A 50th Birthday Day of Adventures

by Katy on January 5, 2018 · 53 comments

Yesterday was my fiftieth birthday, so my family dedicated the day to yet another Birthday Day of Adventures. We started this tradition a few years ago, as it replaces the giving of gifts with the sharing of experiences. Neither my husband nor I want for anything in particular, and when our younger adult sons need something we don’t wait until their birthdays to buy it. This supports both my minimalist and zero waste goals.

Experiences > Things

Although the routine is normally for me to choose the activities and then surprise the family, I actually plan my own birthday adventures. I enjoy the process of researching fun activities and delicious treats that are A) within our budget, and B) fall under the category of stuff we love to do. No surprise for me, but that’s okay.

Usually I’ll start with an anchor activity and then figure out what kind of restaurants and fun things exist in that neighborhood. However, yesterday was a bit spread out. (For example, I recently took my mother to the Goodwill pay-by-the-pound Outlet store in Hillsboro for her 75th birthday, which prompted nearby chocolate malteds at a old-timey soda fountain and delicious Vietnamese food.)

I desperately wanted to take the family to see the Laika exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. However, with tickets at $20 a pop, ($17 with a student discount) this splurge would have blown the budget. My friend Dezsea mentioned that her family has a annual membership which includes guest passes, and she generously printed out two tickets. (Thank you, Dezsea!) However, this still left us with $34 in admission fees. I Googled around a bit and saw that the Chinook Book had 2-for-1 coupons, so I asked in my Buy Nothing Group if anyone had one they wouldn’t be using. This brought $74 down to $20. Whew . . . .

The exhibit was amazing, and I could easily have spent three to four hours poring through all the insane detail that goes into their stop motion animation. We also took a short stroll through their temporary Wyeth exhibit, which also dazzled and would have been worth a visit on its own.

I chose a low cost Belizean restaurant with great Yelp reviews near the museum. It ended up being just okay, but it was still nice for the four of us to enjoy a meal together. The cost was $35.

After the museum my plan had been to drive across town to Pip’s Donuts, as they give you a free dozen for your birthday, Unfortunately I’d forgotten that they close early in the afternoon. Luckily I experiences this ah-hah moment before getting there, so we were able to detour to a different donut/coffee joint for our sweet treat. I didn’t choose a hipster joint with $3 donuts, as we just paid over $8000 for the kids’ winter term tuition and fees, which doesn’t even include room and board. So yeah . . . cheap was key. Luckily Tonalli’s Donuts offers the perfect no frills, minimally Instagram-y experience. Plus, their donuts are delicious. I chose a maple buttermilk bar. Mmm . . . .

My plan had been for us to choose a restaurant for dinner, but we were all a bit pooped. So when I proposed picking up an American Dream Pizza and eating it at home, the “yays” were unanimous. Although they’re on the pricier spectrum for pizza, this option was still much more frugal than any dine-in restaurant would have been. I chose a single topping (sausage) as this is my trick to keep any pizza on budget. Choosing one of their specialty pizzas with pre-selected toppings will set you back over $31. Our pizza was $23 with a tip.

We gobbled the pizza and quickly spread out to our own corners of the house. My older son and started watching Coraline on Netflix and promptly fell asleep. I blame the carbs.

Luckily, there was no time restraint as our last activity wasn’t due to start until 9:15 P.M. A local theater was screening My Neighbor Totoro in Japanese with English subtitles, perfect for my Japanese speaking kids. I’d also reached out and received two 2-for-1 coupons through my Buy Nothing Group, which brought the price down to $2 per ticket!

Not to brag, but I think the day was a total hit. We did fun stuff, ate tremendous amounts of delicious food which didn’t put us over budget.

In the end we spent $99.45, which is certainly on the higher end of things, but considering that this was for an entire day of meals, tips, activities and treats is not actually too shabby.

Lunch: $35
Parking $4
Museum admission $20
Donuts and coffees $9.05
Pizza dinner: $23.40
Movie theater: $8

Now, onto my second 50 years! Plus maybe a vegetable to two.

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill January 5, 2018 at 4:00 pm

I love hearing of your birthday adventures. Happy 50th!


Katy January 5, 2018 at 4:09 pm

Thank you!


Sandra January 5, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Ta-Dah! Great frugal celebration family day. How wonderfully satisfying. You are a marvel of creativity and savvy cool.


Katy January 5, 2018 at 4:08 pm

You’re the second person today to call me “a marvel of creativity and savvy cool!” LOL


avl January 5, 2018 at 4:18 pm

Happy Birthday! I love these posts, too. I’m going to try planning a Birthday Day of Adventures ™ for the first time in March (51, gulp).


janine January 5, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Happy Birthday dear Katy! Your day sounds fabulous – love Andrew Wyeth as an additional bonus.


Susan January 5, 2018 at 4:29 pm

HAPPY HALF CENTURY! 🙂 Sounds like a great day.


