Frugal, Fun Summer Birthdays

happy birthday

This Summer, from time to time, I’ll be re-running some of my favorite Simple Kids posts.  This first Summer ReRun is a guest post from Elise Adams of Adam’s Organizing.  I think you’ll really enjoy her article on frugal, but fun, birthdays which originally appeared in July of 2011. – Kara

There are 6 kids in my happily-blended family—including a couple teenagers, two toddlers and a few in-between too! If you start counting aunts, uncles and cousins…the number of birthdays we need to celebrate every year is nearly incalculable!


1. Time vs. Stuff

One of the primary principles we live by in our nuclear family is that the best gift we can give each other is time together. We aren’t focused on accumulating the latest gadget or picking up the newest toy. This defined principle (we openly talk with our kids about this) really helps me focus on what is truly important—even during Birthday Season!

2. Nature vs. Electronics

We focus on attentively hearing each other, extravagantly playing together and deeply connecting to one another. Movies or amusement parks aren’t really our cup of tea—we’d prefer an outing to the river for a walk/run/bike ride or a drive to the mountains to pick wildflowers. These adventures allow us time to talk (the car is such a great place to get recalcitrant teenagers communicating again) and also work well when combining different age groups.

3. Collaboration vs. All-on-Mom’s-Shoulders

This is where having a big family is a BIG plus! Whether we’re getting together for an aunts/uncles/cousins birthday potluck or gathering for my babies 1st birthday, in our family we all contribute something. My husband is a great dish washer and my Mom (the kids Grandma) usually brings salad, bread and drinks. Even if it’s a last minute-thrown-together plan where we all pitch in I don’t end up feeling exhausted and worn out at the end of the day when we follow this principle!

Four (nearly) Free Birthday-Party Ideas

1. A group birthday bash, potluck style!

This is great for extended family birthdays and has worked well in my family even when I’ve included my girls’ birthdays along with various Aunts/Uncles and Cousins. The toddler’s end up thinking it’s all about them anyway and the teenagers don’t have to bear the brunt of too much familial attention.

2. Excursion-Style Birthday-Adventure

As I mentioned above our family loves going to our local river for a bike ride and picnic birthday party. This is a perfect choice for warm-weather birthdays and wiggly kids! The noise and chaos level is significantly decreased in the out-of-doors, for one thing. And with plenty of room to run there isn’t nearly as much of a need for planned games or activities. Sometimes the adults even get a conversation or two in between onslaughts of shrieking kidlets coming back for energy sustaining snacks.

Variations on this option:

Mexican Fiesta Party—complete with Pinata and salsa dancing (or attempts at salsa dancing at least)

Mini-track-meet Party—complete with foot races, tree-climbing competitions and maybe a swimming/wading competition?

Ice-Cream Sundae Party—the back yard is a great location for this semi-excursion option. Outside is such a better place for such messy, sticky fun!

3. Give-Back ‘Party’

This works really well for a teenager who already ‘has it all’ or doesn’t really want a typical (read:  lame) birthday party. Billed it as a ‘thanks for helping me make it to another year’ to the folks in your local community, this can even become an expected highlight for an entire family.

Don’t count out the toddlers! They can be included in this by participating in sorting and simplifying their toy collections to make room for some new items.

Some give-back ideas:

  • Serve a meal at a local homeless shelter
  • Donate, in person, unused personal clothing, toys, books to a family or service agency
  • Adopt a Grandparent Service Day…plant some flowers, mow her lawn and bring her fresh lemonade (great idea if you aren’t blessed with an extended family)
  • Take a single-moms kids for the day…is your teen finally old enough to babysit? Make her first foray into childcare a real ‘event’ on her birthday

4. Made-gifts Only

Younger children can really get into this concept if they are involved in the planning and preparation. Include craft-time during the little-kids party and 4-7 year olds are in 7th heaven!

  • Make the invitations and personally deliver them (a rare event in this day and age!)
  • Make menu cards or place cards for an outdoor tea party
  • Dollar store craft supplies are quite luxurious enough for little ones—arrange them on a picnic table with plenty of rags on hand.
  • Involve the little ones in making cupcakes before the party, then offer a smorgasbord of sprinkles and icing for spontaneous decorating at dessert time

Remember—it’s all about the people!

