, 90% of the time they pick at home parties. We’ve had awesome themes… messy games (we served mac and cheese and butter noodles), Harry Potter (homemade decoratims, make your own wand from gathered sticks, etc), and backyard movies (projector and screen borrowed, served little caesars) have been favorites the kids still talk about! While not $5 we also only do friend parties every other year, and the “off” year we do something small, like go to an arcade or movie with one best friend. We did not start parties at all until they were three and had preschool buddies and we wanted to get to know the parents too….up until then the immediate family would just use it as an excuse to get together and eat cake!

      • LivingDebtFree says:

        My kids always hated these parties too. They never got to spend time with their birthday friend because there were just too many people. There is also the problem of too many gifts when you throw a large shindig. The kids get overwhelmed and guests can grow tired while watching a child open gifts for an hour. It becomes a perfect recipe for over consumption and the parent having to make the party even better the following year. Kudos to the Frugalwoods for recognizing that a one year old party is largely for the parents, not the one year old..

  9. Laurie says:

    Nice job resisting Mrs. Frugalwoods! I majorly failed at this last year with my nine-year-old. We had a party at our house, and I made all the decorations, but I decided it should be Minecraft themed and went slightly crazy on making printout Minecraft labels, Drink Mixing Station, etc. (this is when Pinterest gets you into trouble. Avoid Pinterest when planning a party!!!). It wasn’t expensive, but it wasn’t cheap, either, especially when I think about all the time involved. The kids had fun, but would have had just as much fun with no theme, and keep the mixing station (that was definitely a hit! Lots of different flavored sodas they could mix together). After the party, I told my boys, “no more parties! We’re going to go to the pool instead!” They seemed ok with that. It was a painful lesson, for sure.

  10. Leah says:

    We love angelfood cake with homemade whipped cream and berries — that’s what my little girl has had for both her birthdays. Not too sweet! My MIL has also insisted on doing a party for her and bought a very sweet store-bought cake, but my gal prefers the homemade version. I did buy a box mix for the angelfood cake — easier than all those eggs. Both times, we’ve played with bubbles outside and watched fireworks (her birthday is July 4). So simple.

    I feel you on frugal and low-key parties! As she ages, we anticipate doing something outdoors. The biggest expense I can think is that we might rent our local pool for a pool party if she ever wants to, but that is many years off. It’s an expense I’d feel comfortable with because it supports our local economy, doesn’t require tons of planning, and helps the kids be active before having treats.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds perfect :)! Angelfood cake is a good idea–I’ll keep that in mind for next year since this year’s cake was pretty tragic looking 😉

      • Leah says:

        super easy and looks good! You really can’t go wrong. And homemade whipped cream is so yummy.

      • Becky says:

        I think I made the exact same cake for my now four year old’s first birthday! It was yummy but looks pretty bad and she wasn’t too interested in eating it! The next year we made pumpkin muffins (from 100 days of real food) with lightly sweetened homemade whipped cream – perfect for a fall birthday! We had a very similar first birthday experience splurged on $2 pink plastic table cloth (which has since been re-used a few times and $8 worth of fresh flowers for the centerpieces and that was the only moneyspent! For her fourth birthday party we invited 3 similar aged neighbor friends over for a “splash” party in our backyard with borrowed kiddie pools (one with borrowed little tikes slide going it!) and a sprinkler! We served tiny PB and J sandwiches, fresh fruit and homemade cupcakes (with homemade whipped cream frosting) – menu chosen by the birthday girl! Everyone had lots of fun!

    • Daybyday says:

      As a working parent, my kids also prefer homemade as it’s ‘special because mom does it’….I prefer Costco cakes and always try to convince them I’ll spend the $18 ….. They get to choose their cake type……kid led Frugality wins, I lose. Lol

  11. I love this! As a principal in an elementary school, I hear kids talk about birthday parties all the time. I also know that many parents can’t afford to send kids to parties because they can’t afford expensive gifts they feel like they have to bring too. Home parties or parties at a local park make so much sense. Kids want to play with each other (or hang out with each other as teens) – the venue isn’t important, the people are what is important. I also appreciate that you didn’t do gifts for your baby either. We either did that – or did really practical things (like clothing or used books) when they were little. Both sets of grandparents gave money at birthdays that we put in a college account.

  12. Hanna says:

    Our daughter is just a few months older than Babywoods. We live abroad (we are originally Swedish, but live in Germany temporarily due to work) which made our wish to celebrate simple very easy (no grand parents showing up with gifts we never asked for, which is our biggest problem at the moment). The guest list consisted of our daughter, myself, my husband, a friend of ours and his 1-year-old son. We made suger-free cupcakes and bought a pack of birthday candles that we can reuse for several years. She got one gift from us, which was a wooden toy that we would have bought for her anyway. The kids opened the gift together and had much fun playing with the wrapping paper (which was saved from a gift I got for my birthday a few months earlier). We dressed her up in a dress that my grandmother made for me for my first birthday 🙂 I think we spend a bit more than you did, maybe 20 $ including the gift, cupcakes and candles, but still very cheap! 🙂 Thanks for a great blog!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds lovely, Hanna :)! What sugar-free cupcake recipe did you use?

      • Hanna says:

        I used this recipe: http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/elsas-raspberry-cupcakes/
        “Unfortunately” it’s also gluten-free so it includes some quite expensive ingredients, but sugar-free, diary-free, and gluten-free is very popular nowadays in Europe… maybe it’s the same in the US?

        They were simple to make, but of course they did not look as perfect as in the pictures 🙂 I would strongly recommend using a muffin tin! Also, the frosting was very runny, but still delicious!

    • Lisa-Michelle says:

      Oooo, sugar free cupcakes?? I haven’t made cupcakes for years…. I’d love to know the recipie Hanna

  13. Christine K says:

    Oooh I love the party you threw. It sounds absolutely perfect to me. Not going to lie…we’ve done our share of $500+ Pump It Up birthday parties for our kids. It’s the “norm” where we live for sure (maybe the norm everywhere?) 🙁 After we wised up to the cost we realized that we could swap into a timeshare in Orlando for a fraction of that cost and spend a long weekend as a family enjoying the resort facilities. That’s how we celebrate birthdays now. The kids do bring a box of donuts into school to share with classmates, but that’s under $20 per birthday.

    It seems as the kids get older, we’re being invited to more low-key parties. My 11 year-old is going to one at the local beach next weekend. It will be pizza, cake and boogie-boarding so a totally frugal party. I’m glad to see this trend. We’ve been to some absolutely insane, over-the-top parties…One (referred to as “my super-sweet 5” by me and DH) was at the Bippity Boppity Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Disney. That was the one and only time my child has been to the BBB lol. We live locally to Disney but hello, that place is $$$ for one kid nevermind a party full of kids. Insane doesn’t begin to describe the cost of that party!!! When that becomes the “norm,” it’s hard for kids to understand why cake and ice cream with friends at home is actually a more normal party.

  14. It looks like Babywoods had a wonderful first birthday, no matter the dollar amount spent.

    For my little one’s first birthday, our splurge was to each take a day off from work. Her dad and I took her to the local children’s museum, where she played all day. It was a great way for us all to connect and celebrate, as we were completely aware that her first birthday was more significant to us than to her.

    One thing that worked well last year was asking family members to gift her big ticket clothing items (instead of toys) for the next season. She has a March birthday, which is just when things start to thaw around here, so we requested a pair of sneakers and a spring jacket. She was able to make it until Christmas before she needed a new pair of shoes/coat. Now that she’s ready to size up in warm weather gear, we’ll be asking for the same things for her 2nd birthday.

  15. I have a friend who’s child loves animals – dogs in particular. Being a frugal gal, she made invitations inviting a few of her little girl’s friends over and the children were asked to skip Gifts and bring dog treats, dog food, toys, whatever instead for a local dog rescue place in town. The child and her friends took a “field trip” to the facility, got to love on the pets for a while, make their donations and come back for birthday cupcakes, “dog chow” (puffy cereal served in a big dollar store plastic dog dish!) and drinks then played animal
    Related games till pick up time. It was the fete of the year and all the kids loved it! Sometimes you can be frugal and charitable at the same time. Of course the little girl’s parents gave her a gift which more than made the day.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That is a fabulous idea! My sister-in-law actually did something very similar for her birthday a few years back and I love the idea of incorporating a charitable act into a birthday party.

      • Brenda Hardesty says:

        My daughter-in-law did the same type of party except a dog rescue came to their home and talked about rescuing older dogs and the need for more good adoptive homes. My granddaughter was thrilled when she learned that her birthday gift was one of the senior dogs that came to her party.

    • Bonnie says:

      Just now reading this and LOVE it. What a true gift to the development of that child and her friends, and so many benefited from that.

