5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids

With two birthdays this week at our house, I’ve been thinking about some of our favorite birthday ideas for kids almost non-stop!

Coming up with birthday ideas for kids can be tough – especially when you may not be able to invite a lot of people to help you celebrate. 

You can already tell by the title of this article that I’m not going to launch into a giant speil about various birthday themes and incredible home birthday parties. 

While those can be fun and wonderful in their own way, they can also be SO overwhelming for busy moms. 

It is always my goal to help you live your mom life on purpose and that means giving you solutions that give you MORE time and add MORE meaning to your life! 

While I have thrown an epic party or two in the past myself – it is these 5 ideas that I want to share about how to make a birthday special for your kids.

these birthday ideas for kids are cheap, easy and meaningful

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What Kids Love Most about their Birthdays

If your kids are like mine (and I bet they are!), they love their birthday just as much as they love Christmas, a candy store, Disney World, or all three combined.

In fact, I asked my kids what they love most about their birthdays, and this is what they said:

it doesn't take a lot of money to know how to make a birthday special“Cause I get presents. And cake is delicious.” – Megan, age 4

“I get tons of presents!” – Aaron, almost 7

“Because I feel super special and really important.” – Sarah, age 9

“Mostly, I just like the cake and the presents. And the balloons.” – Jacob, age 12

“At the end of the day, when each person tells the birthday person what they love about them.” – Bryan, age 14 (keep reading for more on this later!)

These answers reminded me of those instances when a toddler is given an expensive present, and then he just really wants to play with the box it came in! Have you ever seen something like this happen with your kids?

Simple Needs

Kids needs are often so simple – and it is us as parents that complicate things. 

In a recent article by Jane Sheppard, CPC, FMCHC, a child’s true needs were narrowed down to:

  1. security
  2. unconditional love
  3. affirmation
  4. opportunities to grow
  5. consistency
  6. open communication
  7. ability to gain life skills

You can see that by creating fun and special birthday traditions, you can meet those basic needs of security, unconditional love, affirmation, and consistency

Let’s dive in and take a look at some simple and inexpensive ways to make a birthday special for your kids!

The Best Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids


#1: Look at your kid’s baby pictures as a birthday tradition every year


Photo albums

On my kids’ birthdays, I love to pull out the old photo albums of when they were babies.

looking a baby pictures is a special birthday ideas for kidsEveryone gathers around on the couch, and we all laugh and coo over how cute, chubby, funny, and adorable that child was as a baby.

As a non-crafty mom, I have put very little effort into making an art project of my kids’ baby pictures! Instead, I printed them up and stuck them in these pretty photo albums that look both refined and beautiful on our bookshelf.

If you haven’t printed photos in YEARS – that’s okay, mama. Just choose some of your favorites on your phone and send them online to your nearest drugstore or photo lab and get them printed.

It is WORTH IT! (And don’t even think about taking on the printing and organization of several photo albums of your entire family life history, okay? JUST do the baby pictures to start with!)

And if you really don’t want to spend any money or are practicing legit minimalism, you could view the photos on your smart TV instead of printing pictures!

Baby books

Now, it’s time for an honest mom confession: my oldest has a bomb baby book. I even added extra homemade coordinating paper pockets to the pages to store additional photos of his first five years of life.

these 5 birthday ideas for kids are easy to tryOn the other hand, my fifth baby does HAVE a baby book – but it’s about 95% empty. Ah well.

That’s a project to complete sometime in the next fourteen years before she leaves the house (but right now, she’s planning to live with us forever, of course!).

If you don’t have a baby book and your child is still young, I love this baby book that is affordable and so easy  to fill out.

It really is the perfect solution for any mom who wants to create a beautiful keepsake of her baby’s first years, but also doesn’t want to invest a ton of time or money in scrapbooking. (Hint: these make an amazing baby shower gift too!)

My point is – if you have kept baby books of your kids’ early years, good on ya! Get them out on your child’s birthday every year and browse through them together.

