April-June marks birthday season in the Robinson household. But while birthdays are supposed to be a time of celebration, many parents (myself included) find themselves overwhelmed with planning, preparations and the attention to details. And in a society where 8-year olds are getting iPhones for their birthdays, resisting the urge to overspend on birthdays can be a bit of a challenge. When you are a one-income family, the challenge is magnified times a gazillion. Thankfully, over the years, I found the joy in simplifying birthday parties…plus, extravagant just wasn’t in the budget!
But since when did creating memories require the assistance of maxing out the credit card anyhow? There is a common misconception that in order for a party to be fun, it must be extravagant. But you can achieve an extraordinary birthday party without it being extravagant. One is determined by imagination and one is determined by budget. I’m just going to leave that little tidbit there and let you decipher which one is which. Imagine throwing a kid-approved party with no buyer’s remorse. No nail biting while balancing the checkbook. Just a little planning and creativity, and the only one that will notice your birthday party was on a budget is your wallet.
Just like making out a grocery list to avoid impulse purchases, planning ahead is key to party planning when you are on a budget. Make a detailed list and give yourself plenty of time to shop around. Shopping at the last minute increases your likelihood to go financially overboard. Be sure to search for coupons before your embark on your mission to take advantage of sales. Remember, you will often pay a premium for convenience, so try avoiding making all your purchases in one place.
Minimize Theme Incorporation
I realize kids love themes for their birthdays. I love themes for my kids birthdays. It gives me a focus. But you don’t need to elaborate this theme in every. little. detail. Themed items tend to be more costly, so when you are shopping, stick to solid-colored balloons, plates, cups and utensils. Incorporate themes in other areas, like creatively naming the food. Like most little boys, my son went through a car phase. For his third birthday, I threw him a Hot Wheels party, so I served the guests motor oil (sweet tea), antifreeze (Kool-Aid), spare tires (mini chocolate donuts), Hot Wheels pasta salad (pasta salad with pinwheel pasta), “Pit Stop” sliders (mini deli sandwiches) and “Nascar” cupcakes.
While I enjoy good ole’ fashioned snail mail, I discovered that I could utilize modern conveniences to my advantage by sending out digital invites. Mailbox invites add a nice touch, but they add an unnecessary expense as well. This saves money on the invitation, envelopes and stamps. It also creates an easier method of reply since most people would rather click a “yes” or “no” button than formally RSVP.
Keep the Menu Simple
It’s easy to overthink food when feeding a crowd. But keep your audience in mind- kids are pretty basic in their culinary preferences. Hot dogs, for instance, are a universally accepted kid food. Your goal here is to avoid fancy and aim for simple. Make some of your child’s favorite side dishes- with the use of some of your own discerning here as children may offer very random selections. When it comes to beverages, don’t worry about stocking up on bottles of water and cans of pop. Serve refreshments in pitchers instead. You might be surprised at how much beverages can add up.
Borrow Instead of Renting
When hosting a crowd, you may discover that your dining table, suitable for your family is not quite enough. But before you place orders on renting out tables and chairs, ask around to family, friends and neighbors first to see if they are willing to lend you some extras. Don’t worry if the chairs don’t match (even I had to set aside my OCD for the sake of saving money here). Mismatched tables can be easily covered with colorful tablecloths and the chairs, well… it’s eclectic. More importantly, it’s a place for your guests to sit, so it works.
Forget the Venue
Venues create a large portion of party cost for many parents. Inflatable arenas and trampoline parks cost an arm and a leg and often offers a very limited time frame to party. If you are really trying to stick to a humble budget, there is no better place to host your party than in the comfort of your home, backyard or even your garage.
Stock Up at the Dollar Store
Party stores may have a large selection of party-specific items, but the Dollar Store has a great selection for savings. In fact, this stop is the best place to load up on party décor items such as balloons and streamers, plus all you need for party favor goody bags. Even rummaging through your local thrift store can uncover hidden party treasures. I had a friend who threw a girl’s tea party for her daughter and discovered a 20 piece tea set from the thrift store for $19.
This has always been the most challenging aspect of party planning for me. I have no trouble creating the menu, decorating, and even spending hours baking the day before the party. But activities tend to leave me stumped. Then I realized that instead of being a one-woman circus or purchasing several items I will likely never use again, I could inject a little 80’s entertainment into my kids’ parties.
Organizing a simple game of dodgeball or freeze tag is one way to keep kids active and engaged in fun. Scavenger hunts are another great way to get the kiddos excited. If you have a child who loves crafting, incorporate this concept into the party. Even something simple like allowing the kids to decorate tiara-shaped sugar cookies for your daughter’s princess party will keep them pleasantly occupied- and sugar induced.
Sure, a catered three-tiered fondant masterpiece is eye-catching, but also a tad bit expensive and let’s be honest, over the top. Baking a homemade cake is not only better on the budget, but it adds a touch of nostalgia (something kids in this generation don’t get enough of). And rather than stressing over a Pinterest- worthy cake, make cupcakes or cake pops using simple decorations of icing and sprinkles. Fondant tastes like sugary plato anyway.
The imminent temptation to skimp on prep time will not allow you to skimp on savings. I can save about half the cost in prepping my own veggies than purchase a store-bought vegetable and dip tray. Put together cold-cut sandwiches rather than splurging on the “Ultimate Deli Party Platter.” Whatever shortcut the store offers, you can make it for less.
Don’t allow the details of the celebration overshadow the real reason for the celebration. And remember- you don’t need an extravagant budget to have an extraordinary birthday party!
The Humble Homemaker