  16. Daisy says:

    We only have our immediate family – no guests. The reason for this is twofold. First, when we did invite kids older, we would inevitably get people who didn’t show up, or had to fret about the weather cooperating (we all have winter birthdays in a snowy climate), or someone getting sick for the party, etc. The second is that people around here DO go out for the lavish parties at the outside venues. We just really can’t afford, either moneywise, timewise, or sanitywise, to do four sets of those types of parties, and then feel equal pressure to coordinate something extra for our kids’ birthdays as well. Factor in that we have restricted diets and just don’t want to be that busy (a party every weekend – not my idea of fun)… Yeah, no. If we had grandparents in the area, we’d invite them, but we don’t, so there’s that. But we have tons of fun anyway, even with just us.

    I don’t bake – I seriously just refuse to do cakes! – so the cake is the one thing I buy. We have a “Happy Birthday” banner we reuse, and break out the party tablecloth and fancy dishes. (“Fancy” meaning… it’s not fancy at all, it’s just a second set of dishes I found at the thrift store and fell in love with, but don’t use everyday.) My husband is a master decorator, and he can do wonders with about $5 worth of streamers from the dollar store. Not $5 per party, of course – we always have parts of the rolls left over. I also get balloons at the dollar store because, balloons, man. I made a birthday crown from felt a few years ago, and while it’s nothing fancy, the guest of honor always likes to wear it. The rest of us wear paper party hats. The child of the day gets to pick what the meal will be, then we sing Happy Birthday, eat cake, and open the couple of presents. Then they watch a movie and get a rare treat of some salty snack like potato chips, then we call it a day.

    As they get older, the requests for “theming” have become a little more pronounced. My daughter turned 9 this winter and she got it in her head that she wanted a “Hawaiian” birthday. I guess she read a book where that happened? So I did go ahead and buy maybe $25 worth of stuff from Amazon… a blow-up palm tree, some hula skirts, leis, little umbrellas for their drinks. Then we streamed some Hawaiian music for free, and a good time was had by all. The kids played with the dress-up stuff for days before I scooped them up for the donation bin. 🙂

  17. Amber says:

    I was a scholarship student at an expensive private school in Puerto Rico so while everyone had quincenera parties in fancy hotels, mine was in our back yard! Given, our backyard at the time was on the top of a mountain so we had an incredible view. My parents invited all my family and had them give a speech, prayer or performance in my honor and I invited a few close friends who wouldn’t judge me for not having a “nice” party. My mom found me a gorgeous gown on sale, a cheap but elegant tiara, made the most amazing vegetarian lasagnas herself (the meat-eaters couldn’t believe they were vegetarian!) and made me a throne with a bench and canopy decorated by us with pink (plastic) roses, and all the pictures were taken by family (and were of course beautiful, although not professional). We did outsource my hair and makeup but I’m quite glad for that! It might not have been what was “normal” compared to my classmates quinces, but honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I got to be princess for a day without worrying about judgmental classmates and now have these very special memories with my family.

    • Caroline says:

      that sounds amazing, a great example of combining commonsense and thrift with also ”splashing out” a little (the hair, lovely dress and makeup for a teenage girl is a big thing, even if bought on sale) in non-over-the-top ways to create a memorable, beautiful event. You were the guest of honour, that was the main thing, the special important one, what a wonderful, creative family.

  18. PJGT says:

    Babies are not expensive…teenagers and college are expensive! Just my experience 😏 well done not making childhood about money and keeping up with trends, but keeping it about your family.

  19. I love this! I was waiting to see how you celebrated Babywoods birthday and I knew it was going to be a thrifty affair!! This is definitely my inspiration if I ever have children. I am not interested in buying presents for first christmas/first birthday – like you say, they really won’t remember it! I loved my birthdays growing up and I never had a party. I was allowed a friend home to play after school and my mum cooked whatever dinner I asked for (usually homemade pizza or lasagne!) and she baked me a chocolate birthday cake. So many fond memories & not a ton of money spent.

  20. Jill says:

    My son will be turning 16 next month. We want to do something fun and memorable for his birthday, but not over the top expensive! He would like to have something to invite all of his friends from marching band, and there are 40 kids in band! Yikes! So we have decided to rent out the gym at our church ( inexpensive for us, and will save my house from teenage overload! ) buy several $5 pizzas from Little Caesars, I will make homemade cupcakes, we will set up the volleyball net in the gym, and we will crank up the music and have a fun but inexpensive 16th birthday! it will be something he will always remember and won’t break the bank. And he has already been informed that he will not be getting a car for his birthday, but will be so lucky to get to share mine with me! LOL!

  21. Lindsey G. says:

    Our twin sons turn 6 in a little less than 2 weeks. When asked what they wanted for this years celebration, they agreed on a home party with cookies as their treat. They made their invitations by painting and drawing pictures on notecards, which I then wrote the party details on back and off they went. My husband + the boys (we have a 7 year-old son as well) have been in the process of making a Pokémon piñata. I am impressed by his skills! No gifts from us as we have 2 free tickets to Legoland in Southern California that we’ll use the following week. All this said, their 1st birthday was the complete opposite. I bought into the whole “spend a bunch of money on your kids” theme back then. It was a stress induced week of prep as we went into their 1st birthday celebration, as so many events were back when I was trying to create perfection. Adopting frugality, striving to be less wasteful and embracing a non-consumer focus have changed these events from stress-filled to fun-filled for this mom. It’s been my experience that anxiety fuels much of this “keeping up” mentality and it’s been a huge weight off my shoulders to walk away from that. Thank you for your continued inspiration on walking a different path.

  22. Cindy in the South says:

    My oldest has a birthday very close to Christmas. So, as one of the Christmas desserts, my mom always had a birthday cake, I think she picked it up at Walmart because she was not a cook, with his name on it. We wore hats and sang happy birthday. He did not get additional gifts because he was one years old. Same with my other kids at their first birthday. I have four kids (now grown) and for my three sons I gave them one nice gift as preteens and teenagers, and a cake. They could also have a few friends over for a sleepover if they wanted. I would fix a meal of usually hot dogs, ice cream, cake and chips. It was not healthy but whatever….lol. and. My daughter was born in the summer, so she had a pool party in our above ground pool, again with cake and food, and the girls spent the night. I never held a party anywhere but at my house. I never did decorations, I am not crafty, and I guess our parties were low key.

  23. RMF325 says:

    I’m childfree, but here in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, birthday parties (like everything else) seem to be a “who can spend the most/do the most” competition. My niece and nephew (now grad students) started getting picked up by limousine for birthday parties at the age of 8. Things escalated pretty steeply from there.

    I loved your party for Babywoods; it looked like a lot of fun. For a little girl whose wardrobe is hand-me-downs, she is consistently stylishly and attractively attired. She looks great in her pink dress!

  24. We were the exact same way for our son’s first (and honestly second) birthday. My wife made sugar-free apple muffins with frosting (also using apple juice). Turns out our son actually wasn’t much of a fan… no skin off our back. The last couple years we’ve taken it very slow on buying him gifts, especially because we know grandparents have really enjoyed buying him stuff. Why double up on more toys when he has plenty already? We’re getting ready to celebration birthday number three and this time around he understands what’s going on (or at least has talked to us about celebrating his friends birthdays at school). We’re do a bit more, but still not get outrageous.

  25. vrmiddle says:

    We’ve raised 6 kids (two are grown and two more are headed off to college in a year!) and managed to do it with one income and lots of hard work and planning. We’ve always kept our birthdays low key whenever possible and our kids have always been supportive of our plans to retire early. But one thing I never skimped on was photography. I bought myself a DSLR 10 years ago and learned how to take pretty great pictures and edit them myself. My Nikon D90 (plus a couple of inexpensive lenses) has served me well over the years. It was a splurge when I originally purchased it (over $1000), but the lifetime memories have been “priceless”. Thanks for sharing pictures of your sweet girl. Time goes by way too quickly. Capture and enjoy every minute of it!

  26. Jessi says:

    This looks like a lovely 1 year old birthday party! I hope my 1-year old gets something similar 🙂 My baby shower is this weekend, and my husband is making the cake for it to help the hosts save some money (I otherwise have NO IDEA what they have planned). He likes to do gingerbread houses at Christmas time, and the one we found on clearance also had a code for free Wilton’s classes on Craftsy.com- so he learned to make royal icing flowers, a skill he is now putting to use on the cake. So I’m sure he will do all our child cakes- our library also has an amazing cake pan library so he can check out different shapes without having to buy them!

    Growing up we occasionally had small skating parties or movie parties, but the absolute best ones were sleepovers: rent a movie, order pizza. No petting zoo needed (though my niece’s 5 year party with the petting zoo did look cool…) We live far from family, so until baby has her own friends, I think parties won’t be a thing for us.

    I have had trouble resisting shopping for adorable girl clothes though. I just realized I have 70! newborn to 0-3 month outfits. Granted, the total outlay on that was $50 since it was all used market, but still! If I buy lots, I should only buy 1, no matter how good of a deal it was. I have less clothes in higher up age ranges, but it was really hard for me to close shopping carts on Presidents day when so many really really cute baby clothes were on sale. I’m going to need to hit the garage sales. (Our buy nothing groups are a bit sparse- the used market here is so good. Hopefully that means I can get a few dollars back on my stuff!)

