We’ve all heard the saying, Money can’t buy happiness.
Yes, that’s true.
But after what we’ve gone through in the last four years, I now subscribe more to Zig Ziglar’s train of thought:
Money isn’t everything in life but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the gotta have it scale.
Having to worry about money 24 /7 isn’t just exhausting.
It depletes you physically and emotionally.
It affects your relationships.
Friends get tired of hearing you talk about money troubles.
Family gets tired of you asking for financial assistance.
And your marriage?
Forget it. It’s brutal on your marriage.
You spend just about every minute of every day wondering how you are going to cover the basic necessities.
You can’t even consider the extras.
When it comes time for birthdays and holidays, well, those are luxury items.
Last year at this time we were on food stamps, our house was in foreclosure, and my husband was out of work and severely injured, waiting for the swelling in his spinal cord to go down enough so that he could have major surgery.
And on September 17, 2015, Number 4’s ninth birthday, we didn’t have any extra money lying around for a big birthday celebration.
Or a small one, for that matter.
I did have a gift card to the Olive Garden that someone had given me a few months earlier, and so for her birthday, the two of us went out for lunch. I picked her up early from school, and we had a great time together, just the two of us.
Figuring out a way to do something special when you have no money available to you forces you to get creative. And if you think hard enough, you can come up with things to do.
But it’s still stressful. And tiring. And monotonous.
The first couple years, I looked at it as a challenge.
But the third and the fourth years? It made me really fucking angry.
Today, September 1 7, 2016, it’s Number 4’s tenth birthday.
We aren’t on food stamps. We were able to get out of our foreclosure situation, qualify for a modification on our mortgage, and keep our house. My husband is fully recovered from his injury and surgery, and he has a pretty decent job now.
Things have turned around considerably.
While we don’t spend our free time rolling around in piles of money, we also don’t have to spend every second of every day worrying about how we will make it through the next twenty four hours.
If you’ve been in a similar situation, you understand the relief that brings.
If you haven’t, well I’m not sure I can explain it accurately. Let’s just say it doesn’t suck. At all.
This year, when Number 4 asked if she could have a party for her birthday (cause that tenth birthday — double digits — is a big one) I didn’t have to automatically say no.
I didn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul in order to make it happen.
This year when she asked if she could have a tenth birthday party, I was able to say yes without any hesitation.
Of course, if you’ve been around here a while, you know how I feel about birthday parties.
I believe in celebrating kids’ birthdays and making sure they feel really special on their day.
But I don’t like over-the-top parties. Especially for kids who aren’t even in kindergarten yet.
I don’t like birthday parties that invite entire classes to them when your kid is really only friends with a handful of those kids.
And I don’t agree with spending hundreds and hundreds, and in many cases, thousands of dollars, on a kids’ birthday party.
I think it’s such a waste of money. And I know so many people who are struggling to make ends meet who do that. Who feel like their kids need a big party every year. Like they owe it to them.
I want you to know something.
And there is something else I feel pretty strongly about now, after having gone through tremendous financial hardship.
Kids don’t need a shitload of birthday presents.
Five, ten years ago, we definitely went overboard.
In hindsight, what I know now is that my kids didn’t appreciate most of the stuff we got them.
And getting them five (or even ten!) presents on their birthday didn’t make them more grateful or more appreciative.
The only thing it did was make the kids not really appreciate any of the gifts they received, and it also put them in a mindset to just want (and expect) more.
And after spending a decent amount of this past spring decluttering my house, I also realized the majority of the crap we buy for our kids is almost 100% unused!
So although we did have some money available to spend on Number 4’s birthday this year, we didn’t go crazy.
Instead of “celebrating” our change in financial situation by going overboard on a party and buying an assload of gifts, when Number 4 asked if she could have a party, we told her she could. But we set limits. And we also told her that if she had a party, that would be her present from us.
And I’m sharing this because I feel like this has been an eye opening experience for me and for my family.
The kids don’t realize it’s been an eye opening experience for them. But what I observe is that once we stopped getting them a stupid amount of birthday presents, they are much more appreciative of the one or two things they do get.
Back to the party.
Number 4 really, really , really wanted to invite some friends to the movies for her birthday.
That can get expensive. I explained this to her.
So she said to me, ” What if I just invite six friends?”
The fact that she thought about it and came up with that suggestion herself made me pretty happy.
And five years ago, when the money struggles weren’t in full effect, I don’t think she ever would have thought that way.
I am grateful for her awareness of that now.
Anyway, inviting six friends also meant that she was inviting her very closest friends.
This is another thing I don’t really understand. The inviting of 20 kids to a party when you really only know a handful of them.
So limiting the number of girls she invited obviously helped keep the cost of the movies way down. Plus we went to the earliest show of the day, which saved me about $30 on tickets.
Walgreens had a sale on movie candy for $1/box, so I found out what Number 4’s friends’ favorite candies were, and I got seven boxes ahead of time. That saved me about another $30.
Keeping the guest list down to six girls meant that Number 4 could interact with everyone she invited.
And then, because they all knew her very well, she got a handful of gifts that she really loved. She got a couple cute necklaces, and emoji pillow that she’s been begging for for months, an Amazon gift card, and some knitting stuff.
She didn’t get any crap that’s just going to end up in the garbage from girls who have no idea what the hell to get her because they don’t really know her.
After the movies was done, we got something to eat on the way home, and then when we got back, we ate ice cream and the chocolate cake she’s been asking me to get her for about the last ten months from Costco.
She had a great morning and afternoon with her friends. She was very appreciative. And altogether, between the movie tickets and the candy and popcord and drinks and lunch and the cake and the ice cream, we spent about $120 on her party.
That’s a decent amount of money. And she understood that doing something fun like that was also her gift. She wasn’t looking for more. She was very appreciative and full of gratitude.
Later in the day, a couple hours after her friends had gone home, my parents came over and we had round two of her birthday — the family party.
We put the candles back in the remaining 2/3 of the cake we ate at her “friend” party, we had more ice cream, and then she opened the present my parents got for her. She got another thing she’s been asking for for months. A camera.
She was super psyched and super happy.
And that wrapped up her tenth birthday.
It was special. But it wasn’t off the deep end.
I don’t share this to try and imply that I’m better than anyone else.
It’s just that in this day and age of more and more kids feeling entitled and like they are owed things just because, I really want to encourage people to take a look at how they celebrate their kids’ birthdays.
Excess isn’t necessary. Your kids don’t need it!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate!
But I am saying that it’s okay to keep things simple. It’s not just okay. It keeps your kids grounded. And humble. And healthy.
And I can definitely tell you first hand, that when it comes to your kids appreciating the things you do for them and how fortunate they truly are, less is definitely more.
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