My Birthday Day of Adventures

by Katy on January 3, 2016 · 39 comments

Baby Colin

Although my 48th birthday isn’t until tomorrow, we celebrated yesterday as my older son is headed back to college this afternoon. And is our custom, we marked the occasion with a Birthday Day of Adventures. Normally, the birthday person receives a day of surprises, but I learned a few years ago that’s it better if I’m the one to actually plan my own day. I enjoy the challenge of researching an entire day of frugal fun, which is far from my husband’s forté.

So what did we do?

The day ended up being a two-parter, as my younger son was working and my older son has transitioned to a nocturnal existence, which mean that he stays up all night and sleeps all day. (Does this juxtaposition make me both a great and a terrible mother?) First, my husband and I walked errands with the highlight being a stop into the library, where I snagged copies of Primates of Park Avenue and the new Sophie Kinsella book from the Lucky Day shelf. We then headed over to the neighborhood Starbucks where my husband traded in his precious free coffee credit for a enormous venti caramel macchiato, which we split into two cups.


The second half of the day featured dinner and a movie. Me being me, I worked my frugal mojo. I’d been given $85 in Outback Steakhouse gift cards as a Christmas present from Clark Howard, so that choice was a no brainer. Of course, I researched the hell out of the chain. I examined entrée prices, deal sites and saw that we could get a free Blooming Onion appetizer by simply saying “Outback Bowl” to the waiter. (A sponsored football game, which was a January 2nd only deal.) We drank water, shared the appetizer and kept our choices under $20, which allowed enough wiggle room for the four of us to share a large Chocolate Thunder From Down Under dessert. (I don’t embarrass easily, but saying that aloud to our waiter did it.) In the end, we had a little over $4 left on a gift card, which we slipped to some other diners. (I also covertly whispering to them to “Just say ‘Outback Bowl’ to the waiter for a free Blooming Onion.”) I didn’t expect much from the restaurant, but everyone was happy with their food, and I’m now obsessed with recreating their wedge salad at home. We paid $16 out of pocket for the tip.

We then drove over to the delightfully refurbished Academy Theater for a showing of The Martian, which none of us had seen. I’d similarly researched the theater, as learned that we could get a free popcorn coupon by signing up for their online newsletter. The Academy only shows second-run movies, so the cost per ticket was a budget-friendly $4 apiece. Add in the free popcorn, (I had them split it into two bags for the boys) and a $1 tip, and this portion of the adventure added a mere $17 to the tally. The movie was amazing, and the four of us left content and sated.

The total for my Birthday Day of Adventures? $33! Thirty-three-freaking-dollars!

I’ve stressed to my husband that I do not require any purchased gifts, as spending time with the people I love is already the perfect gift. He’ll bake a cake for me tomorrow, and likely destroy the kitchen making some kind of fancy dinner as well. Experiential gifts really are the way to go. I’ll have the memory of the day for the rest of my life, which can hardly be said of a hastily purchased pair of earrings or household doodad.

Happy birthday, me! And next time you’re figuring out the perfect gift for your loved ones, please consider experiences over stuff. 

By the way, the day was wholly undocumented, so please enjoy a twenty-year-old photo of me with my precious firstborn.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

K D January 3, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Happy early Birthday. You can use Outback gift cards for the tip as well as to pay for your meals (but I bet it was worth it to share the wealth with other diners). I also won’t tell you there are coupons in the weekend coupon insert for Outback (we receive that part of the newspaper on Saturday).

I keep trying to convince my loved ones not to buy me things (I’d honestly rather have them spend time with me and if they feel compelled to spend then have them donate to a worthy cause, for those less fortunate than we are).


Marilyn January 3, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Sounds like a wonderful day. Happy birthday! I read The Primates of Park Avenue a couple of months ago (Got it from the library, of course). I don’t want to give away any of the story, but I will say there is a chapter about a particular handbag which I think will make you laugh with disbelief (at least, that was my reaction).


