One of the things I say all the time — and if you’ve attended Money School, you know this, because I talk about it during the Budgeting Bootcamp class — is that little things add up fast, and there’s no better example of this than kids’ birthday parties. They’re expensive to throw (not to mention attend). So when Heather Flett of RookieMoms.com approached me with a guest post about making your child’s next birthday bash a cheap and relaxing affair, I was all ears. My kids are (sadly) past the age when they want me to be involved in their birthday parties, but I know some of you will benefit from her advice.
Birthday parties are so much fun. To attend. But they can be exhausting, expensive and stressful to plan and host. Am I right? Oftentimes, the tricks that save effort – like hosting the party at an all-inclusive playspace – cost a ton, while those that save money have you up all night painting, baking, and covered in papier-mâché.
I want to help you save money by learning from my experience. By focusing on what your child really wants on his special day, you can be creative about the extra stuff that costs money.
1. Skip the party outright. Would your child be happier to celebrate with a special movie, pinball, or mini golf outing with one or two friends? If so, there’s no need to throw a party too. Stick a candle in an ice cream cone and let him make a wish afterward. For my oldest son’s 8th birthday, we brought his two best buds to a pinball arcade and then out for ice cream sundaes.
2. Limit the guest list. Invite one child per year of your kid’s age or just a few special friends. More guests means more food, more paper goods, and more of everything… especially if your child is at the age where mom and dad and little sister will be tagging along.
3. Use online invitations. Printed invites are special but unnecessary for a children’s birthday.
4. Choose a free venue. Some super fun parties can be held in a backyard or public park. Over the years, I have learned that it stresses me out more to have a bunch of people at my house than to lug a few supplies to the park and squat for a table. Decide if you prefer the convenience of one over the other.
5. Serve kid food. I realized when my oldest son turned three that his buddies were just as satisfied with PB+J. I offered a few kid-friendly choices I could live with and then tried not to stress that the parents might leave wanting more food. Chop up some fruit and let yourself relax. Repeat after me: If you’re hiring a caterer for a kid party, you’re going too far.
6. Schedule the party between meals. Even better than a low-key meal is a party held when no food is expected. 2pm to 4pm is perfect timing to serve healthy snacks before a birthday dessert.
7. Limit the decorations. Buy solid color paper goods on sale or at the dollar store. Simplify decorations to colorful bunches of helium-filled balloons. Always festive, the balloons can also be your party favor.
8. Be creative with the activity. There are a gajillion other posts on picking themes and activities. I will merely suggest that you apply common sense to your Pinterest browsing. An obstacle course can be created from what’s around your house. YOU can teach the kids the Thriller dance by learning on YouTube. Figure out how to make jet packs or super hero capes rather than hiring an entertainer.
9. Replace the birthday cake. What about a tower of donuts or a tray of homemade cupcakes instead of a big cake? Decorating cupcakes can also double as an activity!
10. Eliminate party favor bags. Pass out those balloons or a small book. Some guests might whine but their parents will be thanking you. Take a stand against purchasing more tiny plastic crap.
Focus on the parts of party-planning and hosting that you truly enjoy to turn a potentially stressful endeavor into a fun one. Saving money at a birthday party can actually be MORE fun for everyone.
About Heather: Heather Flett and her best friend co-founded RookieMoms.com, a website dedicated to helping women have more fun in their first years of motherhood. She is the coauthor of The Rookie Mom’s Handbook: 250 Activities to Do With (and Without!) Your Baby and Stuff Every Mom Should Know. Heather lives in Berkeley, CA with her three sons and husband, where she is always trying to do more for less money.