3 Ideas for Teen Milestone Birthdays


Adding an extra dose of special to milestone birthdays starts the year off right!

Growing up, birthdays were always a huge deal at my house. Let’s be honest, my mom still makes a big deal about birthdays, and I consider myself lucky to have so many special memories. She always says that a birthday is your day, and she does just about everything she possibly can to make that day all about you. Cards, thoughtful presents, special menus, and her famous mantra, You can’t have a party without M&Ms!

I do my best to carry on that tradition and make birthdays special for my kids. I also try to amp up the special factor on milestone birthdays. With kiddos 18, 17, and 6, we’ve hit all the teenage ones at least once. These are also gift ideas that I’ve used for nieces, nephews, and close family friends.


Here’s how we put a little wow factor into the 3 big birthdays for teens:

13 Unwrapping 13 presents is a fun way to mark this milestone. Wrapped packages rather than quick gift bags helped build the anticipation. I knew that this was a win when the then 12-year-old perked up and said, So I get this next year, right?

This doesn’t have to be 13 top-dollar gifts either. I wrapped some packs of gum and a couple of dollar store finds to have enough to make the count.

16 Sweet 16 can be for boys or girls, and it’s a tasty theme for anyone! Adding a delicious twist to things can be done by gifting 16 sweets. These sweet treats can include a combination of favorite candies and confections alongside $5-$10 gift cards for restaurants specializing in sweets.

If the gift is for a non-local recipient, be sure to check whether restaurants chosen for gift cards are in the other location. While we all love Graeter’s, it’s not a nationwide franchise. There are lots of options that make the sweet cut, though: Dairy Queen, Smoothie King, Culver’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, etc. Depending on how much a person is looking to spend, the number of gift cards and their amounts can be balanced with affordable candies. 

18 As the big 1-8 approached, I wanted to do something that spoke to the legal status of this birthday. Voting age and tobacco sales weren’t angles I wanted to explore, but then our family’s love of scratch-off lottery tickets came to mind.

I turned this into an 18th Birthday Scratch-Off Countdown. There was about an hour or so of prep for this one, but it was well worth it. First, I wrote out a description of how the countdown worked with opening a card corresponding to each of the 18 days leading up to the birthday. This was placed in an Open First envelope.

Using packs of blank cards from the dollar store and some odds and ends in the card department at home, I put together 18 cards with a scratch-off ticket in each one. The cards had fun facts, quotes, and tips about luck, chance, and wealth. I numbered backward from 18 to determine the starting date, and one card was created to be opened each day. By the end of the countdown, there would hopefully be more than a few winners that could now be cashed in by an 18-year-old! Obviously, not a last-minute gift idea.

I spent $40 on scratch-offs, but this could easily have been less expensive if only $1 tickets were purchased. My birthday combo was 10- $1, 5- $2, 2- $5, and the card opened on the actual birthday held 1- $10 for a total of 18 tickets.

In writing out the cards, it was fun to come up with themes based on the days of the week:

Hug Your Mama Monday because you’re so lucky to have such a good one! OR Make a Difference Monday with suggestions for spreading kindness and being rewarded with karma.

Take a Chance Tuesday included a challenge to try a new food in the cafeteria and one to talk to someone new.

Wacky Fact Wednesday had some facts that included the amount of loose change collected by TSA in 2015 – $765,759!

Food for Thought Thursday with quotes from famous people about luck or money.

Fun Fact Friday with facts including that the cost to make a penny is more than the 1 cent it’s worth.

Sage Advice Saturday had some quotes from Thomas Jefferson and P.T. Barnum about luck and fortune.

Save Money Sundays offered ideas for things to do at no cost like a hike in the park, board games, etc.

This was a fun way to add some entertainment and anticipation to this milestone birthday. When my son got to his last card, he won $50! We were both thrilled! Imagine how cool it would be if this lotto countdown revealed a $250,000 a year for life or some other big win?!?!? The total of $71 he made was well worth it. Even more so was the fact that he was made to fill special for 18 consecutive days leading up to his birthday.

(If doing this idea for someone out of state, note that lotto tickets are sold by state. I used my awesome village connections and Venmo to get some out-of-state tickets sent to me. This let me complete the prep work for 2 nieces with countdowns that began before they headed off to colleges out of state.)

These 3 ideas can be made to fit into a variety of price points, and each one adds a little extra something to a special milestone. Drop milestone traditions your family has used in the comments section!

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Lani is relatively new to Cincinnati, and after living in Columbus for nearly three decades, she’s glad to be back in the Buckeye State! Keeping all wheels turning with her family of five serves as her full-time job, but she stays active with her teaching background by blogging and freelance writing for several education companies. When she’s not stealing some time at the keyboard, she enjoys exploring all Cincinnati has to offer through the eyes of her five-year-old. Cooking, traveling, and binge-watching a good drama series round out her favorites, but some of those happen much more often than others!


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