Brenda January 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Happy birthday! Sounds like a great day! I prefer to do something with my family rather than gifts as well. Definitely more memorable than presents. And I love how you shared the remainder of the gift card with others, and the free appetizer tip, too! I’m sure you made their day, it’s the little things!
For my next birthday, I’ve planned far in advance, and decided to do a marathon! Certainly not free or cheap, but I figure it will be something I will never forget. I’ve always wanted to do a marathon but never have although I did 2 half marathons a couple of years ago, so I know I can do it! I turn 45 this year, my birthday falls on a Sunday, a common race day, it’s not til Oct., so lots of time to prepare, so I looked for a race nearby and found one that several friends have done the half marathon for. They were already planning to do the half marathon this year but decided to do the marathon with me! So I get to have an amazing experience with some of my best friends, meeting a goal that’s been on my list for a long time. Sure beats any present anyone could get me!


Tara January 3, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Happy Birthday! It sounds like a perfect day.


Linda M January 3, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Happy Birthday, Miss Katy! Wishing you a year ahead filled with good health and much happiness! What a wonderful and creative way to celebrate!


Jennifer January 3, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Love the picture, you both are precious. I too went to Outback recently. I ordered a steak salad and they never brought me any dressing, even after I asked a couple times. I decided to eat the steak off the top of the salad and I took salad-minus the steak-and the dressing(finally) in a cup home in a to-go box. The next day, I mixed of few things I had hanging around in the fridge with the leftover salad. Then topped with grilled chicken and mixed their dressing in with some apple cider vinegar, a lil’ sugar, and a few spices. I fed my family of 4 from that one salad. I didn’t ask for a refund because it was a terribly busy night there and I knew I was going to benefit from the mistake. Anyway, just thought I’d share my experience. Happy Birthday, Katy! The price of your frugal experience is inspiring!


Jennifer January 3, 2016 at 2:10 pm

One more thing, look at your Outback receipt. Mine has a free appetizer after taking a quick survey. Also, our Outback brings bread with honey butter to the table while you wait for your entree. When we finished our bread they asked if we wanted another. I was full but we got one anyway and took that home to have with the salad.


Sandra January 3, 2016 at 2:05 pm

A second run theater near my house offers a free movie ticket on you birthday. My husband and I have the same birthdate so we are planning on a free movie this year. There is also a buffet restaurant that we enjoy that does a free meal on your birthday and we try to go every year. Our big day is now fully planned. Our only expense will be a popcorn and a few colas at the restaurant. You have to buy a beverage to get the free deal. I love frugal gift-free birthday adventures!


Patti January 3, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Happy Birthday! Yes, your older son is definitely in college if he sleeps all day and stays up all night. Evidently that is what they do. Your day sounds like it was amazing and will be a wonderful memory for you always!!


Toni Prutch January 3, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Sounds fun. I think I’ll plan something like this for my next birthday.


Amy Jo January 3, 2016 at 3:01 pm

We do birthday adventures, too!! My son and I share a bday month, and my other son and husband share a birthday month. So we do a birthday adventure in April and September each year. One time we went to the zoo (and took sack lunches), and another time we went to a science museum and used gift certificates for dinner. We take lots of pictures and have fun and make more memories than any toy or present could. 😉


Frugalinthevalley January 3, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Happy birthday Katy, hope it’s everything you dream of.


Elizabeth January 3, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Happy Frugal Birthday to you! Happy Frugal Birthday to you! Happy Frugal Birthday Dear Katy! I’m awwwweeed by you!

I love reading about your birthday adventures so much! Just awesome! Your blogs are the best! 🙂


Stephanie January 3, 2016 at 4:03 pm

I too would blush asking for Thunder Down Under at my table with sons and husband in presence – Go Grrrl 😉 LOL×300-1024×512.jpg


lori January 3, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Happy Birthday! Sounds like a wonderful day and great picture of you and baby!


Pattilou January 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Happy Birthday Katy. I too love to hear your birthday adventures. It always sounds like so much fun.


Jenny Lanteigne January 3, 2016 at 4:45 pm

Happy early birthday!! Sounds like it was a perfect day. Those are the kind of presents I like the best. My favorite mothers day when my daughters were in their early twenties and didn’t have much money was Cici’s pizza and the dollar movie and spending the day with my girls.