    I need to determine if there is a good cheap source for adorable headbands or if making my own is better- cause I am crafty. I’ve been making my own baby leggings out of knee high socks I got on clearance at target. I love baby leggings as they make diaper changes so much easier than pants!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      On baby clothes, garage sales are ideal! I find that often, thrift store baby clothes are too expensive. Clothing swaps, friends with slightly older kids (for hand-me-downs) and local parents’ groups–through Facebook or listserves–are also excellent sources for hand-me-downs, especially if your Buy Nothing Group isn’t very active. And 70 outfits will be way more than you need for the first 3 months, so consider yourself set :). I found that Babywoods mostly wore footie pajama onesies for the first 3 months of life. After that, we started to branch out a tad, but newborns just want to be warm and cuddly :). Congrats on your pregnancy!!!

  27. Justin says:

    Confession: we skipped a birthday party for our 3rd kid’s first birthday. 🙂 About one month earlier we had a big party for our oldest kid (who is old enough to know what’s going on) and we were all partied out. We were still working too, so not much free time to set up a party, invite people over, and clean up before+after. I can’t remember what we did but there might have been cake and/or ice cream and/or pastries involved. Just not a big to do.

    Love seeing this frugal B-day celebration though. Too many folks spend way too much on birthday parties. We usually do home parties and most of the kid guests comment how awesome it is to come over, hang out and play all day. At the commercial b-day party establishments, it’s a rush game. You’re allotted one hour to play and one hour to eat/celebrate. Boom boom bam and out the door. Not much time to actually socialize with your guests. We did a commercial b-day party once (it was a freebie we won) and our kid cried because she didn’t get time to spend with her friends at her own party 🙁

  28. Amanda says:

    The timing of this article couldn’t have been better! Our twin girls turn 1 in April, and we just booked a trip ($0 thanks to airline points from grandma!) “home” for Easter weekend to spend time with family and celebrate their birthday as well. I’m struggling with how to approach their birthday celebration, since we only see family a few times per year due to distance, and I know there will be about 30 people who will want to join in on the celebration. There have been a few family members who have offered to host a gathering at their home, and you’ve helped me realize that this will probably be the best solution, rather than spending money for an event space or restaurant. I’m trying so hard to hone the frugal ways, but it’s so easy to get carried away….just because we have the money to spend doesn’t mean we should! Must keep following this mantra–thank you, and happy 1st to babywoods from the thriftytwins 🙂

    • Caroline says:

      Definitely take them up on hosting, and then just either get made / make / order a nice cake (or two small ones if someone is prepared to make them for you from within the family), and then make it potluck. I might put up a few decorations and have a bit of a ”photo corner” for pictures with the birthday girls and some fun accessories… and that will be a seriously great party!

  29. Sarah says:

    I went to one such party for a one year old, and it was basically a Pinterest explosion. And guess what? The baby was completely overwhelmed and cried a lot. The mom was running around like a crazy person. Not good. Then and there I promised myself I would keep it simple for future children and make a nice deposit into their college account instead. A cake, candles, and a family picture is all the child will care about later. Happy Belated Birthday to Babywoods!

  30. Eeeek! Babywoods is so adorable! Happy birthday, little lady! Way to go with keeping the party affordable. I know people love to go hog-wild on kids’ parties, but who remembers their first birthday party? I sure don’t.

    As a kid I do remember my parents paying a good amount of money to have parties at places like Chuck E. Cheese. It was always a special treat since most of our birthdays were thrown at home on the cheap.

    Your kids will still love you if you don’t rent a circus for their party. 🙂

  31. Joanne says:

    Hi Mrs FW I love to bake so Birthday cakes are a big thing for me/us here! I purchased for £9.99 (about $15 I guess) a train cake tin for son nos 1’s first birthday- each year he gets to choose the colour of the icing and occasionally I theme it with whatever he’s interested in at that time – think dinosaurs poking out of the side of a dark green train cake lol!! When son nos 2 came along I purchased a car cake tin for him and the tradition continues- he’s massively into Lego so there have been challenges with that!! They are 15 and 12 now and they secretly look forward to whatever I’m going to conjure up for them beneath their ‘cool’ veneer – their friends show an interest too. I told them I am going to leave each boy their respective cake tin in my will as they can then carry on the tradition themselves way into the future!! Xx

  32. Roxana says:

    My son is 3 at the moment. He loves balloons, so we bought a bunch of those, bought also a birthday cake because I thought there will be no time to bake one(big mistake, it tasted awful and was a bit pricey) and invited only our family(my parents, his parents and my brother and his wife). He kid had a lot of fun. He’s born in February and here in Romania it’s winter so I cannot throw a picnic 🙁 When he was 2 he got very sick little before his birthday so no party then, and when we celebrated 1 year we had the same party: cake, family and balloons 🙂 I’ve heard of all sorts of kid’s parties, very expensive ones, very loud, too much stuff planned for the kids to do, to much food…I do not understand why. I hope we’ll manage to keep it simple as long as possible and learn to throw even cheaper and more fun parties as years go by 🙂

  33. Andrea says:

    I *love* you frugal folks! My husband and I do not have kiddos of our own, but for years I’ve been perplexed by the expensive shindigs we’ve been invited to and seen posted by friends and family on Facebook, all for kids not old enough to even understand what is going on around them.

  34. Melissa says:

    We have started scheduling our twice a year mini-vacations to visit friends/family to coincide with our kid’s birthdays. (It’s helpful that we have two kids and their birthdays are several months apart.) The kids get to stay in a hotel with a pool and eat their favorite snack foods we brought along, which they prefer over a party anyway. If visiting friends/family with kids, we invite them to swim at the hotel with us. We all get a day or two away to relax with no pressure for a big party with kids they barely know and gifts we don’t need because we won’t be in town.

  35. Holly says:

    USally my kids have had one or two friends over. Played a bunch of silly games (thought up by me) and had pizza made from scratch and same wit b day cake. This past year was my youngest’s golden b day so I did host a party at a local pool (summer). Very reasonable at $3 a person. Included moms. Made popcorn ( boxes from amazon), brought drinks and other munchies. Picked up noodles and water shooters from dollar store which served as parting gifts. Fun and memorable afternoon.

  36. Ms. Montana says:

    Our 5 kids range from 9-1. We have run the gamut of parties. From backyard fires with smores, 2 friends and a homemade cake to huge parties with 60 people. Now with so many birthdays, we tend to keep each party small and do two big general parties a year to gather our friends and family. We do a camping party in the summer and gingerbread house making in the winter. For those we go all out and invite every person we know.

  37. Michelle says:

    Our kiddo’s first and second birthday were just with my side of the family who live in the area. The third and fourth were just a play date with her little BFF (who’s parents happen to be good friends of ours), with a cake, candles, singing, and gifts thrown in at the end.

    DH and I are kinda anti-social introverts, on top of converts to frugal living and early retirement ambitions, on top of being lazy and easily stressed with party-planning, and so we’ve been avoiding a large organized party for our kiddo’s birthday like the plague. So far she’s seemed happy with a playdate mini-party for her birthday bash, since she’s also a bit of an anti-social introvert who avoids crowds too (no point in doing what everyone else does for kids’ birthdays if it’s just going to stress her out, right?)

    She might want something a little bigger as she gets older; we’re hoping we can get away with more mini-parties at 2-3 friends max…

  38. The Roamer says:

    I completely agree. 1 year olds are not asking for extravagant birthday parties. And if you start on that road out of a sense of obligation at the age of 1 it’s no wonder parents every where say kids are expensive. It’s only going to get worse if the practice continues year after year.

    For our 2nd We choose to celebrate in a very laid back way.

    Sadly from experience from my 1st I felt that throwing a party the way I wanted wouldn’t happen. So we had no outside guests. Just parents and sibling.

    You mentioned no gifts but was that just from you or did your family also cater to your wishes?

    That really is a doozy to navigate. You can always say one thing. But once people start coming over then it’s out of your hand. Or it certainly feels that way.

    I would love to hear how other people manage that.

    Though one thing you said is true. Both parents need to be on the same page and have confidence and conviction in their choice. Because pushing against norms is challenging and can be frustrating when differences in values exist right in the extended family.

  39. Beth says:

    For my son’s first birthday, we had our immediate family members over and a couple close friends that we consider our child’s “Aunt and Uncles.” I made some shredded barbecue pork in my slow cooker and my Aunt baked the cake. I do confess, that I did get a couple decorations from the local dollar store, but didn’t go all out. Total spent was around $20 dollars. His birthday is on New Years Eve and we requested that any gifts be monetary that we could put in his college fund. There still were a couple gifts of children’s books and some cute outfits…but I’m okay with those. He turned four this last year…and his party this year was pretty much the same as his first. Immediate friends and family…my aunt baked the cake and I had some finger foods to munch on….and spent around $20 for our dollar store decorations (mainly helium balloons because my son loves them and disposable tableware). My son loves it and doesn’t think there is anything that he’s missing.

