Why I'm Throwing My Son A Cheapskate Birthday Party

by Tonilyn Hornung
Originally Published: 
cheap kid's birthday party
ArtMarie / iStock

“It was a fun birthday party!” my best friend proclaimed. “There was even a food truck!” Okay, I have to admit, I always have fun when food trucks are involved. I love ordering my gourmet meals from a Barbie-sized car. So, how can a person not have fun at a birthday party with a food truck around? Well, except maybe if that person is a 2-year-old child. “Oh,” my friend added, “and they even had every blow-up slide and bounce house created by man there.”

So, really, what 2-year-old doesn’t have fun ordering his cage-free, hormone-free chicken nuggets while riding down a blow-up slide that eerily resembles the Titanic? Well, my kid might not.

Perhaps it’s my practical side winning out, or maybe I’m just a super mean mom, but I don’t see the point in spending oodles of money for an extravagant birthday party for my toddler. Honestly, until I became a mom I thought the uber-fancy child party was a thing of myth and legend reserved only for people like Beyoncé or reality shows on Bravo. And then I started hearing the ever-popular “friends of friends” stories where mom friends had gone to parties where they rented Disney princesses, balloon-making men, and reptile zoos all at the same party. My wallet and my heart hurt. What happened to just friends, family, cake and ice cream?

I grew up having birthday parties the same as any other kid, and I remember balloons, and cake, and laughter, and running around the backyard with my friends. There were no rented bounce houses. There were no singing clowns. There is not one part of me that thinks back on that time with regret or anger at my parents for not renting a snow machine in the middle of summer and flying in the cast of Frozen to sing for me. (All right, I might be a little miffed that they weren’t able to get Han Solo to my 9th birthday party, but I understand. He was busy being frozen in carbonite back then, anyway.) What I remember is my family. I remember my friends. I remember the fun and the love, and this is what I want for my son.

I want my son to have memorable birthdays, too. I just know the excessive three-ring circus of competitive birthday partying is not for me. I don’t want to show my son he needs more, more, more on his birthday. Excess will not equal love in our house. Hopefully, the more my son will experience will simply be more love from his family and friends. So, we are going to keep his birthdays on the simple side—balloons, party hats, cake, ice cream and the usual stuff.

In the future, if requested, a clown or two may show up here and there (I’m not totally heartless), but a full-on theme park will not. My toddler does not need to birthday party like it’s 1999, and I don’t need to impress my friends and family by throwing him an elaborate party to prove how much I care about him. I’d do anything for him—except try to hire Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett to sing him “Happy Birthday.”

These parties of such crazy magnitude seem to be more for the parents than for the kids, anyway. Even though my kid can seem to remember every Gene Kelly movie, I’m fairly certain he is not going to remember his 2nd birthday party in years to come. I want him to have a great time, but these days he has a great time with cardboard boxes as much as what is inside of them. So, the extravagance is certainly not gonna be for him.

And later, when he is going through old family photos before he leaves for college, if he asks, “Mom, where was my life-sized Millennium Falcon and Legion of Stormtroopers for my 2nd birthday? Didn’t you love me?”—will I feel guilty? I don’t think so. Okay, maybe a little. But like a good mother, I will just tell him the truth: “You loved blowing bubbles that year! We had a bubble-blowing party! And honestly, we just couldn’t afford the spaceship and Troopers, because we hired them for your dad’s birthday party.”

This article was originally published on