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Birthday Parties on a Budget

Birthday Parties on a Budget

by Lisa Thompson

There really is nothing like a good birthday party designed to celebrate the life of one person—especially a child. Mothers spend a lot of time planning the perfect party for their children. Even before Pinterest and social media, moms went out of their way to pick a theme, order an elaborate cake, match their child’s outfit to the party décor, pick the right gift, wrap it beautifully and make sure the day was perfect for their little ones.

Somewhere along the way, birthday parties have morphed from a sweet celebration of life to an over-the-top, no-holds-barred blowout with no expense spared. We’ve begun to feel the impact of browsing curated feeds of perfectly executed shindigs on Pinterest and watching each other’s highlight reels on Facebook and Instagram.

It could have something to do with shows like MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16,” which showed us the elaborate bashes of the rich and famous, or entire stores like Party City and Hobby Lobby dedicating floor space to many various party themes. The expense and burden of throwing the perfect birthday party has ballooned.

A custom birthday cake can run anywhere from $80-$150. Decorations can easily exceed $200. A custom t-shirt for the birthday boy or girl usually costs about $30 with printing or embroidery. Venue rental can range from $100-$300+, and food and drinks for the party guests averages $10 per person. Party favors for the guests usually cost $10 per person as well. Using these estimations, a custom birthday party costs around $500-$700—on the low end.

Given today’s economy and the ever-growing crunch on middle-class families, many people are looking for less expensive ways to celebrate birthdays. Rather than skipping a party altogether, here are some suggestions for how to host a killer birthday party for cheap.

Invest in décor and pieces that can be reused.

Instead of buying plastic themed tablecloths from Oriental Trading or the like, invest in a few cloth table coverings that are bright and cheery and fun. They can be reused year to year, and if you stick to basic colors like white, yellow and red, they will match almost any theme. The same thing applies to serving pieces like cupcake towers and paper plates and cups. If you invest in a couple of party serving dishes that can be reused, and solid colored paper plates and cups, you can reuse the leftovers and save money in the long run.

Keep the leftovers.

Keep a drawer or a box of the last few balloons left in a package, or the roll of streamers you did not end up needing. Over time, you will build a stockpile of celebration items that you can use to mix and match for any birthday. Having a stockpile to pull from will allow you to skip the costly trips to the store for those last-minute items you forgot on party day.

Look for a free venue.

It can be tempting to book a party room for the big day, but if you are trying to celebrate on a budget, there are plenty of places to host your shindig for free. Inquire about local parks, pavilions, your local church, or a restaurant your child enjoys and find out what the policy is for hosting a party. There may be an opportunity to use a family member’s home, or even your own. Most places have some fee associated with use, but even if your church or favorite non-profit charges a fee for cleaning, using their facilities might be a way to support the mission and provide a great venue as well.

Do what you can yourself.

It is much simpler and easier to order pre-made decorations online, but you can save a ton of money by making your own at home. Children also enjoy getting involved in crafting their own decorations, so you could make it a fun family activity as well. Party goers will appreciate the effort and time spent making the decorations, and most will find a child’s hand drawn banner just as endearing as a store-bought one.

Use décor you already have at home.

Your child’s room is likely full of all their favorite toys and stuffed animals. Why not use these toys to decorate for the party meant to celebrate your child? Not only do you already have all these things, saving you money, but your child will be proud to show off all their favorite toys, and you can be rest assured they will love the party décor.

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Plan your party between meals.

If your birthday party is scheduled at 12:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., party guests will expect a full meal to be provided. However, if you plan a morning birthday party at 10:30 a.m., or a mid-afternoon party at 2:30 or 3:00, there will be no expectation of providing food for each guest.

Consider a potluck.

If you do have to plan a party around a mealtime, consider asking party goers to bring a snack to share, instead or in addition to a gift. Sharing the responsibility of providing food not only saves money, but it ensures that everyone who attends will enjoy at least one snack at the party.

Manage expectations.

In our ever-changing economy, it’s increasingly difficult as parents to continue providing for all the basic needs of children in addition to all the extras they require and expect—activity expenses, school clothes, Christmas gifts, registration fees, and family vacations. What is even more difficult is keeping all the financial stressors from your children and never letting them in on the secret that it’s hard. Sometimes it becomes necessary to explain to children the demands of a family budget, how difficult it is to keep up with all the expenses and temper their expectations of parties and gifts for their birthday. Children, especially adolescent ones, can understand standard family finances, and the need to conserve money, even in times of celebration.

Whether you plan on celebrating big this year with a custom three-tier cake or cutting back to save money and using a single cupcake and a candle, the meaning behind a birthday celebration is still the same. Even if there’s no cake, showing your child their birthday is important and remembered is still the main goal of celebrating, and in this instance, money is truly not required.

About the Author: Lisa Thompson is a mother of three boys and is married to Brad, a firefighter with the Texarkana Texas Fire Department. She is the Economic Developer for the City of Texarkana, TX and teaches as an adjunct at University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.

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