  40. mila says:

    two teeny typos thought you may appreciate…
    cake section – “one made my mo”
    last paragraph -“arms rate”

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, thank you so much! They are now fixed :). Can you tell I wrote this post with a baby running around at my feet ;)?

  41. Laura says:

    We did the big parties when the kids were little. Now they’re bigger it’s just a family thing – we use a special plate, use a special school-made prop (big cupcake), wear a special hat and take the annual picture with those. Some kids like Dunkin Donuts instead of a cake, some like ice cream. Now that they’re bigger (18, 17, 15, 13) they get one gift (in the range of $40-$50 – something that they’d like or need). Hard to believe that I spent so much money and anguish when they were younger! Now we’re all happy.

  42. Chris says:

    How fun! I think we got my son two gifts when he turned 1. Now he’s in his 20’s and gifts cost just a LITTLE more. lol. Did she receive any gifts from the grandparents? I’m just curious. I have a friend who made this for her 2-year-old’s birthday. It’s inappropriate for a 1-year-old but just wait a little longer, and this looks delicious! http://www.superhealthykids.com/healthy-no-bake-chocolate-fruit-pizza/

  43. Mrs. COD says:

    I love this! We’ve kept our kids’ birthdays very simple and frugal thus far. We had a cookout with a couple of neighbors when our first turned two. Otherwise, it’s just been family visiting. This past weekend was our second child’s second birthday and we had a blast! We visited the free zoo with in-laws and ate a picnic by the lake (65° in February, wow!). Then at home we had cake made by me for a buck or two. Mini COD ate a couple of bites and that was it. We don’t relish the idea of huge parties as they grow older, either, so we’ll aim for meeting at local parks or hosting simple cookouts at our house. Agreed, if lavish parties are your thing and you can “afford” it, go for it. But they’re certainly not necessary for a happy birthday!

  44. Heidi S says:

    I don’t have kids but used to plan all of the birthday parties for the kiddo of a close friend. I love pinterest and crafting, and she was on a budget. Usually we spent $100 max on a party (including food and drinks for the adults), but apparently the other moms in the area thought they were some of the best! The biggest thing to me was always going with what the birthday boy was interested in. We invited 1 friend additional per year… ie if the birthday boy is turning 5, he can have 5 kids NOT 30. We would pick a theme and I would make games based around it- scavenger hunts, jet packs made from cereal boxes, I even made a life sized angry birds water balloon game. One year we had a science theme and made flubber from elmer’s glue. The kids LOVED these parties, they were personalized to the age and interests of the birthday kid but they were never insanely expensive. I would usually stock up on things I saw on clearance- ie school glue or crayons that went on clearance after the back to school would be used during the games, or for coloring as kids arrived- they could take their crayons and any crafts home as their “goody bag”.

  45. Mrs. BITA says:

    First, let us get the important thing out of the way. Babywoods looks adorable.

    I used the same recipe for Toddler BITA for her first birthday when she had also not yet been introduced to Mr. Sugar. I stripped her down to her nappy, put her in her high chair and placed the cake in front of her, camera at the ready to catch all the cake smashing/smearing goodness. She daintily dipped the tip of one finger into the frosting, took one teensy lick, made a godawful face, and then refused to have anything to do with the cake. Sigh.

  46. TinaP says:

    I love this! My daughter, now 11, is part of a “group” where the girls have big fancy birthday parties every year since they were 6! I have started her on a salary plan the last couple of years and one of her responsibilities to budget from the money I give her is buying gifts for her friends if she chooses to (I still remind her gift of time or homemade cards/goodies/etc can be just as fun – but leave the decision to her). It’s been very interesting seeing that she is just as excited and comfortable picking out a couple items from the dollar store and foregoing a card as when I used to shell out $20 a gift and had a fight every time I declined adding the $7 card that played music. Through all this audacity, she hasn’t lost any friends with her less than expensive gifts or lack of her own annual event; plus I see a growing appreciation for the small ‘anytime’ gifts I get her throughout the year.

  47. Debi says:

    I love your birthday celebration philosophy! When youngest son was six, he received an invite from a school buddy to a birthday box party. When we got there there were stacks and stacks of empty boxes out in the yard. The parents who volunteered to stay were given box cutters, the children were given markers and masking tape. They were occupied for 4 to 5 hours and made a cute little box town. Son is 29 now and remembers this as his favorite party. Cost was three rolls of tape, three markers, cake and punch.

  48. Linda says:

    Frugal bebe looked awesome in her hand me down outfit, and congratulations on the frugal birthday!
    Bringing my children up in England in the 80’s was of necessity a frugal affair, I don’t know of any mothers in my circle who went back to work until their children reached at least school age so we were all being frugal on one wage (lack of flexible working hours/part time or job sharing employment/the unavailability of childcare being some of the reasons). Birthday parties weren’t a “thing” until the kids went to school, and then they were celebrated with a few school friends, a cake and some games, and over in a couple of hours if the parents were lucky! Clothes were mostly acquired through family hand-me-downs, charity shops and playgroup swaps, school uniforms mean fewer clothes over all (and no brand comparisons at school either), toys were acquired in a similar way, and activities mostly free. Not whining, we had a great time and were certainly better off than our parents who brought us up just after the end of rationing. When we did have extra cash we spent it on experiential gifts and vacations.
    We moved to the US in the mid 90’s and have been astounded at the cash that is splashed on a daily basis, what is available in stores, what is seemingly considered “necessary” for a child to survive life, and the scarcity and expense of good food in the supermarkets.
    I applaud your frugal ways, it obviously works incredibly well for you and you’re opening minds to a less materialistic life style. Thanks for blogging!

  49. Cat says:

    Our middle son was very ill when he was a baby. The fact that he made it to one year was a milestone that we wanted to celebrate – so we did. While we didn’t have a photographer, we did spend days making decorations and food and we invited all our friends to celebrate with us. Will he remember it? No, but we will and when I look at him now and all that we have faced together, I do not regret spending $150 on a party. It was a lot of fun and the pictures show a happy healthy baby and none of the heartache and effort it took to get him there. To each their own, but a lot of these comments feel like judgement for doing it another way and we can never know the reasons behind some of the elaborate celebrations.

    • Sandra says:

      Congratulations to you and your family for getting through a tough first year and having the party that you wanted to have. Our family has done birthday parties all sorts of ways, from uber-frugal, to McDonalds, to Chucky-Cheese, to a paintball day, to very fancy–as the circumstances, the individual child’s wishes, and the mood took us. And ordinarily, we are very frugal. But that is the reason we are frugal so that we can afford to have the experiences for our family that we want to have. You remind us all that the party for a one-year-old is for everybody to celebrate, not just the baby.

    • Stephanie says:

      Yup. We have always done home or park parties too. Except the year I was in the hospital for six weeks and dying before that- my husband did a joint party place party for the becoming four and six year olds. We knew I would be coming home but didn’t know when and there were a bunch of restrictions due to infection control for the house. The party place was expensive but took care of everything and my husband was out of cope. The kids liked their party but liked having home parties with as many kids as they wanted more. Throw the kids outside to play, decorate cupcakes and bash a pinata- that’s a party.

    • Sarah C says:

      I haven’t read all the comments but I hope you know that most people are being judgmental about something entirely different than your experience – and about significantly more money. $150 on food for a party of all your friends isn’t very much money in my mind, and your son is totally someone worth celebrating! I think the judgement is about a culture of grade school-age kids whose families routinely spend $500-$1000 for a kid’s party that they then have to “top” next year.

      • LivingDebtFree says:

        Agreed! We are not talking a person celebrating a extraordinary milestone.. It is about the precedent that is set and the need to one up the party that sets a negative tone. Often times it sets the child up to continually search for material possessions to make them happy.
        Hedonic adaptation is real. This is just a different spin on what spectacular is.

  50. KG says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this post! My son turned 1 at the end of January and while we threw him a party it was more of an opportunity to get all of our friends together for a couple hours (none of my friends have kids…) We live in San Francisco where space is a premium. Luckily we have a shared rooftop we could take advantage of so we had about 25 people over, and asked that guests not bring gifts (a few did anyways but they were mostly books) and didn’t do decorations. Money was spent on food and drink; however since the party was in the afternoon I didn’t have to worry about serving a full meal – we had finger sandwiches, chips, dips, relish tray, mimosas and that was pretty much it. I just love entertaining. We sang happy birthday, Baby had a few bites of a cupcake and I have about 100 pictures from that day. Nothing extravagant but a great time had by all 🙂

  51. Leslie says:

    Perfect celebration – just enough to give her the idea that birthdays are special and to be celebrated. Please, please tell me that vase she’s playing with isn’t glass! It’s plastic, right? LOL Love your blog, thanks for it.

  52. Ann Hilliard says:

    Great story*. Thanks for sharing. We applaud you. Our children are grown now, but the biggest roadblock for us was the overindulgent grandparents. Now that our children are grown, they seem to have unrealistic expectations of what qualities as a “gift.”. I can’t begin to share the family drama & conflict these beliefs have caused.

