With yesterday being the Fourth of July, and my second child’s birthday coming up very soon (and my third child’s birthday not long after that), talking about holiday celebrations seems to be a good place to start.
When I was growing up, as a young child, celebrations involved a homemade cake and a few gifts. By the time I was a teen, they included birthday parties, restaurant meals, a bakery cake, lots of presents (or a few expensive ones), and so on. They were pretty extravagant. But, my parents had only two children and no debt, so they could afford to celebrate this way.
Being a young family with four children and a frugal mindset, we don’t want to start traditions of extravagance. We also don’t want the children to feel the only way to celebrate is extravagantly. We do want them to feel special, though.
Frugal Mindset: The Heart
The most important part of any celebration is that we remember the reason we are celebrating. For birthdays, we are celebrating the gift of this child in our family. For Christmas, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus as well as family togetherness. The focus of the holiday needs to be on these, not “what do I get.”
This focus does not require “stuff.” It only requires time and attention. And it inspires a grateful and happy heart because it is more about the feelings than the “stuff.” That is the most important part. We don’t want to feel cheated or ungrateful because we have less stuff! That misses the point.
All our celebrations start here, and all the traditions and events that grow out of it are because of this focus.
There are lots of practical suggestions on birthdays, too!
Instead of paying for an inclusive party service or location (there are so many around here), do it yourself. Host at your own home or at a nearby park. Bake the cake yourself or ask a talented friend (you can trade services if you like, or maybe it would be a gift to the birthday person). Make your own presents, if you’re crafty. Do whatever you can yourself.
Keep It Small
We haven’t ever had a “real party” for our kids’ birthdays. We invite family members, usually just the grandparents, and we have a meal together and then open a few presents. No need for something huge. If we did have a kids’ party, we would invite perhaps 4 – 5 of the kids’ friends. No need for an overwhelming party of 20+ small children!
Keep It Simple
The party doesn’t have to be The Greatest Birthday Party Ever. Play a game or two (and make it something easy, like “Mother May I” or “Red Rover” that doesn’t even need “stuff”), offer a few cheap prizes. Get some water balloons if it’s summer, go sledding if it’s winter, or stay inside and make a small craft (ornaments, necklaces, etc.). Maybe have a Make-Your-Own food station (ice cream sundaes, tacos, pizzas, whatever) and that’s a party activity and the snacks all in one. For older kids, pull out Apples to Apples, Cranium, or a similar game (works great for adults too). Skip the decorations or keep it to something like a “Happy Birthday” sign. Or let the kids make some decorations! The memories made together are much more important than the activities.
Start a Tradition
Our family tradition is to go to Jeni’s Ice Cream (if you’re not local, it’s grass-fed and mostly organic artisan ice cream). The kids love it. Typically we do it as a family, but if we wanted to “extend” the celebration, friends could join us there. Other people let the child choose what’s for dinner that night, or serve breakfast in bed, or make the child a simple t-shirt with the new age on it (for example, my son would wear a “4″ this summer).
Have a Date
This year I plan to take my son to Jeni’s and then the Lego Store, where he’ll be given a chance to pick out a cup of blocks. It will be our special time together and that’s our present to him. Spending time alone with the parent of his choice will mean more to him than a pile of “stuff,” and some time we may aim to take the child out with both parents while the other stay with grandparents or friends.
Keep Presents Simple
Choose just one or two presents that will be meaningful to the child. They do not have to be new. Some new-to-them clothes, a special book, etc. can be major. One of my favorite birthday presents ever was a nice music stand (I was 16, and I got that a set of spare keys to my mother’s car. It was perfect). On other occasions, my father bought me a small garden-in-a-box set for us to grow together, or once framed the first paycheck I got as a freelance writer (these were “just because” occasions). These small, thoughtful gifts mean so much more than a bunch of “stuff.” When the kids were really little (2 or 3) we bought them a balloon of their choice. They still talk about it.
Meaning of the Season
Spend some time talking about the meaning of the holiday. See a parade for Memorial Day and talk about our military’s service to our country. Perhaps visit a veteran to hear their stories. For Christmas, read the Christmas story, set up a Nativity, or watch a Christmas play or movie (these can become traditions if you like).
I love the idea of crafts, and they don’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Let the kids use construction paper to create holiday-themed decorations, whatever they can imagine. Buy beads and other inexpensive supplies, and/or save old toilet paper tubes, newspapers, magazines, etc. to create something. Make homemade Rosaries or ornaments or whatever you can dream up. We bought a book of seasonal craft ideas from Good Will and we pull ideas from there.
Volunteer to serve at a soup kitchen. Take a walk through a military cemetery and pray for families. Go to a summer outdoor concert (where I grew up, they had free ones every Friday night). Look up holiday activities on your city’s website and take advantage of them.
Spend Time Together
Bake cookies together; create your own “fireworks” out of paper, toilet paper tubes and glitter; stay up late and snuggle on a blanket as you watch fireworks; whatever you do, do it together. Anything can be special this way.
Keep Food Simple
If you do throw a party, you don’t need to go all out on the food. I like to make a big pot of soup and some fresh fruit and vegetables, or a big pan of cheesy potatoes. I often have water or herbal tea as the “main” drink option. A potluck is another idea to keep food costs down.
Time Is More Important Than Stuff
Making memories by spending time together is so much more important than “stuff.” Don’t worry about not having expensive food, expensive gifts, or expensive entertainment. Most of the memories that people hold onto are not what they were given, but who spent time with them, who thought of them, who loved them. That is the goal with any holiday celebration!