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Birthday Parties That Won’t Break the Bank

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I’ve always taken a liberal line on birthdays. To me, they’re the one time of year you get to make it all about you without any guilt. You’ve been eyeing those shoes for two months? Buy ’em. You want a glass of wine at lunch? Knock yourself out. You don’t feel like getting anything done at work today? Okay. You want the rose on the cake? Have at it. It’s not selfish; it’s your birthday. Which is why mine tend to last for a full week rather than just a measly day.


This year, however, as the country falls deeper into recession and I hear of more friends losing jobs and struggling to make ends meet, I’m not so self-centered as to expect my besties to drop a hundo on the auspicious occasion of the day of my birth. I am acutely aware that dinner and drinks can add up quicker than you can say, “There goes my car payment.”


What’s a birthday girl to do? Try throwing one of these recession-proof birthday bashes that go light on the wallet, but not on the fun.


Retro Movie Night
Do some research on films that came out the year you were born (try Oscars.org and imdb.com) and invite your friends over for a classic movie marathon, complete with popcorn and concession-stand candy. Play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the films’ stars.


Lawn Games
If your day falls during the spring or summer, bring out the ladder golf and Bocce balls. Warm-weather birthdays practically beg you to be outside. If you don’t have a backyard, find a park. If you don’t have the equipment for games like croquet and badminton, consider Frisbee or cornhole, which requires nothing more than a piece of plywood with a hole in it and a beanbag. Put an ironic spin on the party by asking everyone to wear their “country club whites.” Avoid having to spend on snacks and refreshments by making it BYO and schedule the outing between lunch and dinner.


Swap Meet
“Pre-owned” is the new “new.” Instead of asking guests to bring a gift, ask them to bring something they no longer want, but think the birthday girl or boy would like. Beats a stack of greeting cards joking, “I really got you a car, but …” Besides, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.


Afternoon Tea
Instead of a more expensive dinner or lunch, host an afternoon tea. You won’t be expected to provide alcoholic refreshments, which will cut down on cost, and the dainty food is much cheaper than a full meal. Brew a few pots of your favorite teas (no need for matching tea service—eclectic is in) and put out plates of tea sandwiches and scones from your local bakery or grocery store. Civilized and celebratory.


Service Project
What better way to celebrate being alive than helping others toward a better life? This may take more advance planning than traditional birthday parties, but the rewards go beyond flowers and a hangover. Contact local shelters, soup kitchens, or Habitat for Humanity offices and see what days they might need volunteers. Round up a posse and let them know that their service is their gift to you as well as others.


Karaoke Party
Let’s be honest; your friends are the only ones who find your singing amusing, anyway. Download the backtrack versions of your favorite songs and use your computer as a home karaoke machine. Swing it freestyle without the lyrics or get them at MySpace Karaoke, where you can also record and upload your performances. If you want to get competitive, you can go all American Idol and elect a panel of judges. The birthday girl gets to be crazy Paula.


Sleepover
Pump up the nostalgia that birthdays lend themselves to and host a good, old-fashioned sleepover, complete with sleeping bags, pizza, and pajamas. Throw caution to the wind and play Truth or Dare or Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. The first one to fall asleep gets her bra frozen.


Trailer Park Party
Say what you want about them, but people who live in trailer parks know how to party. Get out the lawn chairs (no lawn necessary) and fill a cooler with cold PBR. For food, think cocktail wieners and Twinkies. Your whole party could be catered by 7-Eleven.


Game Night
Here’s one budget-friendly party that doesn’t rely on nice weather. Set out board games and playing cards, or transform your dining room table into a ping-pong court (or beer pong, if you care to relive your college days). Award poker chips for wins; the winningest guest at the end of the night gets a prize—perhaps a no-cost kiss from the birthday girl or boy?


Birthdays may seem like the perfect time to splurge, but the last way you want to start a new year of life is with a maxed-out credit card. And your friends and family will find it much easier to focus on the reason for the celebration (you!) if they’re not worrying about how to pay for it. No matter what the budget, Happy Birthday to you. And many more …

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