  53. Stephanie Walker says:

    I ended up being one of those Mom’s who spent a lot of money on our daughters first birthday. I had wanted something small and intimate, but we ended up renting a blow-up water slide and pool combo for $250. My husband and I were the only adults to participate in the fun and it was a blast! We live in Texas and Sarah’s birthday is July 31st, so with 100+ degree temperatures my husband thought we needed something fun and cooling for all of the cousins to do.

    We barbecued hot dogs and served water for the guests. I made cupcakes and even though we spent a few hundred dollars, I think it was worth it. All of our extended family got to spend the day together, see our new house and celebrate.

  54. Florence says:

    My girlfriend is CONVINCED that raising kids is going to be incredibly expensive. It’s one of our main points of contention when we talk about our future and having children – I know that being thrifty about raising kids in no way deprives them, and even provides a better childhood in my opinion. But she is totally convinced that kids are the most expensive creatures ever. I’m definitely filing this post away in my arsenal of reading to convince her otherwise! Thanks for another informative post. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You are most welcome :)! Just show her our monthly expense reports pre and post-baby… not much of a change! It is more expensive to have a kid than not–there’s no getting around that. It’s a lot like having a pet–more expensive than not. But it’s certainly nowhere near as expensive as mainstream/conventional tropes declare! The mega expense for many families is childcare, so I recommend researching options (one of you staying home, part-time work, nanny shares, daycare, etc) and making preliminary decisions about that ahead of time.

  55. Lena says:

    It seems like Babywoods had a fabulous birthday! It looks like she was born into a happy and cosy family she, and no expensive birthday party could ever replace that.

    Happy (late) birthday 🙂

  56. Rebecca says:

    No kids in our household yet, but frugal birthday celebrations have been on my mind because my husband’s birthday is in a few weeks and it’ll be the first one since we agreed to stop exchanging gifts, so I’ve been trying to think of something to do to celebrate the day that’s low-key and non-gift but still special (besides going out to the restaurant of his choice for dinner, which I know he wants to do). I’m thinking I might surprise him at his work with a picnic lunch and a handwritten note.

  57. Shannon says:

    I kid you not, as I was reading your article on my phone, I got a text from my sibling sending out the potential date of my niece’s birthday party. My two siblings always do big parties for their kids. They are all 10 and under too. Private room rentals at restaurants for lunch, swim park parties, Jump Zone parties. Not that I asked, but I know these parties have cost them $400-1000. Not sure how it got so out of control in one generation!

    I recall only a couple birthday parties when I was a kid, generally I did not like being the center of attention. I had a summer birthday and we had a pool at home, so that was easy. Hot dogs and chips, homemade cupcakes (that I got to frost and sprinkle) and swimming. There were gifts which was always awkward opening gifts in front of others, but even then I thought getting a Barbie was excessive and too much for my 10 year old self.

    PS I hope the rest of the party had some kind of cake too!

  58. Lynn says:

    Our birthday parties are cheap, too. We do them at the local park, and the most expensive thing is food–but it’s an expense we know is coming, so we can save for it. Expensive birthday parties are fun, but we can’t afford them, because having children in DC really is super expensive (daycare is about $1800 per child per month, and that’s not at the most expensive place.)

  59. What a breath of fresh air. The money I see dropped at kiddie (and baby) birthday parties blows my mind. I just got invited to a 3 course meal, sit down dinner at a banquet hall for A BABY SHOWER. The baby isn’t even born yet, I can’t even imagine what that kid’s birthdays are going to be like (and what we’re going to be expected to bring as guests….) Just mind-blowing. Thank you for showing child-less people like me that there are still parents out there that aren’t spending unreasonable sums on raising children who’ll likely follow in their spendy footsteps, and instead focusing on the simple pleasures associated with loving and raising their child.

    Btw, your child is absolutely beautiful, and the photos of her are just precious. God bless!

  60. Turia says:

    Babywoods looks like she had a blast!

    Oh the birthday party arms race. My son is almost six and so far every birthday party he’s been invited to has been at an indoor playground where the cost of entry for the kids, access to a room, etc. ranges from $500 to $750 (this is for 25 or 30 kids plus accompanying adults). It is insane. He didn’t want a party when he turned three or four and when he turned five we went to a big park in our city with five friends and had a picnic and a nature scavenger hunt. I am hoping he never asks for one of the huge affairs as it just won’t happen.

    I would love to hear what your readers do about gifts from friends. There is a trend here to use websites where parents give money and half goes to the birthday kid and the other half goes to the selected charity. This cuts down on the amount of random stuff the kid gets but I think it puts pressure on the parents to spend more than they might normally and the kid can end up with a LOT of cash. The last birthday party didn’t do this so the birthday kid got 30-odd presents! With our park party I specifically said no gifts, just hand-made cards but my son was a bit sad on the day even though we had talked about how he was getting presents from his relatives and most of the parents pushed back a little and got him gift cards to toy shops. Is there a happy medium out there?

  61. JD says:

    I adore that pink dress on that beautiful girl. As the mother of two daughters, I confess partiality to photos of darling baby girls.
    I am right there with you on birthday parties. Even in this small town, parties had started being held at fast food places with “playgrounds” and awful, gaudy cakes provided by the restaurant, or at rented spaces with elaborate purchased cakes and treats. Each guest was handed a themed gift bag filled with at least five dollars worth of goodies per child. I said no to all that and had close family only at the first party, with homemade ice cream, had family with a couple of little friends at the second birthday, a day at the park or a movie matinee at later birthdays, and so on, with the exception being their tenth birthdays, which is the age at which I declared the end of actual birthday parties. One year, I created a scavenger hunt game for an outdoor birthday at a park, and one year, we went to the local skating rink where I paid simple admission for a small handful of kids and provided my own refreshments from the back of the car, since our food wasn’t allowed in the rink. After the age of 10, they could have a few girls over for overnight and movies on the TV or some other entertainment, which satisfied them entirely. Since the 10th birthday was the last party type birthday, I made it big with lots of kids. For one daughter, who has a hot summer birthday in the south, we told the kids to bring swimsuits and a towel, and we set up a homemade slip and slide in the yard with sprinklers and plastic, and filled balloons with water for a water balloon fight. We handed out squirt guns that were a pack of 10 for about $2, and let the kids play while we grilled hot dogs to serve with sides I made. Dessert was cupcakes, also made by me. The kids had a blast. For the child with a fall birthday, we borrowed a trailer, bought a couple bales of hay for $6, and took the kids on a hayride behind our pickup. We grilled burgers, I made the sides again, and made a cake. Each time, I handmade the invitations out of paper I already had. The kids had so much fun with the hayride, I had two mothers tell me that their kids now wanted a hayride for a birthday party. Huge, lavish parties, catered cakes and treats, and lavish goodie bags are not needed to give a kid a really nice birthday party. Your birthday party for Babywoods looks perfect.

  62. Amy says:

    We did low-key family dinners with a homemade cake for years. Then two years ago we decided to give each child a $100 budget for their birthday activities. We spend the day doing whatever it is they want to do. Last year the littles combined their birthdays (they were born 2 years 9 days apart) and we drove an hour to the nearest Chuck-E-Cheese. The party was just the 5 of us but they had a blast. The oldest for his 16th birthday last year wanted to hang out at home, eat dinner at Jimmy Johns and then had a cheese/cracker plate instead of cake. The previous year he had crab rangoon instead of cake.

  63. Dana Jespersen says:

    We have 9 kids, and they never even thought there was any other way but family style with a few gifts and all the family. The extended family is all in the area, so there wasn’t any space for extra kids, although their best bud usually spent the night. For milestone birthdays we take just the birthday child out to a nice place for dinner which is a huge treat plus time alone with Mom and Dad. They also get a really big gift, usually some kind of life gift. My oldest son wanted a chainsaw for his 16th, which grandparents also chipped in for, as an example. We have also done hiking gear for our boys outside, house gear for our daughter who was engaged for her 18th, ipods for our music lovers. All the girls in the family get their ears pierced on their 13th, so all the women troop over to a local shop, pick out earnings for the birthday girls, my mom got her second piercing with the first granddaughter to hit 13, then go home for cake. Same kind of thing for the girls 16thwhen they can start wearing makeup. Then we all troop over to Ultra and watch them get make up applied and everyone buys an inexpensive bit of makeup. It has made for great memories, both types of parties, and all my kids refuse to eat store bought cake. Both sides of the family are pretty frugal, and my side likes to brag on what a good deal they got. My kids know that amazing get in the box could easily have come from the thrift store, and the refinished desk certainly did, as did the complete series of Lemony Snicker. First Christmas, all my kids got an ornament, second birthdays are usually something like a flashlight, or spray bottles with water and a little broom and dustpan.

