Celebrating Birthdays on The Cheap – Experiences Trump Stuff

by Katy on May 15, 2015 · 21 comments

50th birthday

Although my family’s birthdays are generally spread out throughout the year, we do have a few that clump up in the middle of May. First around the bend is my husband’s on May 16th and then my younger son’s on the 19th.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t each get their own celebration. And in my family, we do a Birthday Day of Adventures. (Although we also call it a “Birthday Day of Surprises.”) Essentially I plan out an entire day of fun for the family, and each component is a surprise and individualized towards what the birthday person actually likes to do.

For example, my son’s 19th birthday included an Indian food buffet, a $2 movie at a local historic theater and free outrageously sweetened Sawbucks coffees, (which my husband earned from buying drip coffees.)

I spend weeks figuring out what the day should entail, and it leans heavily towards what can we do for free or almost free? I enjoy the challenge and hoard discount vouchers throughout the year.

This year my husband’s Day of Adventures came a few days early to accommodate his work and volunteering schedule. (I decided to have his day be just the two of us, as we rarely get out as a couple.) My plan had been to start out by taking him to lunch, but he slept too late, so I fixed him bacon and eggs at home. We drove out to Ikea, where we sat in the cafeteria and lingered over free coffees using our Ikea Family cards. We then walked down to the food section and I used my $20 store voucher to purchase bags of frozen meatballs and gravy packets. This would cover dinner.

We then drove to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens to walk around the park. It normally costs a few dollars to enter, but Wednesdays and Thursdays are free. It had been threatening rain, so we almost had the park to ourselves. The rhodies are are in bloom right now, so the garden is at its gorgeous, gorgeous peak. (Seriously, so gorgeous!) We really enjoyed strolling through the grounds and reminiscing about when we used to bring our energetic sons here to run off steam and feed the many varieties of ducks and geese.

At this point we’d worked up an appetite, so I took my husband to Porque No, a local Mexican restaurant. I had enough completed punch cards to pay for his lunch, although I did pay the $8.50 for my meal, but that’s certainly within our budget.

Dinner at home was the four of us and included the Ikea meatballs with gravy, as well as mashed cauliflower and peas.

I didn’t buy my husband any gifts, although I did tell him he could treat himself to something that he’s been wanting for a while. (A soccer jersey.) The actual day of his birthday is tomorrow, and he plays a soccer game in the evening. I’ll bring a couple dozen homemade cupcakes to the game for his teammates, and then we’ll come home for a scratch cooked dinner and birthday cake.

Then Sunday we’ll spend the day celebrating my younger son’s 17th birthday, and of course I’ve stashed coupons and planned cheap activities planned for the day. I love how this tradition is fun for the entire family, and not just the birthday guy. (It’s almost like we each get four birthdays per year!) And of course I love the creative challenge to fill the day with activities and treats that keep within our budget.

Not one of us needs more possessions or clutter, but we certainly do need to step back from our busy lives to spend time together and explore this great city we live in.

Experiences trump things.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

K D May 15, 2015 at 10:01 am

Your love for your family comes through in your actions, including your Birthday Days. I think it’s wonderful how you make such a big deal out of the person that is celebrating a special day, and include the whole family (usually). I’m sure the adventures will be remembered for a long time.


Katy May 15, 2015 at 10:09 am

I just adore my family.


Anne May 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I also enjoy your birthday posts. I remarked over on the facebook group that your husband picture looks like he’s thinking, “Oh honey, people are watchin’ us.”


Deb May 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Up in Minnesota we have an Ikea store –Scandinavian chain selling ready-to-assemble furniture, plus housewares, in a warehouse-like space. I couldn’t figure out where you kept getting these meatballs from… but yours is a grocery store. I’ve really enjoyed your blog ideas and I’m looking forward to trying this all day birthday celebration for the next birthday in our family.