Mel January 3, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Happy Birthday!! I enjoy reading about your birthday adventures. And I learn a lot from you as well. I also have a nocturnal son. His friends are like that too. They are all like that. I just tell him, it is fine, unless we have to go someplace, you better be able to get up! And he does. Ah to be young…


Betty Winslow January 3, 2016 at 5:15 pm

When my brothers and I were little (a looooong time ago), my parents gave each of us a whole day of adventure, called “My Day”. For your “My Day”, you got to choose a parent and then choose what all you did that day (eat out, go to the amusement park, go to the beach, whatever). It was great one on one time with my dad, who traveled for work and when he was home, often left for work before we got up and didn’t get home until dinner or later. Mom didn’t drive for a few years, but when she did, I’d choose her and we’d go out for an all-girl day. Fun memories!


Beth Anne January 3, 2016 at 5:27 pm

Happy birthday Katy and wishing you a year of good things! 🙂

I have celebrated my birthday and my daughters with birthday experiences/freebies since she was born. I have been a single mom all her life and taken advantage of birthday “freebies” as our budget has been super tight many a year. The other neat thing is she was born the day BEFORE my birthday – best birthday gift ever. 🙂

With our birthdays so close often I have had a few birthday meals were both our meals were free. Now that she will be 13 their are less children birthday freebies but I am sure I will find fun things for us. We have a birthday week which has included birthday meals at Red Robins, RainForest Cafe, ice cream cones at Baskin Robbins, and a wonderful chicken dinner in Frankenmuth, MI at Zehnder’s Restaurant with a free birthday ornament from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland with our names and the year inscribed, a way to look back on our birthday dinners and years. By the time my daughter moves out on her own she will have a wonderful collection of ornaments for her tree. Every year when we hang them I find myself looking back fondly on memories from those special days celebrating with each other, family members and friends who have come along throughout the years.


Marcia January 3, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Katy, I’m glad you explained the picture, as I was reasonably sure you didn’t have a child that young! Glad you had a good time, and everyone has great memories. Unfortunately birthdays at our house always meant the honoree got to choose the menu and I got to cook it. And I made a “Snoopy” birthday cake for years and years, until they got old enough to ask for a “bakery” cake. Because I always made their cakes, the bakery cakes were the ones that appealed to them. Now they are back to asking for homemade cakes, mostly. Got my daughter a bakery one due to time constraints one recent birthday—I think it was because we were taking it to Granddaughter’s house to celebrate there or something similar. They love Red Velvet AND I DON’T-but we’ve gone through ganache for icing and fresh strawberries, which isn’t easy to manage in February and March! My husband always chooses pie instead of cake. My birthday is in January like yours, and I always say I get either really good gifts because they are all half price by then, or the dregs, depending on how much the store is shopped out by then! Mostly I ask for second hand books these days but not everyone listens to what I ask for. It’s not the gifts that I remember anyhow, it’s the parties, and photos of the cakes, and who was here or if it snowed and now everyone could show up! One year I defrosted homegrown strawberries and made shortcakes–not everyone was here but those who made it were rewarded with double portions—we had to eat those berries before they got soggy and we had HUGE shortcakes with seconds if you could manage. That was very memorable.


Rachel January 3, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Happy Birthday!!! Such a cute picture of you and your son.


Kim from Philadelphia January 3, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Happy Birthday!
So glad you had a wonderful and frugal birthday celebration.

I agree 100% that experience gifts and spending time with the ones you love are the best gifts ever.

I loved “The Martian”. What a phenomenal movie!


Lazyretirementgirl January 3, 2016 at 9:06 pm

The Thunder dessert reminds me of visiting 31 flavors when I was in high school, er, before you were born, and ordering a double Here Comes The Fudge. I, too, am hard to embarrass, but that did me in!


janine January 3, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Katy – glad you had such a wonderful celebration. Admired how you got a great value from Outback in addition to your gift certificates. Also gifting others with some good advice and $$ off!


Krystal January 3, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Happy Birthday Katy! What a sweet picture 🙂

It was my husband’s birthday today (Capricorns are great) and we definitely prefer experiences over stuff. We had budgeted in enough for the new tapas place in our neighborhood (amazing) last night and I cooked tonight. We had planned on the reverse, but since I needed to let something sit for 8 hours in the recipe, we switched nights rather than going out both nights or ordering a pizza. Since I will be gone all next week for work, and he’ll eat cheap bachelor meals instead, no groceries went to waste. We went for brunch at our favorite cafe/soccer bar and enjoyed our teams play each other (a draw, so nobody could brag). A night home with our favorite video game and a nice bottle of wine ended out the evening, nothing to wrap, no clutter.

