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.
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
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.
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.
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 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???
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
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.