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It can be a lot of fun to celebrate your birthday.
A birthday is a perfect chance to get together with family and friends to eat great food, have a couple drinks, and enjoy a lot of laughs.
Even when you get older, it’s still fun to be around people you love, even if you’re not thrilled about sharing your age. Last night I was serving a group of four older adults at the restaurant, probably in their 50s, who were celebrating a birthday and an anniversary.
So I asked how many years the happy couple had been married, but didn’t ask how old the birthday “boy” was. Someone immediately noticed and made a comment that I never asked him. I told them that I’ve learned a few things in life, and one is that past a certain age, most people would rather keep their age to themselves. 🙂
They were a great group of people and had a wonderful time celebrating together. They also racked up a pretty good bill after dinner and drinks.
So it made me wonder, how much do people typically spend on birthdays? And do people plan ahead with a budget, or just sort of wing it?
That’s a tough question to answer because it depends on how old the birthday boy/girl is and how you choose to celebrate. Plus, a birthday party for your kid throws a whole new wrench into the budget, which I’ll talk about later. People spend crazy amounts of money on kid birthday parties, and now that we have a first birthday to plan, I’m already dreading the costs a little.
In this article, I’m going to dive into the world of birthday expenses and especially kid birthday parties, and try to figure out if parties really need to be as expensive as I keep reading about. Plus, I’ll hit you with simple tips to keep the costs down.
How Much Do People Spend on Birthday Celebrations?
A birthday is definitely an occasion worth celebrating. You survived another trip around the sun, and have created a bunch of new memories, hopefully all good, but maybe a few not so great.
Whether you love birthdays or not, someone is going to want to celebrate your special day. The spectrum of costs varies so much for birthdays, and as evidence I’m going to share two of my most memorable birthdays in recent memory.
How the Griffins Celebrate Birthdays
My favorite way to celebrate my birthday is with my wife and close friends. I love hanging out with my family too, but they live hours away and it’s just not super realistic to celebrate with them every year.
Being a big budgeter and saver by nature, I don’t ever feel the need to spend a bunch of money on my birthday. I mean I’m pretty cool and all, but I’m not that big of a deal.
In our five years of dating and marriage, we’ve kept birthday costs pretty minimal. But in the Tale of Two Birthdays, you can see how easy it is for costs to skyrocket.
Amazing Birthday on a Budget
The first birthday I celebrated after we started dating was pretty dang awesome. My wife planned the whole thing and kept it all a surprise. After work, we drove a bit up the north shore of Lake Superior and had a picnic dinner at a rocky beach.
It was really simple and sweet. We spent about an hour just hanging out, talking, and snacking on sandwiches and veggies. My love language is quality time, so I’d be happy doing that all night. But Jenna had slightly different, and more awesome plans.
We packed up our picnic and she drove me back into town. She stopped at a local park we love that’s near the lake. Every summer the park hosts outdoor movie nights with a giant inflatable screen. We always talked about doing our own personal movie in the park with just a laptop and speakers.
Turns out, that was exactly what Jenna had planned. She rented the movie “42” and we set up shop with blankets and pillows. Oh, I forgot to mention, but she also baked me a giant birthday cake!
The great thing about this birthday is the thought Jenna put into it, and the quality time we spent together. It was AMAZING! And looking back, it was dirt cheap. It was just dinner, which was made from ingredients she already had, a homemade cake, and a Redbox movie rental.
My guess is the entire date was less than $20. This is also when we were paying off $73,000 of student loans, so cheap was the perfect fit for our budget.
Amazing Birthday on a HUGE Budget
The other memorable birthday was when I turned 30. My wife wanted to make a big deal of the milestone and host close friends and family that could make the drive. So that’s what we did.
We bought really dorky invitations and mailed them to friends, and then had a big dinner party at our house. We provided all the dinner and dessert components, and our friends brought beer and snacks. It was so much fun, and a birthday I’ll remember for a long time.
This birthday cost roughly $200 though. We had to buy a few extra plates and utensils and make a ton of food. We also planned ahead and budgeted for that amount so we knew what we were getting into months ahead of time. Thank goodness, because I would’ve felt horribly stressed if we just dropped that money on the spot.
Two amazing birthdays, and two very different price tags. It just goes to show that you can have a great time if you spend a lot of money or not. Ps. spending $200 on a birthday is a lot of money in my brain but is lower than the average for kid birthday parties, which is what we’re diving into next!