Peg January 5, 2018 at 4:29 pm

Hopefully the pizza was delicious, because that’s an obscene amount of money-especially for pizza!-where I live. Even though living in a metropolitan area offers a lot of amenities, the cost of living is very high. Happy belated birthday!


Bee January 5, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Best wishes. Hope the next 50 years are absolutely fabulous!


kathleen January 5, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Happy Birthday! What a great day, and regarding your Instagram doppelganger photo…loved it!


Christine January 5, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Happy Birthday Katy. Glad you had such a fun, fabulous, frugal day!


Karen January 5, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Happy birthday, Katy! Your day sounds so cool. As your fellow Capricorn, I also love researching and planning new adventures. Thanks for the info on the Hillsboro fountain, that sounds fun!


Pattilou January 5, 2018 at 5:14 pm

Happy Birthday Katy!


Marilyn January 5, 2018 at 5:17 pm

Sounds like a wonderful day. Happy 50th!


Leticia January 5, 2018 at 5:44 pm

Whenever I feel the urge something new and shiny that I don’t need ….I tell my self what would Katy do…you are an inspiration to me.


Carol January 5, 2018 at 5:46 pm

Happy birthday! You are so inspiring.


F January 5, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Happy Birthday! Sounds like it was such an enjoyable day for all! I’m impressed with how you were able to stick to your budget.
PS I made the mistake of clicking the donut link & am now fighting the urge to walk down to my local $5 vegan donut shop.


Lindsey January 5, 2018 at 6:20 pm

The fact that your adult sons still want to be around you is awesome. Happy half century birthday!


Karen B. January 5, 2018 at 6:32 pm

Happy Birthday! You have a lovely family!


BethATL January 5, 2018 at 6:41 pm

Happy Birthday! I’m craving a donut now at 9 PM …. 🙂


Lilypad January 5, 2018 at 6:59 pm

Happy Birthday!! When I turned 50 last year, all I wanted to do was eat out for the kind of food that I’ll never make at home: sushi. And since I’m a vegetarian, the cheaper sushi that comes to you on a conveyor belt (at Blue C, a Seattle/California chain) was good enough for me. (My husband loves fancy sushi from a local chef-run place, and it costs more for the highest quality fish but it’s worth it for him. In those kinds of places, I always struggle to find something to eat and stew (silently! I’m not a monster, LOL) about having to pay more than I should for a few pieces of cucumber and avocado rolls!) Of course, I used their birthday coupon (20% off I believe) and we used our punch card, which doesn’t see much action these days but SOMEDAY I will have earned some free sushi. When my birthday rolls around again in March, I’ll probably want to go to the same place. I’m easy to please. And if I get a cupcake along the way, call me a happy girl!


Jenny January 5, 2018 at 8:00 pm

Happy Birthday! I am very impressed with your day of experiences! I have been doing that for myself for the last 15 years or so. My husband cooperates but I have to do the planning and arranging. I buy myself a cake, too. My sister’s birthday is close to mine so sometimes we can make it work to celebrate together. Since my birthday is in July, my experiences usually include a beach or waterpark. Pizza, too! Way better than STUFF I don’t need.


MommaL January 6, 2018 at 6:22 am

Happy Birthday Katy!
Jenny, my husband isn’t a planner, either. After a couple of disappointing birthdays, one which had a friend call me to ask for a guest list for my surprise bday party because DH couldn’t put one together, I decided to go ahead and plan my own, and know that isn’t his strength.


Grey January 5, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Many happy returns of the day! Thank you for sharing your non-consumer methods and attitudes with us. You are a gift to the inter webs!


Jenser January 5, 2018 at 9:25 pm

Happy Birthday, Katy! Sounds like a perfect day and very eventful and memorable and WORTH EVERY PENNY.


A. Marie January 6, 2018 at 3:00 am

Happy late 50th birthday! Thanks a million for this blog, and long may you continue to provide inspiration and a platform for the rest of us.


Liz B. January 6, 2018 at 6:27 am

Happy belated birthday, Katy! You continue to inspire me to do more with less. Thank you for your blog, and creating this amazing community of like-minded individuals!
A local ice cream chain – Graeter’s- offers a free sundae for your birthday if you are a member of their rewards program. Their ice cream is made using the “French Pot” method – I don’t know specific details – but it is rich and delicious. You better believe I took them up on that birthday gift!


Tracy January 6, 2018 at 6:43 am

Happy 50th Katy! I love hearing of your birthday adventures and as a fellow Portlander I take special inspiration from your posts! And with 3 kids in college I commiserate on the tuition hit…


Katy in Africa January 6, 2018 at 6:52 am

A very happy birthday to you!! I love seeing the ways you find to do activities for cheaper!


Anna January 6, 2018 at 6:56 am

I love your blog! I also wanted to tell you how awesome it is that you are paying your sons’ education expenses. My parents did that for me, and it allowed me to start out in life debt free with much more freedom. Over the last 2 decades since college, I’ve thanked them and told them that my education was such a tremendous gift. Your boys will appreciate your sacrificing pricey donuts when they don’t have student loans to repay. Happy 50th!


