I’ve got a friend who just put the fun back in birthdays for people age 40-plus.
Her name is Lisa Miller, and a couple of years ago she retired early as a vice president in finance for a Fortune 500 company. Today, she’s a professional organizer and calls herself Chief Simplification Officer. When I learned she was mapping out a birthday treasure hunt for herself, I was so captivated that I found myself longing to have it be my birthday, too, so I could play along.
The whole idea took root when Lisa retired — that’s when she noticed how many retailers and restaurants offered birthday rewards, and thought it would be fun to sign up for a few. Most of the applications were online or in apps. A few were from restaurants, where she filled out cards as she was paying the check. Before she knew it, she was enrolled in around 35 programs. This called for a spreadsheet, which, in turn, led to a plan: She’d make a day of it. Lisa mapped out her route, and on her actual birthday, a Monday, took the day off and hit the road. Her husband, Seth, went along for the fun of sharing the experience and to provide, she said, some honest “does-this-really-look-good-on-me perspective, or am I buying it because it’s such a good deal?”
Here’s how it unfolded, in her own words, with her best birthday reward strategies for you to try.
9–11:30 a.m. — Pickleball
“This was my way of relieving the guilt about all the food I was going to eat that day. I started playing pickleball a couple of years ago, partially because the name was hilarious. I also loved how there’s an area on the court called The Kitchen.”
12–1:20 p.m. — Coffee House Café
“My friend asked if she could take me out to lunch and I didn’t want her to end up paying for all three of us, so we used my birthday coupon for a free entrée. The total bill was around $20. I ate a lot.”
1:30 p.m. — Starbucks
“I earned a free birthday drink and got a venti java-chip Frappuccino with half the mocha and double the java chips. I usually say nonfat or skim milk without whipped cream, but this time I didn’t!”
1:45–2:45 p.m. — Kendra Scott
“The retailer offers 50 percent off one item during your birthday month, so I got a pair of earrings. Since it was Seth’s birthday in the same month and the retailer doesn’t discriminate by gender, he used his gift and got me the matching necklace. That was really sweet.”
3–7:30 p.m. — Shopping at several stores
“Chico’s lets you combine rewards, so I focused on their 40 percent-off sale, used my birthday coupon of $10 off, and since I’m a passport member, received another 5 percent off. In the end, I spent $94.38 on merchandise that retailed for $247.50. I saved $153.12 on clothes I needed for my new, less-dressy work wardrobe.”
“This was my best deal yet. I shopped the sale rack and got 40 percent off, then used my store credit card — which saved me another 10 percent, then used my $15 off birthday coupon, and in the end got a nearly $90 pair of pants for $5.67. My 21-year-old daughter was totally impressed.”
“I went into the store to get my birthday gift — they have a little case where you can make your selection. I got lipsticks. They wrap them, hand it to you and say ‘Happy Birthday,’ and it really is.”
“Oh, this was so fun — I got a shirt and leggings at the Loft for a total of under $10. I had a $15 birthday coupon, shopped the sales racks, then used my Loft credit card and got another discount.”
8–9:30 p.m. — Rockfish
“They give you a choice of options. Seth and I picked the mussels to share and then we split another appetizer. It was the perfect way to end the day. We just sat there and talked about all the fun we had along the way. I only bought what I loved that was on sale, so I could stretch my money as far as possible. That’s half the joy of it.
“I had more coupons, like La Madeleine, where I also got a free dessert for my oldest daughter, and a free dinner entrée at Princi Italia, which I enjoyed with my sister the next night. But I couldn’t get to all of the rewards because I had to go out of town and they expired. Next year I’m scheduling my birthday to last two weeks.”
And what did Seth think about it all? “It was great to see her so happy,” he said afterward. “She was in her element. It was her day.”
“He did tell me when he was hungry, though,” Lisa said, smiling.
“That’s true,” Seth replied, meeting her glance. “I did. It really was a game that you can modify to fit any budget, from spending nothing to setting a spending limit.”
“Yes,” she said, “it’s a great treat, especially for moms, who rarely get a day just for themselves. You do have to provide your birthdate to sign up, and they will get your email. But I filter the emails into a file. It makes it totally manageable and totally worth it.”
Here are some additional tips on how to enjoy a birthday coupon adventure of your own:
- Start by looking online for places you love to shop and eat.
- Sign up for birthday rewards a few months before your actual birthday. It can take a while to receive them.
- Make a spreadsheet of rewards and be sure to note the expiration dates (they vary).
- Group the locations to make the best use of your time, and break up your day(s) so you can enjoy meals and snacks in between. (To offset all those meals and snacks, Lisa parked far away and got her 10,000 steps in.)
- Maximize your savings by shopping the sale and clearance racks.
- Check out the store’s credit card offers. Sometimes you get additional benefits that can be used at checkout.
- Combine your birthday with a friend who has one on the same day.
- Read about more birthday freebies here.