“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents…and only one for birthday presents, you know.” – Lewis Carroll

In just a bit less than three weeks, our daughter will celebrate her 14th birthday.  As usual, she’s hoping for a fun party and a pile of gifts.  In years past, we’ve managed to put together some nice, though not terribly extravagant, parties.  This year, our budget is much smaller since my wife hasn’t had a full time gig since the end of March, she’s retraining for a new career, and we are trying to avoid debt.

For the past three years, we’ve typically taken a small group of our daughter’s friends and family out for dinner for a moderately-priced meal.  One year, we went to a kid-friendly pizza restaurant filled with coin-operated games.  Another year, we took a group out to our daughter’s favorite Italian restaurant.  Last year, we took a small group out on an overnight camping trip.  We paid for everyone’s campground reservations and for most of the food.

This year, even a camping trip for family only is outside of our budget, so we are looking to cut costs in the following ways:

  • Hold the party at a free venue.  We live an area where the weather will likely remain pleasant through early October.  As a result, we could hold the party at one of a number of local parks that offer free picnic areas.  We are also considering our own back yard, as we have a BBQ grill, sun shade, and plenty of outdoor chairs.
  • Cut back on decorations.  Although helium-filled mylar balloons, matching invitations, tableware and decorations are fun, they add to the cost of the party.  We’ll probably end up skipping most of these trappings, as we’ve managed to have plenty of fun parties with no decorations at all.
  • Bake our own cake.  Since my wife and I started stocking our larder and doing more cooking from scratch, we’ve learned how to bake very nice-tasting cakes from scratch.  Granted, they might not be as pretty as a store-bought cake, but they certainly will taste just as nice.
  • Eat in.  This year, instead of treating a bunch of people to a restaurant meal, we will cook at home.  Likely, we’ll be looking at a relatively inexpensive meal of grilled hot dogs or hamburgers, but even if our daughter wants something a little more upscale, we can still manage.
  • Combine parties.  My wife’s birthday falls just a week after our daughter’s.  This year, instead of planning two parties, we will consolidate and plan only one.
  • Make our own entertainment instead of hiring it.  Instead of paying for a venue that offers entertainment, we are going to look at ways to create our own fun.  We have a variety of board games and other activities that don’t cost anything at all.
  • Limit the number of gifts.  We’ve tended to go a little hog wild on gifts, buying a large number of relatively cheap items.  Every year, despite our best intentions, the cost has added up.  This year, we’ll be focusing on a smaller number of higher-quality gifts, which we hope will result in a lower overall cost.  We’re definitely not going to give in to her request for one of those elaborate smartphones, but we might cave a little and give her a T-Mobile simple phone just for emergencies.

This year, we’ll also be paying careful attention to our list of invitees, being sure to invite people who are known to be fun in groups.  This way, we’ll be more likely to enjoy our company, since we won’t have the distraction of expensive activities.

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What to do with a windfall