Katy May 15, 2015 at 1:18 pm

That’s the same store that I’m talking about. Ikea has a cafeteria, as well as an area to buy shelf stable and frozen food.


BW May 15, 2015 at 1:26 pm

The Minnesota store has the grocery section too. You are looking at it when you are checking out.


Lynn D. May 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm

What does your family do for your birthday?


Katy May 16, 2015 at 11:28 am

I found they don’t do as well at figuring out a whole day of fun, so I now plan them out myself, which I enjoy.


Megyn May 15, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Ok, so when your boys were younger, did you do parties or just day of adventure?

Our boys (newly 5 and almost 7) really enjoy party planning, but I always try to do it frugally by making at a park or our house, often making the dessert, and buying cheap, but HUGE Costco pizzas. I love the day of adventure idea, but not sure either of my boys would go for it at this age.


Sarah May 15, 2015 at 5:48 pm

I’d also like to know what you did when your kids were younger or what you’d recommend. My daughter turns six soon and I was planning a series of activities with our immediate family on her birthday which falls on a weekday. She’s excited about the current plan, but I feel like I’m failing her a bit by not having a party-party with cake and a group of kids and gifts, etc.


Katy May 15, 2015 at 9:21 pm

We started the Day of Adventure maybe four years ago. We did self organized parties before that. Sometime lots of cool activities, sometimes more low key. And BTW, my son will have a sleepover with his friend here next weekend. We’ll make pizza from scratch and they’ll play video games and pretty much eat us out of house and home.


Megyn May 16, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Sounds perfect! I feel like it’s only the elementary ages that a big, group party is expected. We’re still at the stage where whole families show instead of dropping their kiddo off. This makes for a TON of guests! At our newly 5 year old’s party, there were nearly 40 people between kids and parents!!! However, it still cost us less than $80 since I bought 4 Costco pizzas, 1 Costco cake (I was not about to find a way to transport cupcakes for 40), and some cheap sides. We make their party their gift and give them an option of how to spend their budget. Thus far, parties are still where it’s at. Katy, you give me hope for a day when that stress will end!


Monica May 17, 2015 at 8:05 am

Just Say No. To the big party with the whole class. Sounds like adult peer pressure to me…Its your choice after all. Who cares what these other parents who you won’t see past the next few years anyway, think. I gave up on all that two years ago after no one RSVPd, and the few who did didn’t bother to show up. Parties with family and one special friend invited are more enjoyable for my little daughter.


Megyn May 19, 2015 at 8:20 am

I actually like to throw big parties! Our boys went/go to a co-op preschool, so everyone knows everyone, and it is our extended family. We do expect to stay in contact throughout the years. I think it just depends on the family/kid. When our oldest turns 7, he’ll probably just invite a few friends over. Our newly 5 year old is extraverted and loves having big groups over. Part of the reason we bought our house was so that we could host large parties. To each their own 🙂

BethATL May 16, 2015 at 10:00 am

My now-9 year old has been planning her parties for a few years now. I give her a modest budget and we visit the dollar store or she goes online to get ideas for a theme — Oriental Trading has inexpensive decorations so we ordered from there for a Luau theme this year and then we made some things using basic school supplies, too. A little construction paper goes a long way LOL. We make our own pinatas using a balloon and play simple games. For her it’s all about a theme for an at home party. So far we’ve had a Spy Kids party (we rented one of the movies for that one), a Luau, and a Rainbow loom party (that one was super easy b/c the kids all brought their own looms which were the crazy that year).


Beth Anne May 15, 2015 at 9:05 pm

My Teen was born on your son’s first birthday.

I like that.



Katy May 16, 2015 at 11:29 am

He must be amazing! 😀


Jenny May 15, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Funny photo! Love Crystal Springs.


dusty May 16, 2015 at 2:33 am

Happy birthday to your hubby!! Sounds like a wonderful day. More importantly though, glad to see he’s a Yankees fan!!!


Katy May 16, 2015 at 11:29 am

Why yes, he is!


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