How Much Do You Spend on Birthdays for Your Kids?
Adult birthdays and kid birthdays are two entirely different animals to tackle. Most adults aren’t too picky or particular about having a blowout birthday bash. That makes it a lot easier to keep the costs down. (Unless you’re my wife’s Grandma, then you have a birthday week or even month :))
Kid birthday parties however, can get out of hand really fast! And sometimes it’s the parents more than the kids that cause the expenses to rise. Of course kids want to have fun, but most kids can have fun with a giant refrigerator box and some sticks. Pro Tip: The good news is you don’t need to buy a refrigerator just to get the box. 😉
I get that parents want to create an amazing memory for their kids birthday, but the worst thing you can do for a birthday party is spend money you don’t have.
However you choose to celebrate your child’s birthday, make sure you plan and budget before you start spending money. If you’re not careful, costs can get out of hand fast.
I read through a few articles and was pretty shocked at how much parents actually spend on their kiddos’ birthday parties.
The answers vary on how much parents spend on birthday parties, but it seems like the answer lies somewhere between $200-500. That sounds outrageous to me, and I pray that we never spend that much on parties for our baby girl and future baby Griffin. The most frugal families keep costs under $100, which sounds like my kind of party.
Here are a couple sites that try to sum up the average costs. Birthday Parties 101, How Much Moms are REALLY Spending on Birthday Parties
Why does the Cost of a Birthday Party Vary so Much?
Birthday party expenses vary a lot, and there’s good reason for it. Keep these variables in mind when planning your next birthday bash:
Who are you inviting?
There’s a big difference between inviting just close friends and family and inviting everyone in your kid’s class. For younger kiddos, it’s easy to keep it to family and friends. But as he/she gets older, you’ll probably need to widen the horizon, which probably means increasing the budget.
Do you have space to host?
If you have a big house or even big yard, hosting a birthday party is no big deal. You could even ask a friend to host for you if they have more space. But a lot of people live in small apartments or houses, and might need to rent a venue to really celebrate a birthday and that’s not cheap.
Is the party themed and are you doing party favors?
My sisters love throwing themed parties for their kids. I remember getting Dora the Explorer, Frozen, Dinosaurs, and Thomas themed invitations in the mail, and pictures of awesome looking decorations.It theme definitely makes for a memorable party, but increases the expenses. And I just read about doing party favors for birthday parties and I think it’s silly and ridiculous. Why would I get other kids a gift on my kid’s birthday? It doesn’t make any sense and just adds extra expenses to your budget. Just. Say. No.
Are you competing with other parents?
Another important question to ask is, am I trying to compete with other parents for the best birthday party? Maybe that isn’t your goal, but if you ever find yourself planning your child’s party based on their friends’ parties, be careful. It can be really easy to follow the rules and guidelines of other parties, which might not fit into your budget.
If other parents want to shell out hundreds of dollars, that’s fine, maybe they have more money in their budget, or maybe they’re racking up more debt. Either way, make sure you plan ahead and stick to YOUR budget and you’ll be fine.
I’m a firm believer in value based budgeting, so if your child’s birthday party is a big value in your family, don’t feel bad about spending the money if it fits into your budget.
Frugal Tips for Throwing a Birthday on a Budget
- Do it at a free public place like a park or a beach. The kids can run around and burn off energy and you save a bunch of money and don’t have to clean your house.
- Skip the decorations
- Give your kid options: a party or a present? If they want to go to a venue, tell them that might limit the amount of friends they can invite. If they choose a free place, they can invite more friends.
- No party favors. You don’t need to buy gifts for your kid’s friends.
- If you’re inviting friends and family, make it a potluck. Ask everyone to bring a dish to pass. It helps lower the burden on you to prepare a massive meal, and it’s just cheaper.
- Skip food altogether. Plan the party between meals, 1-5pm is a perfect in between. Provide cake and send everyone home for dinner.
- Send online invites. It’s free and everyone you know is probably online. Even a Facebook event works great.
Birthdays come around once a year, and chances are your kid isn’t going to remember how much money you spent. They’ll remember the fun times they had with their friends and family. Heck, that’s what I remember most. Create a fun, and memorable time for your family, and as long as you plan the birthday on a budget, you can’t go wrong.
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How do you keep birthday costs down? Tell me about your most memorable birthday, for you or your kids.
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As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.