How to Simplify Kids’ Birthday Parties


You don’t even have to be a parent to recognize that kids’ birthday parties these days are OUT. OF. CONTROL.

When I was growing up, a typical birthday party for me was a family dinner at a “fancy” restaurant (Olive Garden, anyone?) or a slumber party with three of my closest girlfriends. We would stay up “all night” (midnight) and paint each other’s toenails and read scary stories. These days, moms are spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars creating over-the-top themes and Pinterest-worthy photo ops for their child plus 75 of their closest friends. Not only does the kid get a custom, professionally decorated cake, but also receives a ton of toys that they will never play with.

And we wonder why our kids are growing up so entitled.

The extravagance of children’s birthday parties is ridiculous, in my opinion. I will admit, though. I went to great lengths to throw my first child an amazing first birthday party. And it was lovely. But it cost my husband and me a small fortune and, when all was said and done, we realized what a waste of money and time it had been. Our baby would never remember any of it. And the mountains of toys she received would be outgrown in a matter of months.

Simpler Parties Can Create More Grateful Kids

As my kids have gotten older, I have grown weary of birthday parties in general. In fact, I kinda hate them. Yes, I think every kid should feel special on their big day. Yes, I think celebrating with friends and family is fun. Yes, I think a child should receive a special toy or two for their birthday. But all those things can be accomplished in a more simplified, more practical, and more responsible way.

American parents seem to have forgotten that most of the children of the world do not have their own rooms, much less their own iPads, and they are still experiencing an overall decent childhood. In fact, I would argue that the children who grow up without a single toy and have to use their imaginations with sticks, rocks, old balls, etc., may have an even better childhood than many of their spoiled-with-stuff counterparts.

Believe me, I get how hard it is. As a parent, you want to give your children everything their little hearts desire. But if you do that, they will never have the opportunity to learn important life lessons. Like being grateful for what they have. Or taking care of a beloved treasure. Or earning (through funds or deeds) a long-coveted toy. These are lessons that will go a long way in making them more grateful and humble adults. And, boy, do we need more of those.

How to Simplify Kids’ Birthday Parties

It may seem like scaling back birthday parties will start World War III with your kids, but I think you’ll be surprised to find that they may grow to love the simplified celebration. Here are some ways you can eliminate the excess of modern-day birthday parties and how to simplify:

1. Limit parties to milestone years.

Instead of throwing a big bash every year for the next 18 years, perhaps consider only throwing a big party for the milestone years. For example, throw a party when your kid turns 5, 10, 13, 16, and 18. For all other years, celebrate simply at home with close family and a couple of their closest friends.

2. Limit gifts to things they need.

For Christmas, I follow the rule of 5 gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and a gift from Santa. My kids have known no other way of celebrating Christmas and they are just as excited as I was as a child on Christmas morning. When it comes to simplifying kids’ birthday parties, try something similar for birthdays: get them only things they need that year. Such as a new soccer ball for the team you’ve signed them up for. Or a set of chapter books for your burgeoning reader. Or an art kit for the child who loves to take art classes. Ask family and friends to follow this suggestion as well and provide them with a list of ideas (don’t forget you can ask for gift cards for clothes, shoes, and school supplies!).

3. Ask people to give the gift of experiences instead of toys.

My sister asked her mother-in-law for the gift of a year pass to the local children’s museum for her three-year-old son. I thought that was brilliant! Ask your family to give your children the gift of an experience instead of toys this year. It can be anything from tickets to the local theme park to a year pass to the zoo or museum. Check out the local kid-friendly attractions and businesses in your area to see what your child may be excited to go experience.

4. Keep the guest list small.

If you still want to have a gathering every year, go for it! But keep the guest list small. Invite only close family members and friends. And don’t be afraid to limit your child to two or three friends. There is absolutely no need to invite the entire kindergarten class to your kid’s birthday party!

5. Skip all the extras.

If you have set your heart on a traditional party, try simplifying it to just the necessities. Serve only cake and juice (beer for the adults?) and forego the finger-food feast that could feed an army. Minimize the decorating to perhaps a few balloons and a special birthday hat for the birthday boy or girl. And please, for the love of Pete, don’t go into debt trying to fill 25 goody bags full of cheap plastic party favors. No one cares if they go home with bubbles or slime or Pokemon tattoos. I promise, skipping all the extra nonsense will save you money and sanity. And no one will bat an eye at it.

6. Offer a trip or outing instead of a party.

As my kids get older, I am looking for fun things I can take them to do instead of having a traditional party. This year, offer to take your child on a special trip (maybe camping? Or to a local festival? Or theme park?) for their birthday. If you’re feeling super generous, let them bring a special friend along for the fun. It will be an amazing birthday adventure!

7. Share a party.

Since my kids were born almost exactly two years apart, their birthdays fall within two weeks of each other every year. And right before Christmas. Since this is a burden on me financially as well as schedule-wise, I have combined their birthday parties every year for the past four years. And they think it’s the best thing ever. They each get their own smallish cake or a large cupcake with their chosen theme depicted (Avengers for my son and mermaids for my daughter). And that is the extent of the individualized party prep I do! As they get older, they may not be so keen to share a party, and that’s okay. In that case, I will begin to default to simple family dinners or a special outing for each of them.

Celebrating your child on his special day should not be a financial or time burden for you or your family. It should be a time where you all come together to give thanks for this tiny little life you were so blessed to be able to usher through this world. Giving them a plethora of toys or spending a fortune on a bunch of gifts they will no longer be interested in within a few months does no one a bit of good. Instead, use your kids’ birthdays to emphasize things like being grateful for their friends and family, for good experiences with one another, and for meaningful and useful gifts. If they grow up to cherish these things above material possessions, you will have given them one of the best gifts of all!



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