A Frugal Confession: I Hate Birthday Dinners

August 14, 2012 in Frugal Fun,Saving

The birthday dinner is a great thing, in theory, but they can also be budget breaking, inconvenient events too.  I loved celebrating friends’ birthdays over dinner in college when we had $7 entrees, split a pitcher of margaritas and paid separate checks at the counter of our favorite cheap Mexican restaurant.  Yet, as we got older, birthday dinners started getting crazy expensive and awkward.

It seems like the following scenario is getting increasingly common: the birthday guy or gal picks a trendy (aka pricey) restaurant for dinner.  After valeting your car or paying at an expensive lot, you greet the person you’re celebrating and all of the fellow diners (most of whom you don’t know) and head to the table.  The restaurant is really loud and you’re sitting at a table of 16 people between people you just met and can hardly hear over the soundtrack playing the background.

Since this is one of those places that charges $15 for a cocktail, you get a sweet tea and one of the lower priced entrees on the menu.  Sure, everyone else is getting multiple drinks, appetizers and dessert, but you’ve got a budget to stick to!  Then the check comes.  It seems to be settled that you’re going to split things evenly and also cover the cost of the birthday person, and the evening ends with your wallet lighter and only a few minutes of conversation with the friend you came to see.  Ugh.

Maybe it’s just me, but this isn’t fun.  I really love birthdays and celebrating them, but too many expensive nights out make it difficult to focus on sticking to my budget.  Here are some ways I think celebrating your birthday can become more budget-friendly for your friends:

  • Choose an affordable place to celebrate.  Sure, I might be dying to try a new restaurant, but I don’t want to inconvenience my friends by selecting somewhere that has expensive entrees.  There are plenty of nice, but moderately priced restaurants that have good food and atmosphere.
  • Don’t invite everyone you know.  As we get older, we expand our friend groups.  Instead of inviting your high school friends, college friends, grad school friends, old co-workers, current co-workers, church friends, etc. think about just celebrating with one or two groups.  It’s hard to have some time to talk with all of your friends when you have 20 of them around a dinner table.
  • If you do want to invite everyone you know, plan an activity for everyone to do instead.  Go bowling, have a game night or do something that’s interactive and gives everyone the opportunity to talk and get to know each other.  It can be hard to sit at the end of a long table with people you don’t know.

Am I overreacting about bad birthday dinners or do you agree that they can be less-than-fun occasions?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Earth and Money August 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I hate going out with a group that wants to split the bill evenly between the whole group. Very rarely does this work out to be fair for everyone. People should only ever have to pay for what they actually ordered, and chip in for the birthday meal in this case as well.


Single & Saving August 14, 2012 at 11:36 pm

The even split is so frustrating with a big group. I feel comfortable requesting separate checks when I’m going out with a group of my friends, but I don’t want to be “that person” with people I don’t know well. The feeling of ordering $20 worth of food and getting stuck paying twice that is the worst.


Janet August 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm

OMG – this. Everything about this. Hate the even split thing in a big group. Happy to do it in a small group of friends, but when I wasn’t one of the 5 that got some oyster appetizer thing for $100, no I don’t want to split that.


Single & Saving August 15, 2012 at 11:53 pm

How does that person who ordered the $100 oyster appetizer think that the even split is even remotely fair?! That is so frustrating.


Kalee August 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I TOTALLY agree!!! There is a Friends episode about this too; so it is not something new! I would much rather go somewhere cheap with 3-5 friends and be able to SEE everyone. I don’t even know how the dinners are fun for the birthday boy or girl–it’s too much pressure to plan to get everyone together and talk to everyone.


Single & Saving August 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Three to five people is perfect. In unrelated news, Vince Vaughn is filming a movie in my neighborhood. I’m on the lookout for a VV sighting for you!


MakintheBacon$ August 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

Wow, this is so true. Yet people still do birthday dinners, cause that’s they the only thing they seem to come up with. I HATE it when people are like lets get this and this and this. Then you feel obligated to chip in for all this food you had no intention of eating. That’s so not fair.

Yelling across the table, its just as bad as going to a club on your birthday. I personally prefer birthday potlucks. They’re more fun and interactive. Best of all, you’re saving. It’s the frugal version of buffet style eating!


Single & Saving August 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I love the idea of doing a birthday potluck! It’s low pressure and inexpensive, and you have the chance to talk to everyone in the room. I may have to borrow that idea from you if I do something for my birthday this year.


Lynda August 17, 2012 at 9:57 am

I dread it too.

Sometimes I’ll bail out, and tell the birthday person that I’ll take them out for a one-to-one dinner/lunch/coffee date instead. Sometimes I’ll eat dinner at home and order their soup/sandwich combo or small appie.

And the BILL. Oh my. There are always a few people who “forget” to add tax or tip to their portion of the bill…


Single & Saving August 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I like your method. Treating the birthday person to a one-on-one meal is usually a lot more enjoyable. You actually get to spend quality time with them and it typically costs less too.


Single & Saving September 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm

The “forgetful” people are so annoying. I bet that’s part of why mandatory gratuity is often added to the check for large parties.


kirstin August 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Totally agree!! There is nothing fun about being at a restaurant you’d never pick on your own, with to many people, and not even get to talk to the birthday person. Birthday dinners need to be small, if you want a bigger event suck it up and throw an actual party. LOL.


Single & Saving August 20, 2012 at 9:12 pm

I would love for more people to throw birthday parties! I’ve been to a couple this year with a few friends turning 30 this year and they’re so much more fun than being stuck at a table at a busy restaurant.


Lauren @ LBee and the Money Tree August 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I have never heard someone come out and SAY how awkward they are, but you’re so right! I work a lot of nights now, so I often forgo the dinner and get a decent sized 10-15 dollar gift. Usually a pretty flower in a crafty pot. So they know I thought of them on their bday, but it’s easier to stay in budget.

In NYC every dinner was like a birthday dinner because NOWHERE splits checks. It sucked.


Single & Saving September 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Wow, I can’t even imagine having to go to birthday dinners in New York City. I like the idea of getting a gift instead of attending the dinner. That’s really thoughtful, but still cheaper than splitting an expensive meal.


jesse November 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

You are right about bday dinners being a drag and not just b/c of the money involved. My parents (particularly my mother) wants to take me out or make something nice but doesn’t care that I don’t want to celebrate. I am inadvertently forced into a situation that I don’t want to be in b/c she wants to celebrate my birthday. I also hate cake and asked her not to spend the money on one. I think she was disappointed about this. Am I being selfish b/c I dont want to do anything special? I never get my with anyway.


Single & Saving December 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I don’t think that’s selfish. My mom enjoys more lavish birthday celebrations than I do, so I can relate to your feelings. I never got a simple birthday cake as a kid, but I learned to go along with it because it made her happy. I think we’ve found a happy medium in celebrating now.


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