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

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.”

Exactly!

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!

James
 

James retired in 2005 after serving 21 years in the United States Army. During the latter part of his career, James' interest in personal finance was piqued based on his own experiences and observations of the way most Americans plan – or more accurately, fail to plan – for retirement and the difficulty many face in starting the process. His most valued education has been lessons learned from personal experience and through conversations with smart, savvy friends.

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