Need a Birthday Plan

In 10 days the first of the birthdays start.  Eleven plus 2 daughters-in-law and a grandson.  Last year the plan was for the birthday person to get a dinner out with Mom alone, at the restaurant of their choice, a modest gift, and they could pick out their own cake to share with everyone else when we got home.  Well.  There is not any room in the budget for 14 restaurant meals, even if they are spaced out once a month, nor can my grocery money cover store-bought cakes. 

I googled “13th birthday ideas” and got things such as: renting a limo to go to a motel and swim all night, going to a cupcake place, then bowling and home for makeovers, taking a boat cruise… really?  No.

So, if you can help me out once again, I’d really appreciate it.  I have two birthdays in January.  The first is this one:

Who, obviously, will be 13.  Then I have this one 12 days later, who will be 23:

He’s the one on the right.  But the one on the left is third in line in the birthday year, and is 3 weeks after the second one.  Then I have a break until April, phew.  Suggestions, please.  (Very)low cost, yet special.


  1. We make a big deal out of birthdays but spend very little.

    We let the birthday person choose what gets cooked for dinner for the family that night. Within reason. :) Careful planning and cunning parental suggestions helps keep the costs down.

    We also let the birthday person choose a treat. Some like birthday cake, some prefer ice cream with lots of toppings, one is a big fan of brownies, etc. I try to honor requests like pirate-themed cakes and princess shaped confections. Regardless, it gets topped with the correct number of candles.

    Finally, the birthday person gets a date with Mom or Dad. Sometimes it’s a shopping trip to spend money given by other relatives. It may be an ice cream cone at the fancy ice cream place or a trip to the park in nice weather. As you know, it’s the time with the parent, not the expense.

    We also try to do something inexpensive but special like inviting a friend or two for a sleepover, giving $5-10 for the above-mentioned shopping trip, a park date with other families where we share birthday cupcakes, or a small gift. One of the most treasured gifts turned out to be a pair of cheap sunglasses!

    We decorate the same spot in the house with a re-usable Happy Birthday banner, streamers, and balloons. We also re-use a bunch of Happy Birthday hats (we always lose one to fatal tears) that all the kids can wear throughout the day as they wish.

    I hope some of these ideas inspire you!

  2. I like Elizabeth’s ideas! I was going to say…a meal at home…a homemade cake…and a gift. ( how about a gift certificate to Joannes Fabrics for the 13 year old and new guitar strings for the 23 year old?)

  3. my older kids love sleepovers with a special friend.

    I know some families do birthday months…like everyone in May (for us we have 4 May bdays) gets one cake to share with all the names on it, one party to share, etc…I know some people thinks it takes away from specialness this way but I shared my bday with both my grandparents and we had one family party that day always and I felt more special to be in the october “club” etc… this year for sure we are only doing 2 birthdays, one in the spring and one in the fall.

    make a special meal as the bday person’s request?
    eat on a special bday plate ?

  4. Homemade cake for sure… so much more affordable! Then maybe make something special for dinner for the bday person, but everyone else just eat regular dinner (because making something special at home for everyone is probably the same cost as two people going out!). Maybe give them a list of free/super cheap activities to choose from: board game night, craft night, movie with just bday person and mom (especially if you have a discount theater), their choice of a Redbox rental ($1.07), trip to a park to play/hike, etc. You could make something really cute with all the options and every birthday the birthday kid gets to pick from it.

  5. After I was 12, my birthdays became a special B’day dinner that I got to choose (must be affordable), a homemade cake and I was allowed to invite one friend to dinner once every few years, if I wanted to. Have you asked the kids to come up with some fun but free or very, very inexpensive ideas? They might think of things that you haven’t. My sister did a “spa evening” for her daughter’s birthday. She gave her a foot soak, foot rub and pedicure and had punch in wine glasses. She thought it was a blast, and all my sister had to buy was the fruit juice and a discounted bottle of nail polish. Total was under $5.00 + the cost of homemade cupcakes. I’m not sure what to suggest for the boys. All my son ever wanted was gummy worms on his cake and spaghetti for supper.

  6. We can’t spend a lot on birthdays either, so we try to make each birthday a celebration of that person. We start with breakfast in bed for the birthday person, they get to choose what I make for dinner and we have cake. They get to choose a movie to watch or family game to play. They don’t have to do any chores for the whole day. We keep a box on the kitchen table and throughout the day everyone writes little notes about what we love about them, or a funny story, or recognition for something they’ve done, then I read them out loud after dinner. I try to get 5 or 6 little things from the dollar store to give them through the day, a new little toy for small kids, body lotion or a craft stuff for the older girls. They just love the extra attention. It turns into kind of a joke with everyone trying to find special things to do for the birthday child, in unison they’ll say things like, “Rose gets the last roll, because it’s HER BIRTHDAY, or Rose gets to go first because it’s HER BIRTHDAY!” It can be a lot of fun if you really do it up big.

  7. Hi “On My Own”,

    I like all of the suggestions presented above. I would suggest selecting at least one of the following special birthday activities for the honoree when you have your in-home birthday celebration.

    Have each family member make a sign for the honoree on an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper. (I recommend using matte photo paper, which can be purchased with 100% rebate if you watch the office supply store sales.) The sign might say happy birthday, congratulations, your the best, it might contain a picture. The specific design is left to each family member. As you begin your celebration, each family member presents their sign to the honoree. You take photos of the presenter holding the sign, presenting it to the honoree and then of the honoree holding the sign. After the celebration you make an album of the photos and present it to the honoree.

    If your honoree is adventuresome and likes surprises you might want to repeat the above activity with a second set of signs and a few variations in the activity itself. First, the honoree is blindfolded for the entire presentation ceremony. Second, this time the signs might be more humorous than the first set of signs. The guests decide how to position the honoree, presenter and sign for the photos. After the photos are taken, the honoree is given some hints about what the sign says (or is told what the sign says)and they need to guess who made it or else they are given hints about (or told) who they are posing with and need to guess what the sign says.

    As a variation on the second activity, cover a wall with a large sheet of paper (at least 6 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall, mounted at waist level for the honoree. Perhaps, include a double or triple layer of paper, so marker ink will not bleed through onto the wall) or use a white board. Have the honoree stand back to the wall (and/or blindfold them so they cannot see the wall) while all of the guests write at least one message for the honoree. Take photos of the process and a really good quality photo of the honoree standing against the wall of messages. Remove the paper before the honoree is allowed to turn around. Print the photo, frame it and present it to the honoree (so they see all the messages for the first time), just prior to placing it on the wall of the family room.

    Do a cake/candle ceremony in which all guests light a candle and deliver a special message to the honoree (video and take lots of photos). After all the candles are lit, the honoree makes a wish and extinguishes all of the candles, just before cutting and serving the cake.

    I hope that these ideas have been helpful. Please check out my Birthday Suggestions website (locatable with a Google search) for additional ideas.


  8. Few ideas: no chores for birthday week, get to pick rental movie (and have a home movie night), pick out birthday dinner/dessert, and wrap up things they actually need like socks.

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