  64. Tarynkay says:

    I think that birthdays one through three are for the parents. Just like decorating a nursery is for the parents. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending months putting together the perfect nursery or with splashing out on a Pinterest perfect first birthday party (as long as you can afford it, of course.) But since it’s really for the parents, you don’t have to feel guilty if your baby sleeps in a laundry basket and you skip the first birthday all together.

    My sons turned one and five this past November. The baby’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year, so that was handy. When he gets older, we will do a separate party for him, but this year, we just made some cupcakes, sang him Happy Birthday, and let his big brother blow out the candle before the baby grabbed it by the flame.

    For the five year old, he wanted a party in the park with all of his friends. I scheduled it at 3pm so no one would expect a meal. He really wanted this particular Costco cake with a rainbow on it “the most beautiful cake ever in the whole world, Mama” so we got that. We put out snacks (fruit, vegetables, chips, juice boxes) and had cake. The kids ran around the park. The parents chatted. It was great. About 30 people showed up, the whole thing cost less than $50.

    For my five year old, the party was a big deal. He spent months talking about it, both before and after. He didn’t even ask for anything extravagant. The parties at play places are fun but maybe stressful in some ways? The kids are corralled from super fun activity to super fun activity, there’s no free play. So fun for the kids, but also exhausting.

    • Turia says:

      I agree with this 100%. The parties at the indoor playgrounds are so loud and chaotic. The kids mostly run around on their own. My son barely sees the birthday kid the entire time.

  65. Stacey says:

    A tradition I started when my nieces each turned one, is every year on their birthday, I tell them the story of the day they were born. I start with that morning and go all the way until that evening (what my role was, how I was feeling, what I sang to them, how I held them all night because I didn’t want to put them down, etc). They LOVE to hear these stories every year. They will be 8 and 5 this year, and they’ve already asked me to tell them the story about the day they were born again this year. They’ve asked me to tell them the story other times, but I will only do it on their birthdays. They find it hysterical that I couldn’t remember a single song so the only songs I sang to them the day they were born (April and August) were Christmas carols. When I’m done with the story we often break out in Christmas carols (sometimes with interpretive dancing, sometimes without). I also take off work a couple hours early and pick them up from school/daycare on their birthday. I will take them one flower (often a carnation or a tulip from my yard if they are blooming at the time) to school when I pick them up. My husband and I used to own a cookie store, so we always make cookies for the girls to pass out to their classes. Our whole family gathers at my sister and brother in law’s house to celebrate. I will usually make them their favorite dinner (often grilled cheese). And then they open presents. What’s funny is they barely get through opening their presents before they ask me to tell them about the day they were born. Between the stories and an empty box, they couldn’t care less about presents.

    Babywoods is absolutely adorable. The pictures are great! And I think your cake looks scrumptious!

  66. mama lieveheersbeestje says:

    You did a lovely celibration! She is so cute… We live (always did) frugal too. Why buying gifts for a one year old..only my parents gave us some money (for diapers haha!) and we ate some cheap homemade, but jummy, cake together. For our youngest we had a great fun gift when he turned two.. My oldest ones (we have four children) wanted to give him a present..so it was more for their fun than for his. But I found a bunch of secondhand good toys on marktplaats (like greglist), for 10 euro’s. It was al playschool things, and not too big too. There where a kind of blocks with something inside them, a car set from sesame street and so on. We let the oldest kids each give him one set, and he enjoyed to open the paper so much! Than they could all play together, of cource it was more attractive for our oldest children haha! The next birthday he got three sets of toys again and even when he turned four years old we had the last three sets to give to him. Talk about frugal haha! The toys all where special for his intrests and needs at that age and he (and the other kids) enjoyed the toys for years. Nothing ever broke,as it was loved before and proofed to be strong. I still have some left at my attic for when other little ones come over to vissit us, and maybe for whenever we will become grandparents. The other toys, my children sold at the fleamarket…
    Yes, frugal birthdays are so much fun!

  67. Sarah C says:

    One of my daughter’s friends has the MOST insane party (exact same one two years in a row): a bouncy house, pizza for all adults and kids, a chocolate fountain, all kinds of other snacks and beverage, crafts, someone hired to do temporary tatoos, someone else hired to paint nails, a fake snow machine, and Elsa and Anna actors who sing, do crafts with the kids, and a pinata — all for an invite list of nearly everyone the kid has ever interacted with (seriously like 50 kids). It is SUCH an annoying party to be at, not to mention my constant amazement at what they must spend (how can it be less than $1000????). I’m sure the parents think they’re doing something wonderful, but it’s such a drag because it’s so obviously over the top that it feels like a forced march of “fun.” In other words, I don’t even think those massive parties are fun for kids (and certainly not for their parents!!).

    My 7yo daughter’s most exciting birthday party took place at a local fire station (we did this twice, at 4 and at 6). They do tours for free (won’t even accept a tip), made the kids feel so excited by getting to go into a fire truck and in the back of the ambulance, and they taught the kids about fire safety (and how to feel comfortable around a firefighter in full gear, which I’d never thought about being scary but now I see how it would be without prior exposure). Then we went to a park for pizza and pinata, and the favors were dollar store kickballs. The parents raved about it, and the kids had a blast (and learned something!). I recommend everyone looking for an older kid’s party idea to ask their local fire station.

  68. Debbie says:

    We have done both the at-home parties and at a venue that “hosts” birthday parties for our kids. For the not-at-home venue it forces our kids to keep the guest list small (we don’t invite the whole class) to those they truly want to invite. We also alternate years for our 2 kids to have a bigger, “splashier” birthday party where they invite their friends and can choose to have it at a venue (or at home). The other year they celebrate at home with family and eating out at their choice of restaurant, along with a cake. What really bugs me is how out of control the party favors have gotten. Sometimes I feel bad because I think the money spent on the favors probably adds up to more than I spent on the gift (especially if I got a great deal on sale). Plus it is mainly full of plastic junk that is soon tossed. When did it become a thing to give kids gifts for coming to a birthday party? For my son’s birthday coming up this weekend, I really almost didn’t want to do favors at all, but then ended up buying post-Valentine’s candy on clearance to fill some small snack-sized ziplock bags which totaled about $5 in all for 13 kids. In the past I have made and simply decorated sugar cookies as favors. I try to keep it small, simple and edible, so there is nothing left afterwards.

  69. What a fabulous day it looked like you all had! I remember growing up, we weren’t allowed to have birthday parties. This was probably primarily a cost thing. Instead, we just had a family party at home. This always included a cake baked by my mum, as well as party food that we rarely got to eat. It was always a stress free and nice time.

    When I turned 10, I was allowed to take three of my friends to the movies. We went and saw “Harriet the Spy”. One stipulation, I had to take my sister who was two years younger than me. While I’m sure I wasn’t pleased about it at the time, this was just a normal part of my childhood- we had to do things with our siblings whether we wanted to or not. The four of us are now incredibly close and I will always be thankful for that.

    My birthday is in January, during the Australian summer holidays. I was always a little bummed out that my birthday wasn’t during the school year. I was a bit jealous of people whose parents brought a cake or cupcakes into school on their birthdays! From memory (noting this was at least 15 years ago), most of the cakes that came into school were homemade and we all enjoyed them just as much!

  70. Emily DeLuca says:

    My kids are now 24 and 27, but at age one we took advantage of the chance to skip presents because they would not know the difference! Also at Christmas. Congrats to you on keeping things simple.

  71. Laure says:

    Love the age-appropriate party. We always had 2 birthday parties growing up for every birthday — which we loved — and only now do I realize how cheap they were. We had one with relatives — big family that likes to get together and a birthday was just an excuse. As we now get larger, we tend to have one/month for everyone e.g. “June birthdays”. Growing up, we always served homemade pasta with red sauce and rolls, some salad or vegetable, and homemade cake. Since all the relatives did the same thing for all the birthdays, I’d say the cost was net zero. Or, add up the cost of say 3 lbs of pasta and homemade sauce, basic tossed salad plus scratch-made cake.

    For our parties with friends, we generally had some variation of outside (free) activities at our home, with activities based on age. We all have warm weather bdays. Activities included things like obstacle courses designed by my dad, and got harder as we got older — run in and out among the 10 apple trees, jump over a log, etc, etc. My dad would time the kids and our friends loved it. Kid with the fastest time won. This works even for junior high and h.s. kids — make it more difficult. Tons of other free activities — wheelbarrow races, etc. Honestly, we wanted water balloon tosses, but my parents didn’t want to spring for water balloons, lol. As we got older, the outdoor activity became a scavenger hunt or similar.

    The cake usually was a party activity. We had a recipe book that had instructions for several complicated cakes. A popular one was a huge castle: have 3-4 pre-baked sheet cakes, and have all the kids cut them up and turn them into the castle, using 2 ice cream cones for the turrets, mints for the stones lining the towers, etc. For younger kids, just give each a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a bowl, and have cut-up fruit — ideas include slivers of bananas for bunny ears, berries for facial features, raisins for a nose, whatever the kids want.

    We’d move the big picnic table under the clothesline and hang a huge sheet over it and the table so it was like the kids were all eating in a tent.

