I had the honor of attending one of the coolest birthday parties I’ve ever been to for a young child earlier this month. It was held in the backyard of a local educator who houses chickens and ducks. The backyard had a zipline and trampoline that occupied my oldest for whole hours. The adults lounged on picnic blankets and lawn chairs, and the children made mud pies, fed the chickens, went mock fishing with tin mason jar lids and magnetic fishing rods, and cracked pecans from a pecan tree growing in the yard. It was simply satisfying.
That said, however, I won’t be building a zipline anytime soon or planting a pecan tree, but the party did inspire me in ways I didn’t plan. It reminded me that some of my favorite qualities about children are their innocence and the simplicity with which they view the world.
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They truly live, basking in new experiences, and in the hustle and bustle of work, laundry, cooking and the like, I often forget it doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to make a child happy. It takes time, connection and patience. My children, who are both under 6 years old, just want me to play with them, to be with them and to have their choices honored. So instead of focusing on planning birthday parties and outings that account for every detail, I’ve been focusing more on the experiences I want to create with and for the people I love. My relationship with money — more specifically, saving money — sometimes gets in the way of that, but it doesn’t have to.
Here are the tips I’ve picked up on this journey that allow me to prioritize experiences and save money for birthdays and holidays:
Be intentional about who you invite.
I’m not just talking about birthday parties and other special occasions. Be intentional about the people you invite into your life and who your children spend their time with. I pray routinely that God intercedes and takes out the people, job prospects and real estate ventures that aren’t meant for me. My eyes often deceive me, but God is all-knowing. So even though I may think I want a specific job, school for my kids or house for my family, I ask God to take them completely out of the realm of possibilities if they are not in his plan for my life. I realize it won’t always be that simple. Quickly approaching are the days of having to maneuver the politics of school birthday invitations. But for now, we’ve been able to keep the worlds pretty separate. The kids celebrate their birthdays with their classes at school and with their out-of-school friends out of school. We haven’t learned of any hurt feelings so far. The goal is that by the time inviting school friends to parties becomes a priority for my kids, we will have the budget to be able to invite the whole class. Right now, that’s not the case, so we have to be a bit craftier.
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Stop spending money on things you don’t care about.
Of course, I want my children to have new experiences, to test out rock climbing or an amusement park, but those experiences don’t have to happen in conjunction with a 40-person guest list. The most important part of birthdays for my family is bringing the people we love together. So if that has to happen at the park or our home to reach our budgetary goals, so be it. The best piece of advice I can pass on about planning a child’s party is to ask that child how they want to celebrate their birthday. My son said bowling and arcade games, so bowling and arcade games he got, no fancy designer cake needed. He was through the roof about the $30 supermarket selection he picked himself.
Let the people who want to help, help.
My family loves spoiling my children with toys (or what some might call clutter). I’m a minimalist, but on birthdays I let the grandparents grandparent. As long as their gifts are not jumbo-sized like a jungle gym or motorized truck, birthdays are their opportunities to buy what they want the kids to have. My son and daughter, Donovan and Suni, love unwrapping gifts, and they actually do play with or wear (in Suni’s case) every gift given. I just wouldn’t feel right about taking that away from them just because I don’t like the mess it creates. Conversely, I’ve attracted friends who are like me and appreciate being able to donate to the kids’ college funds instead of buying traditional gifts. So I graciously accept whatever they opt to do even if they would rather just spend time with us during a special occasion instead of spending any money. That is my favorite gift. My point is, I give the people in my life space to show up for me how they are able to show up for me.