We have been giving experiences for a while now, and since our birthdays are both less than 2 months from Christmas, we tend to do one trip to cover it all. Due to work and other planned holidays in the summer, it didn’t work out to vacation this year in the winter. We are so lucky we can enjoy a nice meal out and just spend time with each other. Ever since we stopped exchanging “stuff gifts”, we have taken the hassle out of shopping and can enjoy more time together. Win-win.


Lynda January 4, 2016 at 2:22 am

Happy Birthday and Happy New Year!
I remembered seeing this on my Facebook feed and thought it might find an appreciative audience… Perhaps his next film should be “Matt Damon Stays Home, Eats Leftovers And Walks To The Library” 😉


Diane C January 4, 2016 at 5:49 am

DH and I do not exchange gifts as a rule, either. Makes planning the day more interesting! Happy, happy birthday to you, dear Katy! (PS -I didn’t know it was your birthday, but there’s a “present” on its way to you.)


Ellen January 4, 2016 at 5:56 am

Happy Birthday!!!!!


Isabelle January 4, 2016 at 6:54 am

Happy birthday!!!
I’m right there with you about experiences vs physical gifts. This is why both my mom and hubby are giving me the gift of tickets for shows this year (I’ve been told I’m hard to shop for, hehe!)
My birthday and my daughter’s is the same day, January 5th. We are both off (work/school) and our day is planned : still waiting for vouchers for free smoothies for breakfast, then off to the movies to see The Peanuts movie for free (my dd is turning 6), then free lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet (will leave 3$ tip), then we are going skating using our city pass (48$/year for the 4 of us). And at night I have a free hot yoga class at my favorite studio! Hubby is making lasagna and box-cake for supper at home, my mom is coming over.
A little later in the month we will bring our kids+2 friends at this indoor amusement park and then back home for store-bought pizza and box-cake. As for gifts for our girl : a dollar store Rapunzel card, a suitcase I got for free, 2 notebooks and colored hair extensions I got on clearance and a ticket to go see a play with a friend and her mom (total of 25$).
All of this will cost about 100$ in the end, not bad for 2 birthdays “party” for myself and my daughter!


JD January 4, 2016 at 8:31 am

Happy birthday! I loved the old photograph. Katy looks like a kid holding a younger kid!
I often ask our grown daughters (we have girls only) to spend a day with me for my birthday (my husband usually just cooks a meal for me) and it’s a blast just hanging out, going somewhere I like to go, but this year may be a little different, since I have another grandchild due — on my birthday! I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but even if the birth is not actually on my birthday, what a great present I’ll get!


Vickie January 4, 2016 at 9:20 am

Happy Birthday, Katy! What a great pic of you two.
I’m with you on the experience over stuff. Sounds like a great time and you did a good job girl!

Hubby and I attended a music show on December 30th, which was a date night for us and the tickets were only $20 each. They were having an auction for the music school their foundation runs for homeless and low income children. Hubby bought raffle tickets – lo and behold he won 4 tickets and a hotel room for our local NBA team. So now we get to spend another night out having fun with friends and the cost of the raffle tickets was less than the hotel room. Plus, it was all for a good cause. I love when a date night serves many purposes!


Yvette January 4, 2016 at 10:45 am

Happy Birthday!!!


Ruby January 4, 2016 at 11:09 am

Katy, you look like a teenager holding the baby in that lovely photo. And your oldest was such a cute baby — love that big grin!

Your birthday Day of Adventures sounds like it was absolutely wonderful and gives me ideas for birthdays around my house.


Katy January 4, 2016 at 2:48 pm

I was 28-years-old in this photo! And I have to agree about the cute baby.


M Wahl January 5, 2016 at 8:20 pm

I agree!! You’ll have to tell us your NCA skin-care regime Katy 😉

<3 that you passed the last $4 on to other diners. So. Katy.



Bee January 4, 2016 at 11:46 am

Happy Birthday!!!! I saw The Maritian on my birthday too — the discounted Tuesday matinee.


Elise @ Simply Scaled Down January 4, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Happy Birthday and awesome job on the frugal day!! My 4 year old recently asked me if I would like a party or a family day for my birthday (not sure where she got the idea :)). I gladly said “a family day”. Experiences are so much better than things!


Mariana Cisowska January 4, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Love this photo of you Katy 🙂


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