How to make sure you never miss someone’s birthday

Use these apps and features to help you remember all those special occasions.
Hand holding a cupcake with purple frosting, sprinkles and a birthday candle.
If you can't fit another birthday in your head, let these apps help you remember and celebrate with your loved ones. Isabella Fischer / Unsplash

Wishing somebody a happy birthday requires little effort on your part, but it immediately makes your friends and family feel appreciated and cared about.

But if your brain cannot handle yet another important date, your ever-loyal smartphone offers a host of ways to stay on top of birthdays and other special occasions. Just make sure you use at least one of these approaches to avoid missing someone’s big day.

Social media can help you remember birthdays

Checking your social media accounts is a good way of staying on top of birthdays. In the Facebook app, tap your profile picture (top right), then the magnifying glass icon, and search for birthdays. Tap the top result to see a list of your friend’s recent and upcoming birthdays.

[Related: How to set phone reminders for anything]

Snapchat will display a cake icon next to your contacts in the main chat list when it’s their birthday—swipe left from the camera screen to see it. You can also tap on a friend’s avatar to get to their profile page, and if it’s their big day, you’ll see an It’s Their Birthday! graphic. Unfortunately, you can’t look up birth dates in advance.

Other social networks are less helpful. Twitter will display people’s birth dates on their profile pages but only if they’ve provided the information. There’s also no list or notification you can use: to know if it’s somebody’s birthday, you’ll have to visit their page to find out. Instagram is even less helpful and doesn’t display birthdays at all, so you’re out of luck. Unless someone specifically puts their date of birth in their bio or uploads a ‘happy birthday to me’ post that you notice.

Android and iOS features that will help you remember birthdays

Google has added a birthdays feature to its Contacts app, which comes built into Pixel phones and is available for devices by other manufacturers. Open the app, tap Highlights, and you’ll see recent and upcoming birthdays for your contacts. The same panel lets you set a notification for any of these birthdays, or send a message to someone celebrating one more year of life.

Of course, Google isn’t guessing here—this feature relies on the information provided by your contacts. If you want to add birthday info yourself, you can open a contact page, tap the pen icon (top right) and then tap Significant date. Enter the birth date and make sure it has a Birthday label underneath. You can also store dates such as anniversaries in the same way. On the main Highlights menu, the app may also prompt you to add birthdays to your contacts more easily. If you see the notification to Add birthdays, tap it and then tap the birthday cake icons you see next to each of your contacts. 

The listings in the iOS Contacts app also have a birthday field you can fill in. On a contact page, tap Edit and then tap add birthday to enter the date. The iOS Contacts app doesn’t remind you about birthdays, but the iOS Calendar app can, which brings us neatly to…

Use calendar apps to remember birthdays

Open up the Calendar app on iOS, tap Calendars, and then check the Birthdays entry to see all the birthdays for contacts that have this information saved with them. From iOS Settings, head to Calendar, Default Alert Times, and Birthdays, and you can choose if and when you get notifications about birthdays, as well as see them listed in the Calendar app.

Google Calendar offers similar integration with Google Contacts. In Google Calendar, tap the three horizontal lines (top left) and make sure the Birthdays calendar is checked (tap Show more if you can’t see it). There’s no way to manage notifications for these events in Google Calendar, as these alerts are handled in Google Contacts.

There’s nothing to stop you from creating your own birthday calendars in the iOS or Android Calendar apps, which would give you a bit more control over formatting (like colors) and let you set different notifications for each birthday. But you’ll need to maintain them manually, which may involve a lot more work than you’re willing to input. The same goes for any other third-party calendar app that you might be using.

Other apps to help you remember birthdays

There are quite a few third-party apps dedicated to the task of helping you remember birthdays. The aptly named Birthday Reminder & Countdown for iOS is free, but you can also pay $2 a year to remove ads. As well as notifying you when someone has a birthday, it can count down the days and tell you what age everyone is. You can manually input birthday data or import it directly from the iOS Contacts app.

[Related: Little kids think birthday parties actually make you get older]

Over on Android, we like Birday, which is open source, as well as easy and completely free to use. You can enter birthday data manually or import it from Google Contacts, and the app can track everyone’s age, count down to specific birthdays, and show you all of your friends and family’s special days on a year planner as well. 

Countdown+ Widgets (for Android and iOS) puts the emphasis on counting down to birthdays or any other event you’re interested in. You can import data from the calendars on your phone or from Facebook, customize the countdowns in numerous ways, and see all upcoming events in a simple list. You’ll also be able to remove ads after paying a one-off fee of $2, which will also allow you to back up your data and get even more customization options.