Carla January 6, 2018 at 7:21 am

Happy birthday! Sounds like a great day!


Kristen January 6, 2018 at 10:02 am

Happy, happy birthday, Katy! So glad you had a fun day with your family.


K D January 6, 2018 at 10:20 am

Happy Belated Birthday Katy! I’m glad you had fun and how nice that your family were all there for your day of adventure. This morning I attended a funeral and one of the favorite sayings of the deceased was, “It doesn’t matter where you go in life, it’s who you have beside you”. This from a friend that did a tremendous amount of traveling. I think you both nailed having great adventures with those you love.


Sarah January 6, 2018 at 10:24 am

Happy Birthday Katy! What a fun day!


Lynn Strosburg January 6, 2018 at 10:54 am

So much fun! Totoro is one of my favorite movies, and the Laika exhibit sounds terrific; thanks for all the great inspiration for a thrifty birthday celebration.
Have a great year!


ouvickie January 6, 2018 at 11:38 am

Happy 50th Birthday, Katy!


Cindy in the South I January 6, 2018 at 12:52 pm

Happy, happy birthday! Your day sounds spectacular!!!!


Linda January 6, 2018 at 3:51 pm

Happy Birthday, Katy!


FrugalStrong January 6, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Curious as to how old your kids were when you switched from gifts or birthday parties to a day of adventure. I’d love to eventually do that with my kids. Did they mind no longer getting to celebrate with friends?


isabelle January 8, 2018 at 6:52 am

You could do both. Spend a day with them to do activities and then let them have their b-day with friends also a little later. You are then just replacing physical gifts from you with experiences. Or bring a friend to participate with you and your kids…?


Christine January 6, 2018 at 6:31 pm

How about this from Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology from Cornell University. This was included in an article in a local advertising paper. “New belongings will only be exciting at first, but then people adapt to them. If shoppers’ goals are to prolong these feelings of excitement, then personal experiences can be more effective than material goods.” Thought this was interesting in light of Katy’s day of experiences rather than gifts with her family.


Canadian girl January 6, 2018 at 10:58 pm

Time spent with the ones you love sounds like a prefect birthday to me! Thanks for all you do and very Happy Birthday wishes sent your way!


Jennifer January 7, 2018 at 6:16 am

I love your birthday celebration ideas and am going to start planning out what I can come up with for my family. Frequently when asked what they want they have nothing to ask for, so a day of activities sounds good to me!

Happy birthday Katy!


Gina January 7, 2018 at 7:26 am

Happy birthday!!


Teresa January 7, 2018 at 8:29 am

Happy Birthday!! Wishing you a wonderful and NCA next fifty 🙂


Patti January 7, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Happy Birthday! Your day sounds like it was amazing!


Sara January 8, 2018 at 5:24 am

Great ideas! Good for you. I’m at the place in my life where I’d much rather plan my birthday than have a traditional party.


isabelle January 8, 2018 at 6:50 am

Happy b-day!!
Adventures are the best!
My b-day was Friday and I usually also do a day of adventures, with my daughter (it’s also her b-day, same day), but this year I decided to work instead. So my B-day was very… ordinary and not cheap. Diner for us four at night (85$) and comedy club after (34$ for hubby and I). This Friday, going out with girlfriends for dinner (15$?) and a improv show (5$). So… yeah… not my best year, frugality wise.
I did score a free yoga class, a free Booster juice, a 10$ gift card at a clothing store and a 10$ gift card at the movies theater. No all is lost! Aha


Rachel January 8, 2018 at 10:50 am

Happy birthday, Katy! I saw that Laika exhibit last month and was blown away. My daughter LOVES Coraline and couldn’t stop talking about all the props. What a great way to spend your milestone birthday! And of course I’m sure you know that Pip’s will give you a free dozen anytime during the week after your birthday — so there’s still plenty of time for you to indulge in all that deliciousness. 🙂


Rachel H January 8, 2018 at 6:30 pm

My friends recently did a day of fun with their three young adult and one teenage kids. This was for their Christmas. They went to Tallahassee and started out with a visit to an indoor trampoline place, then had pizza for lunch. In the afternoon they went to a craft bar to sample different craft beers. That night they had dinner at the Melting Pot. They stayed overnight in a air b n b house. The plan was for a hot air balloon ride, but the weather did not cooperate, so it was cancelled. I love these ideas! Most of my family are not the sort to do anything different. My daughter and her family would be the only ones to do things like this. But I have some great girlfriends, and we celebrate our birthdays with special outings.


Aunty Penny January 8, 2018 at 6:50 pm

Happy birthday! I love hearing about your family’s birthday adventures.

I’d love to know how much your kids college fees have totalled… (as an Australian this is completely foreign to me. $8000 for a semester [mentioned in this post] is nearly as much as my whole 3 year degree cost me [although it was 20 years ago]).


Kim from Philadelphia January 9, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Happy 50th, Katie!
May this be a happy, healthy, and continually frugal Year for you!


Vickey January 14, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Happy first half-century! May the next one be just as fun, creative, and widely inspiring!


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