Just like with the photo albums, they will LOVE seeing themselves as a baby!

#2. Tell the story of your child’s birth to make her birthday special

tell your child the story of her birthday will make her birthday specialThis is something I’ve just recently started doing on my kids’ birthdays, and it is now one of my favorite ways to make a birthday special.

It takes ZERO preparation and it’s FREE.

How great is that?

Even though my kids have all heard their own birth stories before, they have absolutely LOVED hearing their special story over again on their birthday. It has been fun to hear and answer their questions about their birth stories over the past couple of years too. 

You could cover different angles or tell different parts of their special birthday story, such as:

  • how you felt when you found out you were pregnant (if it was happy, of course)
  • how any siblings reacted to learning they’d be getting a new brother or sister
  • details about the gender reveal – or why you didn’t want to find out the gender in advance
  • preparations you made before your baby was born
  • how you knew you were in labor
  • any details about labor and delivery you want to share
  • the first thing you said or thought when you saw your baby for the first time
  • details about your hospital stay
  • what the first few days or weeks at home were like for you and your baby

You can get as creative or as detailed with this story as you find appropriate.

I highly recommend telling the story either during dinner time or at bedtime so you’re sure to have a captive audience!

Honestly though, it’s not likely you’ll need to vie for your child’s attention because this story is so uniquely theirs and will be highly interesting to them.

#3. Write a birthday letter to your child 


writing a birthday letter is one of the best birthday ideas for kidsThis is my very favorite birthday idea for kids to help make their birthdays feel special. I’m not even sure where I got it from, but if you are a somewhat sentimental mom like me, I think you’ll love it too!

Since our oldest child was small, my husband and I each write a one-page handwritten letter to our child on his or her birthday.

We keep these letters and the idea is that when that kid is ready to move out of the house as an adult, we will then give him his birthday letters as a sweet reminder of his years at home and our love for him.

The birthday binder

Right now, I keep all of our birthday letters to our kids in plastic sleeve protectors in one simple binder.

But the goal someday is to create one birthday binder per kid. I’ll fill it with their birthday letters from my husband and me, as well as some of our favorite photos of him or her over the years.

What to write in the birthday letters

Writing the birthday letters takes us about 10-15 minutes per letter, which is really not a huge time investment at all!

We do keep a reminder in our phones so we don’t forget to write them though (like we did in 2014! Oops.)!

In each letter, we share things like:

  • what our child was really excited about in the past year – events or characters or movies, etc.
  • his biggest and best accomplishments
  • specific happy memories
  • obstacles and trials he overcame
  • funny events or experiences
  • details about his favorite things – colors, foods, toys, books, movies, games, etc.
  • our wishes and hopes for his or her future

There really isn’t a magic formula to follow for writing a special birthday letter to your kids – just diving in and doing it is what matters!

And then keeping them and preserving them for years to come. To help us with that, we purchased an external hard drive and make a point of scanning our letters and saving them every year.

#4. Let him choose all the meals to make his birthday special

This is a common birthday idea for kids – and for good reason! Kids love the opportunity to make choices – and allowing them to choose what they get to eat on their birthday is no exception. 

letting your kids choose the meals is a great birthday ideas for kidsTo make the birthday meals extra special, you might consider purchasing a special birthday dinner plate for your child to use for meals throughout his special day!

When it comes to birthday meals, I am often surprised by what my kids choose. Here’s what they’ve all picked most recently:

  • waffles for breakfast and homemade pizza for dinner, Megan, age 4
  • french toast for breakfast and egg roll in a bowl for dinner, Aaron, age 7
  • crepes for breakfast and pizza casserole for dinner, Sarah, age 9
  • pancakes for breakfast and homemade pizza for dinner, Jacob, age 12

#5. Begin the “thankful circle” birthday tradition

Every night before bedtime, we go around the room and each person shares one thing they are thankful for that happened during the day. 

But when we have a birthday in the house, we each take a turn sharing a few things that we love about the birthday person or talk about why we are thankful for him or her.

