Living Frugally: If the Birthday Party Was ‘So Expensive’ It’s Your Fault

RS Living FrugallyTaz Bright helms this series. Taz is a father, speaker, long-time business owner and graduate of the school of hard-knocks. Taz uses his past business and personal finance experience to help steer others in a positive financial direction while, hopefully, avoiding the mistakes he’s made along the way. As a former 6-year victim of Identity Theft, Taz shares unique lessons learned while trying to regain his financial footing. Taz is a member of Toastmasters International, a martial artist, former bodyguard and a CrossFit athlete. As the owner of Bright Balance Ministries, Taz’s goal is to help as many people as possible reach long-term, solid financial stability.

Many times I’ve heard parents – grown, mature, knowledgeable people – complain about the cost of having birthday parties for their children. They talk about the stress brought on by stretching to save for the event. Others speak of overtime necessary for earning enough for certain supposedly essential items like a moonwalk, huge cake, tons of balloons, rented space large enough for tons of family and friends, a professional clown, a mime and every toy the birthday child asks for, etc.

I’ve heard this conversation many times. Most of the parents discussing the high cost of these birthday parties have multiple children. They go into debt once a year, per child, in order to throw these elaborate celebrations. Credit cards are maxed out, savings are drained and both parents are physically worn out from not only working extra hard at their places of employment but also from preparing for and attending the blessed event. With multiple children this happens multiple times per year. Often times they’re still in financially recovery from one party while gearing up for another.

Homemade Ice Cream Cake [The Frugal Farmer]

I remember thinking, “Why are you spending all this money if it stresses you both mentally and physically and also drains you financially?” It just didn’t make sense to me. One couple pulled out all the stops for their first child’s first birthday.

Folks, the baby isn’t going to remember it!

The incredible amount of cash shelled out for this party could have been invested in stocks over the next eighteen years and used for the child’s future. But, that opportunity was flushed down the drain by the new parents.

I know, “Taz they’re new parents. They didn’t know any better.”


They don’t know any better because they were taught this behavior by their parents.

Frugal living is taught, as is non-frugal living. When we make financial decisions our children are paying attention and taking mental notes. Don’t kid yourself into thinking they are clueless. Your example will help decide the financial lessons they’ll pass onto your grandchildren. How do you feel about that, honestly?

My brother, sisters and I didn’t have big birthday parties. We received one gift, if that. My parents were frugal and future-minded. Thanks to their level heads and financial savviness, they were able to …

  • Send their children to a private school
  • Buy vehicles without financing
  • Purchase a duplex and turn it into the house I grew up in
  • Rent that former duplex to tenants after everyone grew up and moved out
  • Purchase multiple real estate properties in St. Croix where I was born
  • Build another large home in Texas without financing
  • Purchase first vehicles for multiple children without financing

I know many older couples who have not been able to accomplish most of these feats, and they regret it. Looking back on their financial lifestyles they wish they’d done things very differently. They always wish they’d saved for more important things.

My parents’ frugal mindset helped them achieve financial successes not experienced by other couples their age. Also, my parents don’t have the regrets of their peers. What they do have is a life free from debt, freedom to travel, savings for rainy days and the joy of seeing their children attain financial success not experienced by their peers. There is no rule that says a child must receive multiple gifts on their birthday. I know we want give our children many things in life. We want to make them happy, see them smile and celebrate milestones. However we shouldn’t sacrifice the future for the sake of the present. Personally I’m glad my parents didn’t give me everything I asked for growing up. What they did give me was far more valuable: a Frugal mindset that has served me well through many financial storms including years as a victim of identify theft.

To all you parents out there; new parents, experienced parents and future parents, please keep in mind that if you’re rubbing your temples in frustration thinking the birthday party is just ‘so expensive’ …  it’s your own fault. Be strong, be future-minded and Stay Frugal!  

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Parties, like everything else, get expensive when people chase these fantasies that everything has to be perfect and if it’s not perfect it’s apparently a ruined, terrible event. Every party I’ve ever been to, with the exception of weddings, has never chased an illusion of perfection and I’ve still managed to have a lot of fun at them all.
    I wish more weddings were less perfect. The last one I went to was simple and didn’t chase perfection and we all still had a ton of fun.
    I think one factor must have to do with where you live because I’ve heard a couple stories about how people throw ridiculously elaborate parties for kids, but I’ve never actually been to a single one of these elaborate parties.

    • Kyle, thanks for your honest comment, much appreciated. I’ve attended both weddings and birthday parties that were way out of hand from a financial standpoint. I agree that “chasing perfection” is a major influence on how much people are willing to spend on a celebration. And, like you said, the occasion can still be fun without being ‘perfect’. That realization costs a lot less in the long run.

  2. There’s a bit of an “ouch” factor here for me. Although we’ve been on a more frugal path than ever in the last 3.5 years, we blew the budget on our daughter’s 21st birthday. Actually, there was no budget. Hmmm… When Taz says, “They don’t know any better because they were taught this behavior by their parents,” I want to add something. My parents were frugal, but they didn’t talk about their frugality. I did not follow their example, and I didn’t take it in by osmosis. So part of “teaching” is by example, but another part is to break through the taboo and actually talk about too.

    • ” … but another part is to break through the taboo and actually talk about too.” Great, great point. Communication is a huge factor in achieving/maintaining financial success.

    • I’m so glad that you recognize that a good example is only “part” of teaching. The best coaches I’ve ever had not only spoke about technique but were also able to show me how to get over the hurdle faster, improve my three point shot percentage or generate more power in my hook kick. Example AND speech in combination is the best way to teach, especially in finances which can seem very abstract at times.
      Thanks for your time and comment.

  3. Although I hope to give my kids fun parties, I also know that kid sized expectations are much lower than we think. Our son likes parties in the park that involve cake and juice- I think our budget can handle that 🙂

    • No doubt that children generally have modest expectations. A party like you describe, with friends and family, and the added attention that comes from being the birthday girl/boy will likely make it a great day for most. Thanks for kicking off the conversation.

    • “kid sized expectations” is a great phrase Hannah. That’s exactly how we should approach celebrations from a financial standpoint. Thanks for the wise content.

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