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Published August 02, 2012, 11:30 PM

Money-Savin' Mama: Birthday fun doesn’t have to bust the budget

My 31st birthday may have been my most expensive celebration ever. Thankfully, insurance picked up much of the tab.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

My 31st birthday may have been my most expensive celebration ever. Thankfully, insurance picked up much of the tab.

A year ago today, I marked that birthday by giving birth to my son, Owen, a week before his due date.

I like to say he was the best birthday present ever. The chocolate cake from the hospital cafeteria wasn’t too shabby either. It even came with a festive party napkin.

Today marks my baby’s first birthday, and our second shared celebration. And in Money-Savin’ Mama fashion, it will be a frugal affair.

A couple weeks after Owen was born, my husband asked what I thought about us sharing the day. I sheepishly admitted that while it’s special, I’m a bit selfish about my birthday. He informed me that was an understatement.

I’ve just always felt my birthday could be the one day when I’m justified in calling all the shots: to do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want.

And, at least for this year, I’m holding to that, without spending too much.

I’ve scheduled a spa appointment, finally using a gift certificate friends gave me for my 30th birthday. We’ll take a cruise of the Red River on the S.S. Ruby pontoon, with half-price tickets purchased from SaveCoin.com. Then we’ll enjoy a sushi dinner. I have a coupon for a free birthday meal at Yuki Hana.

On Saturday, we’ll celebrate little Owen with a family gathering at our home. It’s a mid-afternoon affair, which will save on food costs. I’ll bake the cupcakes myself, assemble colorful fresh fruit skewers, and serve lemonade.

The party’s theme is simply “summer fun,” meaning all the entertainment for the little ones can be found in our back yard. I printed free coloring sheets for the older ones if it’s rainy.

I perhaps splurged a bit on the goody bags – or buckets, to be more precise – spending around $11 total for the three bigger kids I expect to attend. But they’re a bargain when you look at everything they include.

I hit up a couple local dollar stores, where I found large sand pails with shovels for a buck each. In each pail, I placed a bucket of sidewalk chalk (3 for $4), a bottle of bubbles (3 for $1), a small squirt gun (3 for $1), rubber ducky (3 for $1) and juice pouch (about 30 cents each).

We didn’t go overboard with Owen’s gift either, a tool belt with soft, fabric tools that cost $8. That’s the thing about 1-year-olds, they’re thrilled with new toys no matter how much they cost.

In total, I expect the party will cost less than $100, including some party-store purchased plates and napkins emblazoned with “1”s. I could have gotten by for less by buying non-themed disposable tableware, or using my own plates.

Years ago, before my daughter turned 1, I remember reading several different articles about out-of-control kid parties that cost thousands, complete with petting zoos, Ferris wheels and limousines.

In response to parties like these, Dr. Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota social science professor started a website, Birthdays

WithoutPressure.org, encouraging parents to talk about this excess, evaluate their community norms and reduce the pressure parents feel when it comes to birthday parties. The site offers ideas for simple party games, birthday rituals and gift alternatives.

One of the easiest ways to reduce the pressure, in my mind, is to reduce the price tag. After all, it’s the people, not the presents, which make the party special.

Sherri Richards is thrifty mom of two and an employee of The Forum..

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