Sometimes I feel tired at the thought of all the birthday’s I have coming up this Summer—my son’s 1st birthday, my 4 year olds first BIG party (she’s been planning it for months!), even my own birthday. Then I remember that these are occasions to celebrate the biggest, bestest gifts in my life. The people I love, my precious family, are far and away the most valuable treasures God has blessed me with. When I focus on their gifts to me then I am re-energized to plan a people-focused, time-attention centered event to show my kids, especially, how special they are to my husband and I.

What about you? How have you celebrated your children’s birthdays while keeping it simple? I’m sure the possibilities are innumerable! I’d love to hear your ideas!

Elise Adams is an organizing, time management & life makeover coach as well as a radio personality and inspirational speaker; but those are just her day jobs.  Her greatest joy is mothering her 6 kids with the love of her life Andre Adams in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and practicing her stunted green thumb in her overrun-with-dandelions backyard.

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. I really like the idea of Give-Back ‘Party’. I never thought about this idea for celebrating a birthday, but I have sister at this age and I think she’s gonna like this.
    amanda´s latest post: ט באב

  2. Hi Kara,
    Your story about summer birthdays is very interesting. I really enjoyed it. I liked the three guidelines and these guidelines are very help full. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us. I’ll look forward to read your more stories.

  3. For my daughter’s 3rd birthday earlier this summer, we took the extended family (her grandparents and aunts/uncles) with us for a 4-day camping trip. SO simple and exactly how our family likes to spend time together.

  4. I love the outdoorsy party idea…and the “everybody pitches in and helps” suggestion as well. I’ve even been to weddings that were potluck and they were just wonderful. People truly are what counts.
    Sinea´s latest post: Simple Lovely Living

  5. I have stopped inviting the parents of my daughter’s friends. They’re my friends too, but it gets to expensive to feed them. Plus, it makes me focus on the kids instead of socializing so I’m more devoted to my daughter’s enjoyment.

    I plan the parties NOT around a meal time so no one expects a meal–serving cupcakes and water is so much cheaper than doing lunch or dinner with it too.

    Finally, my SIL does a friend party only every-other year. On the “off” years, they do an experience birthday present, spending the present/party money on a big outing of the child’s choice. I don’t know if this is much cheaper, but it makes things simple to only plan the big parties every two years.

  6. I love the idea of the give-back party. Such a great way to take the focus off of me, me, me!
    One of the best parties we had for one of my kids, probably 9 or 10 years old, was to create a giant slip-n-slide with thick black plitci down our backyard (hubby is quite ingenious) Just roll out the plastic and put the water hose going full blast at the top. We had about 25 kids here and they had a BLAST!
    Thanks for the ideas!
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: THE best organizational tool

  7. Love all the additional ideas 🙂 Thanks for chiming in on frugal birthdays! Lindsey, I love your SIL idea of a ‘friends’ party every other year.

    You are SO right Sinea–it’s the people who count.

    Lauren–the camping idea is wonderful. In fact this Summer this is exactly what my Mom is throwing together. In just a couple weeks we’re all headed to a cabin on the WA coast–the trip is her gift to us for all our birthdays.

    Great to meet all you wonderful parents here!
    Elise Adams´s latest post: Verbal attack or constructive criticism, how to tell the difference

  8. Fantastic Ideas! Thank you for sharing, I will certainly be borrowing some of your ideas!

  9. What a great collection of meaningful ideas! Thanks for publishing this one again, Kara, I missed it the first time. 🙂
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s latest post: DIY Rust Removal: Make Your Beater Better!

  10. Kirsty Van Itallie says:

    Great article with some unique ideas. We love beach days/ mornings for birthdays. A play a swim snacks or cake at the park near the playground. 2-3 hours if fun just right for 2 year olds. Thinking we’ll do the same thing for his 3rd bday in a few months time…sthn hemisphere spring. One family tradition we have started is for daddy to take a day of leave on birthdays so we get to celebrate as a family. This makes the day really special.

  11. As a kids party entertainer, I have been to thousands of parties. You have some very clever and fun party ideas, some I never seen before. :o) The ‘give-back’ ideas are really wonderful!


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