Surprise B-Day Plans // Debt Reduction: Keep Eyes on Prize

Birthday girl hugs Granny after the big “SURPRISE!”

  • DD2 = Dear second daughter
  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

“I’m a bit worried about you,” said my colleague Cam last spring. “You’re connecting your debt reduction to EVERYTHING else.”

“It IS connected to everything else!” I said. And it’s true! Whether there’s a direct link or a connection by comparison, it’s there.

DD2’s 21st surprise birthday party

Yesterday was DD2’s 21st birthday, and we held a surprise party for her. I’m basking in a bit of a high as I write this. She was genuinely surprised – shocked even – and all of our efforts paid off in an afternoon that she won’t forget.

The plan

The plan was that I would invite DD2 over for a birthday dinner Sunday night, Sept. 20 – one day after her birthday – because “I would be out of town” Saturday at a convention for personal finance bloggers. (FinCon ’15 is a real event, and I really was considering taking part in it, but I decided not to go for a number of reasons – one being DD2’s 21st birthday.) With Saturday the 19th – her real birthday – clear of any family commitments, DD2 would be free to go out with friends. Her BFF Alannah, a fellow track athlete – and in on the surprise – was going to make arrangements to “meet downtown with friends” Saturday night. The idea was that Alannah would have to swing by our neighbourhood first to “drop something off” at our house. And that’s when the SURPRISE! would happen – 7:00 in the evening on Saturday September 19.

  • Obstacle #1

DD2 mentioned to me that she’d be running a 5 km road race Sunday morning at 7:00. There was no way she’d agree to go downtown with friends the night of the 19th if she had to be up at 5 am on the 20th to run a road race! We had to change things up. Alannah would “organize an afternoon at a restaurant” for DD2 on her birthday. They would have to swing by our house first to “drop something off”. And the SURPRISE! would happen at 3:30 instead of 7:00. Alannah posted invitations via FaceBook for friends from high school and track, and I sent out invitations to family via e-mail. We were aiming for 20-30 people.

  • Obstacle #2

My phone started to ring just as I was walking into the grocery store the weekend before the event. It was Alannah. DD2 had gone ahead and organized her own get-together Saturday afternoon at a pub downtown! Before Alannah had “organized” the fake restaurant get-together! At 3:00! Messages went flying out via FaceBook and e-mail. People would have to be at our house at 2:00 because the SURPRISE! would now be at 2:30.

  • Obstacle #3

3 days before the event, Alannah sent me a text message. The track coach was holding a practice Saturday morning and a boot camp for newbies Saturday afternoon! The more seasoned track athletes (including DD2 and friends who had been invited) would have to stay and help with the boot camp. Ugh! How could we get around this? And keep the secret? We begged the coach to end the boot camp early so that people would have time to go home, shower, and get to our house by 2:00. He changed the schedule so that boot camp would end at 12:30. Would that give people enough time? Would someone say something that would give it away? Was DD2 going to figure it all out?

  • Obstacle #4

The 12:30 end to boot camp did not give people enough time. At 1:14 Saturday afternoon, Alannah sent another text message. “I’ve pushed the time because people from track were going to be late. We will be arriving at your house at around 3:45.” Meanwhile, extended family members – and a couple of friends who had not seen the last minute FaceBook update – started to arrive at our house. They would have to wait an hour and a half for the SURPRISE! instead of the thirty minutes they had expected. “So sorry!” I said. But they were gracious. There were good munchies and drinks on hand, and everyone just hung out. Eventually, the track athletes and a few friends from DD2’s high school started to arrive. Many were not going to be able to make it, and some would be late. But we had 20 people ready to go.


At 3:05, a new text message came. “Hi! This is Priya. We just left Alannah’s so we’ll be there soon!”

It was finally time to put things into action. DH pretended to be weeding outside. He would ring the doorbell twice when Alannah’s car pulled up. On the pretense of “dropping something off” (which both Alannah and her father had made completely believable for DD2) they came into the house. At the entrance, DD2 commented on DH’s new home office space. We’re undergoing some renovations now (great time for a party!) and DD3 said, “Come and see what the old office looks like.” The few footsteps it took to get to our hiding spot passed, and DD2’s stunned face was our cue. “SURPRISE!”

A great afternoon

The high of relief for me and everyone else who had struggled to make this work just got elevated by the genuine delight of DD2 as she gradually took it all in. “I’m still in shock!” she laughed after several minutes of hugs and “Hi!”s. A few more guests arrived just after the surprise, and a steady stream of stories from behind the scenes came out: the plans, the obstacles, some close calls that had happened – right up to within minutes of the party . . . With 20/20 hindsight, DD2 had several “aha” moments – “Oh, that’s why you said that! I wondering why you  . . .”

