How We Celebrated Our Son’s Birthday For $57

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Our son just turned three years old. Time flies!

I still remember the first night we brought him back from the hospital.

It was 1 AM, and he was wide awake looking around the room, probably wondering where he was.

Our son celebrated his first and second birthdays in China with my in-laws.

I think they bought him a birthday cake for his first birthday.

I’m not sure what they did for the second.

But we were just happy to see him back in the US.

Related: Why We Sent Our Son To China

Family tradition (or the lack thereof)

Birthday celebrations aren’t really big in our family.

Mr. FAF and I grew up poor and rarely had the chance to celebrate the day we were born.

I think I had maybe three birthday parties before the age of 18.

The first one I can remember was when I turned 6.

That’s because I still have the photos from the party.

I wore a yellow dress and was surrounded by some other kids in the neighborhood at our house.

I had a small birthday cake, fruit, and candy. I got a lot of presents too, most of which were notebooks. I was super happy. But those events were far and few between.

Related: What Growing Up Poor Has Taught Me About Money & Relationships


In the weeks and months leading to Baby FAF’s 3rd birthday, I asked Mr. FAF if he wanted to do anything for our son (i.e. inviting our neighbors and their kids over for a buffet party). Mr. FAF said it wasn’t necessary since our son didn’t know what birthday was.

And it’s true. Baby FAF is a relatively shy boy and gets nervous when he’s around a big group of people. He also doesn’t like cake, ice-cream or sweets in general. It’s mainly because I try to keep him away from sweet stuff as much as possible. There’s little to no nutrition in those sweets.

If Baby FAF is old enough to request a birthday party, we will probably organize a simple one for him at home or at school. But our son is just so carefree and made no request, so we initially decided to not do anything on his birthday.

I also think that if we held a big party, it would be mainly for us. I saw on YouTube how many parents threw elaborate themed birthday parties for their one-year-olds and two-year-olds and can’t stop wondering how much they spent on those things.

A week before the big day, Mr. FAF and I changed our minds. We indeed wanted to celebrate the day our son was born, but not in a typical way. We decided to go to a steak house for three reasons.

First, none of us (maybe except for my mother-in-law) like cake. It’s too sweet for me. Mr. FAF generally doesn’t like sweet stuff, and neither does Baby FAF.

We did go to Giant to look at the cakes on display and just couldn’t bear the thought of trying to finish a huge cake loaded with sugar. We bought a cake for my MIL on her birthday and threw away half of it after trying really hard to stuff it down our bellies.

Our family doesn’t really like sweets. 

Second, Mr. FAF and I had been wanting to take my MIL to a steakhouse near where we live. She’s leaving for China soon, and we wanted her to try some authentic American dishes besides all the Chinese food that we eat every day.

It would be a nice occasion for us to be together and spend the big bucks (kinda of) on one dinner.

The birthday celebration

On Baby FAF’s birthday, which happened to be a Saturday, our family went to the steakhouse and ordered delicious-looking dishes on the menu. Baby FAF wanted to eat only the French fries and drink water.

We said “Happy Birthday” to him, but I don’t think he knew what it meant. After all, he was still learning English and was too young to understand what birthday was. He threw a couple of tantrums in public here and there as usual, but it was all under control.

Well-done steak with French fries (me), tacos (Mr. FAF), and grilled salmon with broccoli (my MIL). We all had water for drinks. This celebratory meal cost us $57. 

Mr. FAF also thanked me for giving birth to our wonderful son. Memories of that day in the hospital came back so vividly.

We just couldn’t believe that we’d been married for 4.5 years, that we already have a three-year-old son, and that we are having another baby on the way. Time went by so fast.


When I sent my dad photos of the food, he asked me why the birthday party looked so simple. Maybe he was expecting a big birthday cake with lots of candy, fruit, fancy decorations and other kids surrounding our son.

He made me feel bad about not throwing our son a big birthday party for a few minutes. But I just told him we didn’t think it was necessary since Baby FAF didn’t know it yet. The dinner cost us $57 in total, and that’s what we were comfortable with.

What will stay with us is the memory of our family spending time together, and I will always feel warm and fuzzy inside thinking about the day our son was born.


My birthday and Mr. FAF’s are coming up and only two days apart from each other. Our birthdays are about a week away from when my MIL goes back to China.

We might take her out again mainly to treat her to a good meal and thank her for her help. The meal will also be our birthday celebrations. In other words, when we go out to eat, it will be for multiple purposes.

And next year, when our son is big enough to know what a birthday is, we will listen to him and his wishes and make a party happen within reason and on a budget.


