You'll discover glossy ads everywhere for expensive birthday party services hungry for your dollar. There's pressure to use them, too. If your son's best friend had a great party last month at the local butterfly sanctuary, there's probably some subtle and not so subtle social (and child) pressure to respond in kind. When you start looking at it with a parent's critical eye, though, you have to wonder what lessons all that excess is teaching the kids.
A sane and affordable birthday bash can have the same value as a Hollywood extravaganza but without the hefty price tag. You can't buy happy memories for your children, but you can help create them -- for less green than you might think.
Planning an Affordable Kid's Birthday Party
- Plan a budget. Recognize your financial limitations and establish some priorities by setting a budget. This will help you strategize what you can reasonably do.
- Get input from your child. You can get some good ideas and a sense of where you'll be putting the bulk of your budget if you enlist your child's help in the early planning stages. If Emma wants all her schoolmates to attend her party, and you think that's important, then you may be renting a location, which could claim a big chunk of your budget. If she's only interested in having her closest friends attend, then you might be able to host the proceedings in your home or backyard. Getting your priorities straight early is a good idea.
- Perform the work yourself. From cooking the munchies to making up the invitations, the more you do yourself, the less you'll have to pay others to do. Be realistic, though. If you're working two jobs just to make ends meet, you may not be able to spread yourself that thin. One option is to enlist the help of friends and relatives and return the favor when their special celebrations roll around. Beyond the cake, which you may be able to buy for less at your local warehouse store, simple goodies are easy to make in bulk. Kids are often so excited they eat less at these affairs anyway.
- Think ahead. From balloons to tablecloths, you can buy party favors and decorations ahead of time if you know your child's tastes. These items can be found at deep discounts when the seasons change and retailers rotate their stock. Planning a year in advance may be unrealistic, but keeping your eyes out for bargains a few months ahead can help you save.
- Think small. As you go through the planning stages, the inclination is for the whole enterprise to become more elaborate and more expensive. Keep reminding yourself to think small.
- Bulk up where it counts. Buy beverages, goody-bag gifts and other necessary items in volume.
- Share the wealth. You can even start a mommy brigade, a club of like-minded moms and dads who can go in on larger purchases and share the booty. This works for buying folding tables, chairs and other items. You'll need a kindly participant who has extra storage, but after that, members can check out items as needed. If you have more than one child, or entertain regularly, this can be a great idea.
- Find a no-rent hall. If you're expecting a crowd and want to spend your precious resources on decorations and not a site rental, check out community, church and park options. Some venues are available free or at a nominal fee. They typically fill up early, so plan ahead.
Strategies for an Affordable Kid's Birthday Party
- Go green. Honor the planet, celebrate your child's birthday and teach some valuable lessons at the same time with a green themed birthday party. Use washable tableware instead of the expensive, disposable stuff. Have a local expert conduct a nature walk and fill goody bags with seeds, potting mix and small terra cotta pots. Consider sending e-mail invitations, and explore the option of having well-wishers make donations to your child's chosen green charity rather than bring a gift in wasteful wrap.
- Have a sleepover. This is a nice way to make the day last. It will give kids more time to calm down, interact and enjoy the fun. If one planned activity flops, you'll have plenty of time to regroup. There'll be less drama all around.
- Focus on doing, not showing. Clowns and cowboys are great, but having activities that encourage children to make things and interact with one another is an effective and often less expensive way to keep them entertained.
- Have children decorate their own individualized cakes (or cupcakes) or embellish their own goodie bags with stickers and drawings. Equip craft tables with inexpensive materials and offer lots of creative encouragement. It's a proactive way to inspire kids to entertain themselves and one another.
Remember when your toddler got a bigger kick out of the box a present came in than he did from the present itself? That isn't irony. That's life. Birthdays are magical, even without the falderal, bling and drama. Sure, a big cardboard box might not cut it these days, but your good humor and enthusiasm will go a long way toward making this a birthday your child will remember fondly whether you're watching your pennies or not.