Then it was time for my 90-year-old mother to give a speech. DD2 LOVES her. She has a tattoo of her grandmother’s birth date – in Roman numerals – running down the top of her spine. I have learned to count on great things whenever my mom speaks, but she really outdid herself this time. Funny, moving . . . just brilliant! One of the track guests actually cried on the shoulder of her boyfriend (who is almost certainly going to the Olympics in Rio next summer). “Her grandmother loves her so much,” she whispered through her tears – as we all found out later. And THEN, it was time for the video of DD2’s life – a product of more hours than can be conveyed – beautifully put together by DH. 17 minutes capturing her life from birth until now. Photos and home movie clips through the years, set to music that has meaning for DD2. More tears, lots of laughter. Just a rich, rich moment in time.

And what does this have to do with debt?

My concerned colleague Cam would be pleased to know that I haven’t thought about debt-repayment or budgets or emergency funds or savings at all over the last week. I’ve been all absorbed by DD2’s surprise 21st birthday party. But there ARE comparisons to make. I bet some of you have already thought of them:

  • A surprise party doesn’t happen on its own any more than debt freedom does. You have to set a plan and be vigilant about making it work.
  • We came up against plenty of obstacles in our quest for a surprise, and the same is true in our trek towards debt freedom. Unexpected expenses; a rise in grocery prices; a lower-than-usual business month (meaning lower-than-usual income) . . . And each time, we just have to rework that plan.
  • Just as DH and I were both convinced that DD2 would “find out” about our plans for her surprise, we have also been convinced at times that our pursuit of debt freedom was just not going to materialize. But just as we held on to hope for DD2’s surprise, we hang on to hope for debt freedom.
  • The focus, planning, reworking, trouble-shooting, hours of work, and periodic spikes of anxiety were all worth it for our daughter’s party yesterday, and we know that the same is true for all it is taking to become debt-free.

Have you ever planned a surprise party? Or had one held for you? How did it go over? Did you go to FinCon? How was it? Your comments are welcome.


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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great story! It’s so great when a surprise party comes together like that. Cheers to DD2 and congratulations on achieving such great success after all that hard work! 🙂 I forgot FinCon was in September. I sure hope to get to it next year. Hope to see you then Prudence! 🙂

    • If I go next year, I would LOVE to see you, Kay! I think we’d gab the whole time and miss out on all of the panels or whatever goes on there. But that would be just fine : )

  • What a great surprise! I threw a surprise party for my wife’s 29th birthday (wink, wink) I was happy that we were able to keep the secret from her and she was very pleased and surprised that the kids and I were able to accomplish it. FinCon was amazing!!! Great to finally meet all of our great friends.

    • Keeping the secret is definitely the hardest part about throwing a surprise party! I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself at FinCon, Brian. Everyone who goes seems to say that it’s great. I really do think I’ll make it happen next year.

  • In high school, my friends and I were throwing a surprise party when the guest of honor (one of my best friend’s) asked me directly if that’s what was happening. I said, “I do not know why you might suspect such a thing. We don’t like you.” And thus, it was revealed (I also need to become a better liar).

    FinCon was really great! It was practically in my backyard, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to attend.

    • My husband had the hardest time participating in the deception that had to be a part of the planning for the event. Is it possible not to lie or deceive when it comes to surprise parties? And isn’t it OK just in this one case? I love your answer to your friend : ) How lucky are you to live right by the FinCon venue! I’m glad you loved it. Does anyone not love it? I haven’t heard any complaints about it. Ever.

  • Awe that’s so awesome!! I’ve never had anyone surprise me for a birthday party and I feel like I missed out. 🙁 So I imagine your daughter was thrilled. Of course I’m slightly sad you weren’t at fincon, but it was for a good reason.

    • She was definitely thrilled : ) And you can’t say you “missed out” yet! I didn’t have a surprise birthday party thrown for me until I turned 50 – so you never know . . . I’m kind of glad you are “slightly sad” that I wasn’t at FinCon : ) I hope it was a good weekend for you. I really am thinking of going for it next year.

  • I got a surprise birthday party last month. My family and friends planned it and I was really surprised like I didn’t expect it all. I thought I’d have a simple birthday celebration. But, when I came home from work, all of them were almost there. I was like one of the happiest people!

    • That’s great, Jayson. I would have to say that my daughter was “one of the happiest people” too : ) I bet the friends and family who organized your party were thrilled to see your surprise!

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