Birthday Conundrum

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 39 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I’m saying goodbye to my 30’s soon, and in my social circle (friends and family), we usually just get together for a meal to celebrate birthdays.  We send a card, or call on the phone to say “Happy Birthday”; no gifts (usually).  This year is different.  It seems that for the “milestone” birthdays, people are compelled to buy something.  I understand this, I do it myself, unless something big is happening for a birthday, gifts are usually only given when decades change (i.e. 30,40,50 etc).

The question has been asked “What do you want for your 40th birthday?”.  The answer?  I haven’t got a clue.  This got a reaction from my daughter that really made me think about what I’ve allowed my life to become.  I asked her what she wants for her 21st (that is 3 days before my birthday) and she said right away “I’d really like a new camera, and the one I want is expensive, so any contribution towards it would be great.”  She has several hobbies (photography, horses, mountain biking and snow boarding being the main ones), all of which she supports herself, but can always use something for one of them as gifts.  In my quest to get my life back on track, have I allowed myself to lose my life in the process? Should I expand my interests while I’m on my journey to financial independence?  Currently I tend to pursue hobbies that I already have everything for, or that don’t cost much (bike riding, reading, cooking, computer games etc..)  I have everything I need, and I have a happy life, but have I stunted my personal growth somewhere?  I’m not very materialistic, so buying for me has always been difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things I can use.  My condo has not been upgraded since it was built over 20 years ago.  There are walls in need of painting and faucets, appliances, kitchen cabinets, window coverings that will need replacing in the next few years.  When I started rebuilding my life after the divorce, all my “stuff” (with the exception of my clothes, TV and computer) are hand-offs from friends and family or were found on the roadside.  My home is functional, but mis-matched and not very pretty to look at.

The question is, do I want “home stuff” for my birthday?  Part of me will appreciate anything I get, and part of me wants a gift for my 40th to be “special” (special meaning something personal and meaningful, such as watch, or a painting, or piece of jewellery that i will always cherish).  In writing this, I am starting to think that maybe the best gift (if I have to provide ideas for things to be purchased) is to encourage items that will enrich my space long term (home improvement store gift cards?).

Truly, this journey is about so much more than the mechanics of doing smart things with money, it is about changing how I think (and subsequently feel) about every facet of living.

New start, new life, a place I can truly make “mine”, with the help of my friends.  I think I can make peace with that and not feel like I’m missing out on “birthday presents”.  Of course,  the boyfriend is not going to get away that easy 😉

9 thoughts on “Birthday Conundrum”

  1. Great post, I would suggest making a list of all the items that you “want” for home improvement, furniture as well as personal and the cost of each. Then go through and put any items that are or will be a “need” at the top of the list and rank the remaining items below based on how bad you want it in relation to the other items and taking into account the cost. My wife and I just got married last year and we made a list of twelve items that we “want”. We had to negotiate on the order but so far it has worked out well and we have been able to save up for the first two items. We definitely appreciate each item more after having to wait and save for it.

  2. Sheryl , I have had much the same problem in the last number of years. Sometimes I feel like my imagination and sense of fun and frivolity has been stifled at being too focused on not wasting money on silly things that do provide pleasure. Might write a post on that, because it’s bugged me for quite some time.

    My thoughts when it comes to birthdays or Xmas is that the best gifts are the guilty pleasures gifts that you wouldn’t spend the money on yourself (ie. not home improvement gift cards). Three years ago, my sons bought me a Wii. Two years ago, the Wii Fit, and last year a couple of other exercise games for it. Is it necessary for me to use them for my exercise? No. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun. My oldest son refuses to do the gift card thing because he thinks someone needs to be more thoughtful about buying presents. I sort of agree with him, but it does make it a bit harder to buy for someone. I hit the jackpot with buying him a Nook Color this last year.

    Maybe do some online shopping with your daughter looking at window coverings or decorating p0rn sites / stores like Pier 1? Not doing a filter on price from low to high… -:)

    Maybe a classic style new winter coat or purse that makes you feel like a million bucks when you wear it? Some high quality jewelry that you can wear for years? Tickets to an event that you really want to go to but would feel guilty about the price (dinner theater, Cirque de Soleil?) A high end kitchen appliance, some beautiful new dishes or fancy set of pots and pans?

  3. I don’t really like birthday gifts, because I don’t need more stuff cluttering my house. But when it was my wife’s birthday, my parents bought her (and me) tickets to dinner theatre and they also offered babysitting. We’re really looking forward to it.

  4. I’m with Robert…I think gifts of tickets to concerts or games that you can enjoy with someone else make great gifts….we bought a friend of ours “Seinfeld” tickets for tomorrow night (in Wpg.) for his 40th this month, and have Jets tickets set aside for my girlfriend’s 40th in January. For my 40th(last year), my girlfriends threw a surprise ‘pole-dancing’ party (with an instructor)–plenty of fun and frivolity there!!

    Enjoy! and Happy Birthday….

  5. I wouldn’t put too much on not being able to pick out something for yourself. I recently read that at about 47 years of age most people stop buying as much in general. They focus more on doing things rather then buying things to be happy. More small trips.
    I’m at that age myself and I have to say its true. I’ve really slowed down in my purchasing. Man do I have a lot of stuff. Stuff still in the package i bought it in unused!
    Secondly I feel like I have everything I need already so when someone asks me what I want, I simply don’t know.

    You are probably just overthinking this.

  6. Happy 40th Sheryl … whatever gifts come your way for your milestone birthday, I hope your spirits soar. I agree with Anon, a nice bottle of wine goes a long way!

  7. Thank you for all the suggestions!! My daughter now has a list of items I would like to upgrade in my condo, and she is able to act as my “gift registry” for this. There was a birthday dinner last week that included co-workers and a few other people that are outside my usual group, the wine and gift cards (and a plant)I received will certainly come in useful.

  8. Sheryl , I’ve read somewhere recently that you can set yourself up (as a single – not a getting married couple) at a registry at a store. Apparently the items are 10% off by doing this. I haven’t tried it myself, but it seems like a good idea to at least check it out?
    Apparently for the Bay (I just checked), it allows for special occasion registries, not just weddings etc. But it doesn’t look like there’s any kind of discount available. Glad you enjoyed your birthday!

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