After everyone has shared something, we all pile on top of the birthday person and give him or her a giant group hug.

All of our kids really enjoy hearing positive things about themselves from their parents and siblings – and we always are sure to end their birthday celebration on a positive note.

Final thoughts on meaningful birthday ideas for kids

how to make a birthday special for your kidsI hope you are feeling inspired and empowered with ideas about how to make a birthday special for your kids!

Remember, you don’t need a giant budget or to hire a party planner to help your child feel celebrated on his or her birthday.

Small and simple things – like these five birthday ideas for kids – can make a huge impact and satisfy the deepest needs your child has for unconditional love, connection, and affirmation.

Related articles about kids and family

How to Create Opportunities for Family Bonding Activities

-How to Create an Awesome Family Summer Bingo Board

Indoor Activities to Stop Boredom for Kids of All Ages

How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids

Which of these birthday ideas for kids are you going to use in your home?

5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids

Jen Bradley, the founder of Jen Bradley|MOMs

Hi there! I’m Jen and I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom who believes that meaningful connections with our families can happen in small and simple ways. Read More …


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34 thoughts on “5 Cheap, Easy, and Meaningful Birthday Ideas for Kids”

  1. I love the idea of a “thankful circle” birthday tradition! Will try to implement that in the future. Thanks for the article 🙂

    1. Thank you Anna! The thankful circle birthday tradition is one of our very favorite birthday ideas for kids – it is awesome to send them to bed on their birthday full of so many positive thoughts about themselves!

  2. Great post! Love the thankful circle ideas, will def try it. We do the baby pics and food idea every year! Both my kids birthdays were during quarantine and also our wedding anniversary, so your ideas are def a great help for everyone at this time that we are all in. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you, Nishtha! This has been a crazy year and has hampered so many celebrations. Finding new ideas to make our celebrations meaningful in different ways can definitely make it not feel so heavy!

  3. This is so meaningful, I love it. I’m guilty of being one of those moms who overthink and over-plan birthdays. This definitely helps me look at things in a different light. Love these ideas so much!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Raisa! It is so true that just a few simple things can really make a big impact in helping our kids have a special birthday!

  4. These are fantastic ideas! I loved seeing how your kids’ responses differ by age. My mom wrote in a journal to me each birthday growing up (in secret) and gave it to me just before I became a mother! ❤️

  5. Oooh, these are such sweet ideas! I love how meaningful they are and how they focus on former fond memories, as well as making new traditions. Thank you for the wonderful inspiration.

  6. I love the idea of a birthday binder! So cool to keep the notes and small things there! Much more meaningful!

  7. I love number 5! We’re going to adopt this for our son’s upcoming birthday. We try not to spoil him by overly praising him so doing something like this on his birthday is a great way to show the love.

  8. My husband always takes the day off on the kids birthday and we have a family day. The child gets a set budget and they get to plan the whole day. We all look forward to birthdays in our family.

    1. I love that you mention this, Sara! Just yesterday my hubs mentioned that he wants to start taking the day off to make our kids’ birthdays special too!

    1. Thanks for reading, Jennifer! I hope you enjoy writing the birthday letters – they’ve already become such a treasure to our family!

  9. I love the idea of making it a point to look at baby pictures each year. I also love the birthday letter idea!! What age did you start writing them?

  10. I really love the idea of looking at the baby pictures, and the writing a letter every year. Something that can be saved and cherished. Such a good idea.

  11. These are some great ideas, I love the idea of looking at pictures. My girls LOVE doing this. You are right, the kids just want to feel special and loved. We like to have the birthday fairy come. The birthday child makes a wish to be “Fairy-Tailed” on their birthday eve and then in the night the birthday fairy comes and toilet papers their room. Then from the moment they open their eyes they know it is their special day and they are loved.

  12. I love these ideas! My little guy’s birthday is coming up and I’m looking for ways to make it special since it won’t be a typical birthday. Thanks for sharing!

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