In this wold of Pinterest-perfect birthday parties packed with themed decorations and food, we can feel pressure to provide the most amazing birthday experiences for our kids.
Can I be honest?
As much as I LOVE planning and doing themed parties with cute food names and games - it's exhausting and often expensive. Oh sure, there are dozens of ways to cut costs on all of that, but when it comes down to it, my kids simply aren't going to remember that I served cupcakes with cloud frosting and a cake pop "balloon" at a balloon themed party. They just aren't! Usually the only thing that gets remembered from past parties are the cakes, which I totally get ;)
Right now we give the kids each a choice for their birthday - small party with friends, experience gift with family, or an extra couple gifts. Our oldest chose a friend party (Halloween themed because his birthday is in October) in first grade and hasn't chosen one since. He realized that while it's fun having friends over, he'd rather get an extra LEGO set from us or get an experience that we wouldn't otherwise do.
But it shouldn’t be about the gifts. It’s about celebrating this special life that is a part of your family! And that’s where awesome birthday traditions come in.
We've tried out multiple ways to make the birthday kiddo feel extra special over the years, and it's always fun finding new ways to celebrate as the years go by. If you are looking for some fun new ways to celebrate with your kids then check out this list of more than fifteen fun birthday traditions you can start in your family. And even better? You won't need to pull change out from the couch cushions to afford them ;)
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15+ Birthday Traditions That Won't Break the Bank
1. Pick the Menu
Picking a special birthday dinner is pretty standard but what about the menu for the whole day? This can be a little more challenging on a school day, especially if you need to rush out the door, but lots of special foods can be prepped in advance.
I usually start asking my kids a week or two before their birthday to come up with a menu. This gives me time to grab ingredients and make items that can go in the freezer. My kids often choose cream cheese kolaches which are perfect for making well in advance and freezing.
2. Special Dessert
Picking the dessert has always been my favorite part of birthdays. While my kids usually choose something simple like a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting or a fun character, occasionally they will choose something non-traditional. One year our second born asked to decorate individual cookies. I made a big batch of sugar cookies, a few types of frosting, and served up bowls of sprinkles and baking chips so they could decorate how they wanted.
3. Balloon Bedroom
Our kids have caught on to this tradition and start asking a few days before each of their birthdays. We blow up birthday child’s age in balloons (six balloons for a child turning six, etc) and put them in his or her room while he or she is sleeping. The kids LOVE waking up to balloons and beginning the celebration right away.
4. Special Shirt
I made a birthday shirt with an iron-on when our oldest was turning two and sized up so I was able to get two or three birthdays out of it! It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, I think the one I made cost maybe $5? And depending on the design you might be able to pass it on to the younger kids like we did!
5. Birthday Interview
I’ve been doing birthday interviews with my kids off and on since they could understand the questions. I think I did Mercedes first interview when she was three. I save them in a file folder and love getting to look back at how their interests and preferences have changed, but also how many have stayed the same.
I have my own printable birthday interview that I offer my subscribers - you can grab it yourself when you join by clicking the button below!
6. 10th Birthday Double Digit presents
We started a new birthday tradition last year when our oldest turned double digits. It’s the Double Digit Birthday Bag! Everything in the gift has “double” in the name and I had as much fun hunting down items as he did opening it. His favorite gifts were probably the Double Stuff Oreos or Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa. This gift can be as big or as small as you’d like!
7. Special Birthday Plate
We don’t do this tradition in our family but I have friends that do! Get a special plate, whether it’s one you make or purchase and designate as “special” it’s only for the birthday person. Some families also use this special plate for other times such as good marks at school, extra kind behavior, or to mark another milestone.
8. Birthday Photo
Get a photo of you, the parents, with the birthday kid each year. And yes, mom, you need to get in the picture. You will all really appreciate these later.
We tried taking a photo together with the birthday kid on each birthday but I think we only got a few years in with the older two before it stopped happening. I love the idea, but the frenzy of the day usually puts family photos on the back burner.