    For prizes — and as a kid I was embarrassed, until I realized that my friends all LOVED them — my mom just saved any like-new free little things that came her way. This included via hand-me-downs — like tiny stuffed animals, change purses, etc, plus stickers/pencils that come free in the mail or as free giveaways, little perfume samples, etc and it was like a grab bag. Sometimes we had a literal grab bag — all wrapped items and kids reached in and pulled things out. Several times I was with my mom when she got a phone call from a fellow mom asking where she got the prizes, as their kid wanted the mom to get the same prizes for their party, LOL.

    Cost of party: cake OR ice cream, plus toppings. Never had both at the same party. Still remember the parties, plus tons of awesome pics.

  72. Allison L. says:

    This might possibly be my favorite story you have done so far (and you have some amazing ones!). I do not have any kids yet, but I’m blown away by how much unnecessary spending is done for babies and kids. I feel that many people are focused on the “outward image” of an event or life milestone that this takes presidence over the actual event. I also believe the same thing happens for weddings, baby showers, etc. I love how you are raising babywoods. Truly an inspiration to all 🙂

  73. Joe says:

    I think that is the most beautiful baby dress babywoods is wearing! Looks like a million bucks!

  74. Janine says:

    I never got these over the top parties for kids. When mine were small, all parties were at home -homemade cake and ice cream and games like picture lotto with cheap prizes. One year for my November son’s birthday, we did a haunted house in the basement. They still talk about that one decades later.

  75. Kathie says:

    One of the best parties I had for one of my sons was a Watermelon Party which we had at a park which was on the beach. It was a large party but honestly all we served was watermelon, a homemade birthday cake (I’m a good cook) and the splash out was cordial :). The children who were school age mostly played on the play equipment and then we had some simple active games we played on the beach. Everyone had the most fun ever and yes the cost would have been roughly $5.00.

  76. Nicole from Canada says:

    Great post. It’s funny how I thought I was a reasonable person when my son was a baby, but now that he’s five, I look back on all the money I wasted on crazy things and wish I had put it in his college fund instead!
    I’m still a sucker for birthday parties, since he’s an only child I like inviting his school friends but I try to be smart. “Loot bags” are $5 gift cards to the bookstore, cupcakes are homemade etc. I’m sure in another five years I’ll be able to look back and see the mistakes I’m making now but as long as I keep trying I’m happy

  77. HeatherLiz says:

    I love this post, and the setting of a lovely and simple birthday precedent. I also love that you didn’t think one year meant having to introduce sugar!

    Once my boys started public school, I was shocked at the level of birthday party escalation among their friends and classmates. It was not something that we could, or wanted to, emulate. Two of their favorite birthday parties were going bowling for my older son’s 9th birthday–we had a coupon, and were able to take our own homemade cake and snacks–and then having a “campout” in the yard for my younger son’s 10th. We set up several big tents and after cake, homemade pizza, and a bike & scooter expedition to a local schoolyard, they headed out for the night. Until about midnight, when they all came back in and ended up on the living room floor!

    One year my older son rode his bicycle downtown alone, at 7 am, to buy a bucket (literally! and not a small bucket) of day-old doughnuts for his brother’s birthday breakfast. That was pretty sweet.(though not very healthy!).

  78. Dawn says:

    My boys are 4 and 5 years old. Thus far, we have only done close-family birthday celebrations and they have been both intimate and special. I think that’s really all anyone, regardless of age, wants – to feel special and loved. Being surrounded by those who love you more than anything in the world does just that. This also is the norm for the adults in our family, too. No one has elaborate celebrations so it’s just part of who we are so, hopefully, the boys will continue to value that, too.
    The cake is the most exciting thing for them and they have enjoyed helping to make their own cake since age 2 (definitely have to document the fun of baking a cake with a 2 year old -precious photos!) We tell them the story of their birth right when they get up and again before going to bed. Reading a couple of special books we were given when each of them were born is also a part of the tradition.
    https://www.amazon.com/Night-You-Were-Born/dp/0312346069/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1487818817&sr=8-2&keywords=on+the+night+you+were+born+hardcover
    https://www.amazon.com/Day-You-Were-Born/dp/B00CF5QNJK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487818892&sr=8-1&keywords=on+the+day+you+were+born+hardcover
    We live on a farm and spend the majority of our days outdoors. Birthdays are no exception. We let the season guide our food choices (strawberry cake for the Spring birthday, blueberry for the Summer, etc.) and activities (picnics, swimming, hiking, etc.) Our youngest son’s birthday falls in a month in which their are several other family member’s birthdays. For two of those birthdays, we have had a larger celebration for all those family members with birthdays that month. Last year, that meant my youngest shared a party with his uncle, great uncle, and grandmother plus we had his 87 year old great grandmother in attendance. Precious memories! He wanted everyone to have bubbles for the party so we made homemade bubble solution and bubble wands out of wire and twigs. It was so much fun to see everyone from age 4 through 87 running and dancing around making bubbles in the bright Spring sunshine. Something I will never forget.
    We keep gifts simple and are glad that, so far, grandparents are on board with this philosophy. As a family, we tend to value handmade over store-bought and family keepsakes over new items. My boys have been given handmade wooden toys by their grandfather and Daddy, a handmade child’s size picnic table from their grandfather, hand-embroidered shirts by their grandmother and always …books! Books are one area where we are less minimal. We home school and really value wonderful literature as one of the most enriching things we can have in our home. However, most of the books we and our family members buy for birthdays and any time come from second-hand stores so it’s still a frugal choice. My family has a tradition of wrapping “pre-loved” gifts in newspaper (when I was little, it was the comics.) Far from feeling badly abut it, I always thought it meant my gift was special and one-of-a kind (even if it technically wasn’t) because, chances were, it meant it wasn’t something I was going to see everyone else owning.
    The one tradition I hold dear and selfishly want to continue as long as they will let me is taking photos of the boys in their birthday crowns. They each have wool felt, embroidered birthday crowns I made them for their first birthdays and I take a picture of them wearing them outdoors on their birthdays. These photos are already some of most valued possessions and I am already glad I made those crowns a little big with room to let them out a bit (and plan to make new larger ones, as needed.) It’s one of those things I’m sure, one day, I will have to just ask them to indulge me in but, hopefully, they won’t mind doing it for Mama. They have taken to creating paper crowns for other family members as gifts for their birthdays – something that has been lovingly received by all.
    We have been to a few friend parties in the last year or two and I have been happy to see that they have, for the most part, been simple and apparently frugal affairs – parties at playgrounds with snacks and that sort of thing. One party stands out, however. It was a party for a 3 year old boys who loved fire trucks. The party was at our local fire station. I have no idea if the parents had to pay or make a donation to the fire station but the firemen could not have been more kind and welcoming. They gave a tour of the fire house. let the children climb all over and in one of the fire trucks and even helped them shoot a fire hose at a safety cone (that was a BIG hit, let me tell you!) The parents had requested that each guest bring a wrapped book for a book exchange. That meant all the children, including the birthday boy, got one book to take home. That was it. No other gifts, no party favors. The best part was seeing the children excitedly plop down on the floor of the fire house with their books and look at them together. It was a great way to handle gift-giving and all the parents were very appreciative and much fun was had by all.
    Birthday celebrations are and should be very personal so no two people will agree on what is best to do. However, I think most would agree that the goal of such celebrations, for any age, is to let the birthday person know how very much they are loved and that, on the day they were born, the world became a more beautiful place. None of that has to cost a cent. Those thoughts and feelings just need to be communicated in a meaningful and personal way. Thanks for such a great post and for sharing Babywoods’ special day.

  79. Mable says:

    For kids’ birthdays we allowed as many guests as the child’s age and rather than a cake I made dozens of sugar cookies. The guests got to decorate a dozen cookies each and I provided boxes I’d saved during the year for them to take the cookies they didn’t eat home. During the decorating, we played the birthday child’s favorite type of music (one, born in July, always wanted Christmas music) and encouraged the kids to sing along or do impromptu dancing. Then we showed a video and served hamburger or grilled chicken sliders, depending on what was on sale the week before! After the kids turned 16, we allowed them to decide what they wanted to do at an in-home party—pizza, videos, games. The odd thing is that both of them, even at 16, opted for cookie decorating, music and videos with sliders. It was sort of sweet to see teenaged boys and girls, normally too cool to act happy, laughing and decorating cookies and singing along to Christmas music (country music for the other child) and watching some corny video from our collection. (As in Old Yeller or White Christmas!)

  80. Trish says:

    So much yes!
    My daughter turned 2 today and my colleague asked me what we got her for her birthday. I said ‘nothing.. she’s two.’. She looked appalled and then proceeded to (jokingly) tell me throughout the day how sad it was that my daughter didn’t get a present for her birthday.