Our 7 Expectations For Our Son 

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14 thoughts on “How We Celebrated Our Son’s Birthday For $57”

  • That’s awesome, and pretty much how we tend to celebrate birthdays as well. On my daughters birthday, we got cupcakes from the local grocery store, sang happy birthday as a family and let her make a wish and blow out the three little candles on her cupcake.

    After that we invited friends and family to a local bounce house (everyone paid their own way). The entire party probably cost us about $40. and we had an amazing time!

  • I love the simplicity and common sense! We have 3 children and have maybe had a total of 6 *big* birthday celebrations… A few years ago we adopted the birthday option.. We can Pay for a party and you invite a certain number of friends… or we keep it family and we will put $$$ towards a nicer gift instead. This year the twins(13) agreed on family dinner and gifts… we met with grandparents at the restaurant of choice (for Wings-lol) and then went back to our house.. She chose a pecan pie as her birthday dessert and he wanted brownies… Older brother just turned 16 this month and chose dinner at home.. so we bought his choice of pizza, broasted potatos and fried chicken.. grandparents all over.. and his dessert this year was a chocolate peanut butter pie…
    This method has served us well.. they have been raised with my frugal decision making and they don’t miss the expensive parties!

    • Celebrating bday within the family also makes me super happy. We will see what our son wants to do in the future. But if he doesn’t want to do anything, we’ll be fine with it too. I think having a couple of special dishes and maybe a bday cake at home is a great idea if our kids like that as well 😀

  • We usually don’t celebrate birthdays much either. Our son wants a bigger celebrations now, though. Most of his friends have bigger birthday parties. It’s an big event for them. They’d reserve a place, get food, party favors, etc.. Probably cost $300 at least. We’ll just limit it to 4-5 good friends and go to an arcade or something.

    • I think we’d probably do the same thing: either celebrating bday at home or having a small bday party with close friends. Having a lots of guests kinda stresses me out about planning and cleaning afterwards. $300 sounds like a big sum. I’ll probably want to limit it to $100 or so. >_<

  • I don’t know why but the part where Mr FAF thanked you for giving birth to your son was soo cute and made me smile! The birthday party sounded perfect. Not everyone needs a big party with a bunch of people, good for you for recognizing that. Also, a meal for 3 + baby for $57 in the DC area? Impressive!

    • Thank you, JM! We went to a Chili’s near our house. That restaurant just happens to have delicious food and super reasonable prices, which we really love. We only go there on special occasion. We live in the suburbs, so maybe that’s why it’s not too expensive. 😉

  • How was the food? Which restaurant was it? Birthdays and stuff were not celebrated in my house (poor too). When I got older to understand I was very sad and disappointed to find I never had one.

    Baby FAF is 3 so it really doesn’t matter. My first memory was probably 5 or 6 years old so there’s time.

    • We went to Chili’s. The food was good 😀

      I also think Baby FAF won’t remember anything. Let’s see what he wants to do in the future. We’ll need to keep it under a budget though. We’re not big fans of parties and stuff.

  • I’m all for keeping kid’s birthdays low key and managing expectations. Kids birthdays around here are out of control. I may be a scrouge of an aunt, by I have a gift limit for my niece and nephew. By the time they were 6 and 8, there was nothing on their wish lists that was under $57. My brother is now regretting the fact that he has two teenagers who expect everything they want to be handed to them. Better to set expectations now and raise kids who value and respect “earning” rather than “getting.” I’ll get off my soapbox now. As you may guess, this one is a touchy subject for me.

  • Oohh… I do wonder what my wife and I are going to do for my daughter’s one year old birthday. We both will probably want to do something simple and frugal like cook our own veggies and mash them up and make a watermelon cake (something hippie/crunchy like that cuz that’s what we do).

    But then the grandparents are probably going to want to have a larger celebration since she’s the first grandchild!

    We shall see!!!

  • 生日快乐 🎂😄

    I find that many of the lavish parties are for the parents, not the kids; some sort of display of how great a parent they are to others.

    Maybe it’s an Asian thing, but I don’t really like eating sweets either. Japanese Westernised desserts are more in line with the Asian palette, (a lot less sugar) or I end up making the desserts myself.

  • I like low key parties, it makes it easier to plan and you don’t have to worry about having so many people at the party. It makes it simple.
    We did something similar for Baby with Cents’ birthday. We had it at a burger place where it was both our immediate families(around 12 people) and had a cake with construction vehicles since he likes construction stuff. He’s like Baby FAF where he’s really shy especially in a big group where he doesn’t know them. So we made it as comfortable as possible with all the people he knows and he enjoyed it….well except for some crying.

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