9. Look Back in Time
Speaking of photos - go back through pictures and videos of the birthday kid. My kids LOVE watching old family movies. And by old I mean from the last ten years because that’s how long they’ve existed. Bring some tissues to the viewing because you will probably tear up as you realize just how fast the time goes.
Thankfully all our kids were born after the invention of digital video and I’ve tried to upload everything into Google Photos to keep it available anywhere. I use a Chromecast so we can watch the videos on our TV and not need to all crowd around my phone - it makes for a much better viewing experience!
10. Write a Letter to Your Child
One of the best gifts I ever received from my parents was a letter on my 16th birthday. They wrote about how proud they were of me, how they prayed for my future, and how they felt so lucky to have such an incredibly awesome daughter that will always be the coolest kid on the block. Okay, so I might be embellishing a tad, but here I am eighteen years later and I still own that letter.
You could write a letter each year detailing the milestones and accomplishments and tuck them away to give later or you could write a single letter for a milestone birthday. Either way the letters are something your child will treasure for years.
11. Child Writes a Letter to Future Self
Did you ever write a letter to yourself in school? I remember having to write a letter in eighth grade to ourselves that the school was supposed to mail when we finished high school. Due to the less than awesome behavior of a select few students they chose to hand over our letters immediately and told us to hang on to them until graduation before reading again. Definitely not as exciting.
But as parents we have the ability to do this with our kids. Tell them to write a letter to their future self. You could give them an exact age or milestone, maybe at 18 when they are graduating, maybe for their wedding, or even when they become a parent. Have them write out their hopes and dreams for their future along with some special moments they want to remember down the line. I’d love to hear from kid Katie some days!
12. Delivery Time Photo
If your child was born in the middle of the night this might not be as much fun but for those kids born during waking hours this should be pretty simple. Snap a photo at the time they were born - bam! Done! Of course it also requires you to remember the time they were born ;)
13. Photo with Balloons
Balloon photos are all the rage these days! You can opt for the foil numerical balloons or a number of standard balloons. You could get your own mini helium tank or use vinegar and baking soda to make the balloons float without helium! You could also ask a grocery store or party store to fill them - some will do it for a small fee.
14. Shrinking Shirt Photo
Like the special birthday shirt, you could also use an adult sized shirt and take a picture of your child in it each year so you can see how they grow. I have friends that do this on the first day of school but birthdays would work just as well!
15. List of What We Love
Have you seen the Valentine challenge where you stick a heart on your child’s door each day from February 1st until the 14th with what you love about him or her? This is the same idea, but on their birthday instead! Cover their door with hearts, stars, and rainbows, horseshoes and blue moons… wait. Wrong thing. Pick a shape or item relevant to your child and write a thing you love about them on each one. Stick them on the door so they wake up to all sorts of positive messages. Talk about filling their love tank!
16. Make a Memory Bank of the Year
This one could be elaborate or it could be simple, which makes it perfect for just about every family. Talk about everything that happened since the previous birthday and find a way to immortalize each of those special moments. This could mean writing them down in a journal, making a scrapbook, finding photos, or collecting mementos. This would become a time capsule of sorts for each year of your child’s life!
I personally would go for a single journal for each child because it would take up less space but I had a scrapbook as a kid where I kept my favorite art projects, my best papers, awards, and report cards and I enjoyed looking back on it as I grew.
17. Do a Random Act of Kindness per Year
I recently had a friend do 40 random acts of kindness for her 40th birthday and I realized, why can’t this be done at any age? She had little tags that explained what was going on as she hid dollar bills around her city. I can imagine the surprise and excitement people experienced when they found a note on their windshield, taped to their parking meter, or on a bag of chips at the store. Kindness doesn’t need to cost money either - check out this list from Coffee Cups & Crayons with all sorts of ideas to do with kids!