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The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor


The Architect


Family Birthday Budgets

We celebrate a lot of birthdays in September and October.  Ellen is nineteen.  I can’t believe my little girl is a young woman.

She requested a cheesecake for her birthday.  Clay likes to bake, so he made her not one, but two cheesecakes.  This one we took to her cousin’s house to share and then the next day Clay made her another one because she declared, “I didn’t want to share my cake. They ate it all!”  Yeah, there’s still a bit of a toddler in that girl.  Her daddy is wrapped just tight enough around her little finger to say, “Oh, I’ll make you another one.”  And that’s just what he did.  Clay would be exhausted if we had more than one daughter.

Ellen’s Outfit came from Plato’s Closet– belt, jeggins, shirt total $12 (This was not part of her birthday shopping trip, I just thought I’d share the details.)

Every penny is budgeted in our household, including gifts.  Each month we try to get all those unexpected and expected expenses in the budget.  Before we headed out I told Ellen how much we had to spend on her and we brainstormed about what she wanted to get.  She even spent a couple days finding cute outfit ideas on Pintrest.

We decided to head to Kansas City and shop at The Legends outlets.  I printed off a voucher from their website and then turned it in for a coupon book.  We saved $30 with the coupons and were able to get more clothing than she expected.  She focused on clothes that would be better for school and work.  She even added some fun items like a scarf and jewelry.  I was very proud of her as I listened to her talk through her choices and the reason she would buy one item over the next.  We brainstormed how she could mix and match the items with clothing she already owned.

It’s more work to plan a shopping trip, but the amount of money we saved was well worth it.


One week later we celebrated Levi’s 8th birthday.  He loves to help me cook and watch what I’m making in the kitchen.  This year he wanted a robot cake. He helped bake his cake and then decorate it.  This is such a departure from what I used to do for my older two kids.  I would bake their cake the night before and spend an absurd amount of time decorating it to perfection.  After having four kids, the reality set in that they really didn’t care as much as I did about how the cake looked.  They just wanted to eat it.

I purchased all the supplies with coupons and used items we already had, the cost of this cake was around $5.  I re-use candles on birthday cakes until they are spent which irritates some people, but my kids are used to it because I’ve done it forever.

I turned over decorating to the boys this year and they had a lot of fun making what we called Robot Hulkenstein.  While they were decorating the rest of the family was making one of his favorite dinners of homemade chicken strips.

Levi wanted a really hard Lego set with ‘destructions’, that’s what he says instead of instructions.  We bought him The Avengers set and then we rented the movie from Redbox.  Later in the evening he said, “This was the best birthday EVER!”  I have to remind myself that quality time and fun mean a lot to a child.  Much more than the quantity of gifts and elaborate parties.  Clay, Seth, Isaac and Levi all helped build the Lego set.  I love it when all of them work on something together.

Ellen gave Levi some candy which he then poured into four bowls and passed around to his siblings during the movie.  We had a a great night together.

My humble advice for parents that are just starting to budget:

1. Talk to your kids about the budget.  Especially your older kids.  Let them know exactly how much you have budgeted for their clothes, birthday, entertainment, etc.  So they can help decide how they want to spend that money.  Ellen could have bought one pair of super great shoes for her birthday and that would have been fine, but she decided to stretch that money as far as she could to get as much clothing as possible.

2. When your kids want to purchase something tell them to find the price and then have a mini math lesson.  I teach my kids to add 10% for sales tax, this way they will be over the price and not come up short.  I had to teach this to my kids so they would learn that if an item is $1 and they have exactly $1 in their pocket that they will also need to pay the sales tax on top of that.

3. Teach and learn contentment.  This is difficult if you are a person that likes a lot of gifts or likes to give a lot of gifts.  Help your children find joy in the real things in life and in turn teach yourself to be content with less.  Most gifts don’t last more than a moment, but family is forever.  They will remember the time they spent with you, but they will forget about the mound of plastic you bought them.  Sometimes, I learn more from my kids than they do from me.  I never wanted to share my candy with anyone….ever.

4. Look at your budget as a fun challenge, not a burden.  Don’t let a birthday or surprise gift purchase make you stumble with your budget.  You know those things will happen, so think ahead when you’re planning your budget to include those gifts or get creative and make a gift.

I’m sure a lot of you have great ideas for budgeting birthdays and spending less.  Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

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