    I get stressed out by planning parties, my almost 5 year old son had a few bigger ones (no professional photographers or lolly buffets here though) and honestly the kids couldn’t care less, as long as they get to run around and play and have fun. So in an effort to be more frugal, save more money (we’re getting the keys to our newly purchased house in 5 days woo!) and ensure our house stays as minimal as possible (it’s a work in progress) we have decided to say no to presents and fancy parties. We asked our son what he wants for his 5th birthday in 2 weeks and his list is quite minimal, some Lego, a cake and a couple of other requests for lollies. I’m happy 🙂

  81. Let me start by saying “congratulations” Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods. You made it one year.

    As a parent, nothing was probably more difficult than the first year of our first child. Back then, we still had hopes and dreams of being good parents that provided wonderful things for our kids.

    Now, a few years later I can honestly say that birthday parties aren’t going to be a thing at our house. Maybe we’ll make a cake and let our kids invite a friend over….but that’s it.

    Who has time for setting up, cleaning up, and handling birthday parties?

  82. Alex says:

    We have a winter baby and planned a sledding party. Made a large pot of hot chocolate for the kiddos and mulled wine for the grown ups, and the kids spent upwards of two hours sledding to their heart’s content.

  83. For my niece’s first birthday, we gave her a cheque for her savings account. So we spent more than $5 but we think she will need it more when she’s 18. Generally, for small children, I would buy either books (not necessarily new) or clothes that I know they need. I know books can be borrowed, but it surprises me how much tat gets published and it crushes my heart to hear ‘this book isn’t very good’. I put a lot (too much!) time into researching exciting children’s books. You don’t inspire passion with just average!

  84. AW says:

    I am totally with you on this! I have two kids, 6 yo and 3 yo. My 3 yo has not yet had a party. I make a cake and we do something fun as a family, for his 2nd and 3rd bdays we went to a children’s museum. Not free, but we did get a groupon so it was cheap-ish and certainly less expensive than a party.

    My 6 yo, however, had her first party for her 3rd bday. She is a party animal and social butterfly and she loooooves presents. She starts talking about her next birthday party the day after her last one. I said she could invite 6 kids for her 6th bday party. It was very hard for her to choose only 6. She sees other kids invite the whole class to their parties and she wants that too. It’s much easier when they are babies and toddlers and don’t know any different. I think it will always be about compromise for me and my daughter. I will probably always throw her a party since it is so important to her. I’ll just put a limit on the guest list and venue/ food/ decorations/ etc.

  85. Mariah says:

    I just stumbled on your blog and have found it very inspirational so far!

    We’re hardly seasoned kid party veterans yet — our daughter is 2 and our son will turn 1 in a few months. But I’m on board with the super simple party idea. For our daughter’s first birthday, we wanted her to enjoy the day even if we knew she “wouldn’t remember it”. We knew she would love being the center of attention and having people clap as she opened a gift, and she’d love eating cake. So we just invited a few people over to eat a homemade cake and admire our baby.

    We did buy her a gift: toilet paper! It’s a tradition we plan to continue with our son’s first birthday. Because one-year-olds don’t care about fancy themes or elaborate parties, but what one-year-old doesn’t love to have free reign with a roll of toilet paper?

  86. Laura schmit says:

    I have to admit that the first few parties we had for our children were a bit costly, but nothing extravagant. My youngest are 8 and 9 and this year, instead of goodie bags, I sent a basketball cookie (baked and decorated by moi and the birdhouse craft that the girls decorated; the craft was bought 2-4 years ago and I had forgotten about them).. the boy’s party was about $75 only because he wanted to invite church, school and basketball team friend, but we services simple food and they played outside while my girl had a sleepover with 8 friends and they didn’t even finish one pizza or eat cake. Her party cost $23!! And we had leftover pizza, ice cream and cake. I baked both cakes.. not perfect but yummy and I had all ingredients at home. The parties were their gifts from us. Our older son is working part time at a pizza joint while he finishes college and we ordered a pizza (his boss gave us a discount) and we tipped him his bday money- easiest celebration as all 4 had bdays this month.

  87. Hannah says:

    We did spaghetti and homemade cake for our son’s first birthday. We invited family and a few close friends over so it wasn’t super crowded. We had so much fun! Bonus was that the baby didn’t get super overwhelmed.

  88. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    I think that Babywood’s birthday was terrific. The last picture posted, of her being adorable in her beautiful pink dress, with the checkered boxes and flowers, is just perfect! It looks professional and will be a wonderful “souvenir” when she is 25. What more could a baby want? Parents forget that pictures should be personal.

  89. SisterX says:

    Our daughter loves balloons. Just loves them! So for her second birthday, the night before my husband and I went to the store and bought balloons. One was actually a helium-filled balloon, the rest were ones for us to blow up. So we did, then filled her room with the balloons. We woke up the next morning to squeals of delight. Breakfast happened much later than usual because she spent the time to move every single balloon out to the hallway, then down the stairs to play with them. She spent most of the day–and the next–with those balloons. And that was our only gift to her. We had a party with friends later (took all the kids to the playground, then home for some homemade cake and snacks) and it was tons of fun. Total cost, including the party, was maybe $25 and we all had a blast.

  90. Melinda Allen says:

    I was actually surprised this year when my 10 year old said he didn’t want a party and never liked parties, after 10 years and hundreds of dollars spent! He wanted to go go kart racing and eat at a local steakhouse, we was able to do this for less than what we would have spent on a party and he truly enjoyed himself and less stressful for me

  91. Holly says:

    We threw a small party with family for my daughter’s 1st. I bought decorations at the dollar store and I did order a cake although I compared prices from several bakeries and selected one that was more budget-friendly. Overall I don’t think our spending was lavish considering the occasion.

  92. Su Bishop says:

    For my daughters 1st birthday we invited all our friends and their children around and had a barbeque. It was a sunny day in England so we had to take advantage of it. Everyone brought food and we shared what we had. The children played in the garden, they made up their own games and had a great time. The adults just spent time talking, laughing and playing with the children. Its a day that we remember with fondness, even though my daughter who is now 16 can’t remember it at all.

  93. We just had our little one’s first birthday party. We thought we kept it pretty simple, but I suppose it was pretty extravagant compared to yours. We had a little get-together in the park and probably spent about $200, but almost all of that was on food for everyone, which doesn’t seem wasteful to me.

  94. Priscilla says:

    My husband and I have always been fairly frugal. We have three children. They all had simple bare-bones birthday parties. We invited family, which included many cousins their age. It usually entailed a big pot of chili or soup and the dessert of their choice. None of them received gifts for their first birthdays or Christmas. I never felt inclined to give “goodie bags” to all the other children who came (yeah…that’s another weird trend that I never understood).

    Games? We adults usually sat around the kitchen or on the porch drinking coffee and talking, while the kids and cousins played hide and seek…or tag outside pending on the season.

    All three of our kids have grown up to be responsible adults who, while not always appreciating the frugal lifestyle growing up, see the worth of it now. All three of them know that they can be content with far less than the world would have you believe.

  95. Birthday parties are a struggle around here. Frankly, I’m one of those lover of other people’s birthdays sorta people. I love going all out and making their day extra special. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the older you get, the more you just want to spend your special day with people you love and maybe a slice of cake. When I look back on all my years of birthday parties, I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember what presents I got or what I did, I remember the creative cakes my mom used to bake me. That’s it!

  96. isabelle says:

    I love birthday parties at home when it’s just the family (us, the kids, my mom, the in-laws), but when it involves other kids it’s a big NO for me. I won’t do it at home. I don’t want to clean-up the mess, but most of all I don’t want to entertain a bunch of kids, period. We did it once and said “never again!”. So now we invite kids to activities outside of the home to do birthday parties (bowling alley, amusement park, Micheals art and craft, etc). Yes, it can get expensive when you top that off with gifts bags (why, oh why…!) and cake (home made), but I-DON’T-CARE!! It’s worth every penny for my peace of mind!! I have 2 kids, 5 yo and 7yo. I am right now planning the 5yo birthday (she’s turning 5 in a month), it’s going to be at the library (the have a fun birthday program). It’s 12$ per kid and we will serve lunch and cake (home made). Then we will have a private celebration at home with the family, keeping it casual.

  97. I love the pink dress BabyWoods is wearing. Absolutely adorable and princess-like!

    My husband and I don’t throw big parties for our kid’s birthday either. We plan to just buy a $6 cake from the grocery store, take some picture for memories and to send to family, and then eat the cake among ourselves.

  98. Mrs S says:

    This is just Awesome! We don’t have kids today but I have been told and retold stories of huge lavish birthdays. Seriously that 1 year old can not be the cause of a banquet in the latest place in town. We had birthday parties at home and I loved those. Mom would cook and our huge extended family would come over for dinner. It is still the best memory ever. When we were old enough to have friends they were welcome too.
    This is exactly how I plan on celebrating my kid’s birthday whenever we get around to having one. I do envy some of the DIY parties I remember DesignMom posting about back in the day.
    People around us in the meantime are spending over INR 50K (~1000$) to create a theme party.
    Thanks a ton for the banana cake recipe sugar free sounds amazing.

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