After reading “Mommy, I want a swag bag” in a local NY newspaper at the end of last month, I came up with an idea. I was going to do the opposite of the excessive kids’ birthday parties that were highlighted in the post. Now, I have never spent thousands of dollars on my kids’ parties. To each her own, but that is definitely not my cup of tea. However, birthdays are very special to me and I usually spend several hundreds of dollars on each party. This year, I challenged myself to throw a great party for Michael’s sixth birthday for less than $200 of my own money. (FYI to the New York Times: It’s not fashionable for every “mommy blogger” to get her kid’s birthday party sponsored. Thank you very much!) Below are five tips that I learned along the way:
Before I start though, the number one thing (for me) was to remember that the birthday party was for Michael – not me. As such, I let him tell me what was important/what would make the party special for him.
1. Throw the party in your home. That – in and of itself – will save you hundreds of dollars (especially if you live in an urban area like NYC). In the past, I have thrown parties at studios and other outside venues. I primarily did that because I get a bit claustrophobic in tight spaces with a lot of kids running around and making noise. This year, our home has a bit more space, so the party was here.
2. Limit the number of guests. This was a hard one for me. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to leave anyone out. However, Michael really wanted a “guys only” Wii party, so that is what he had. I was concerned about our friends who had both a boy and girl. I kind of hedged and was like, “Well, if you really want to bring his sister, that’s fine. I’ll find something for the girls to do.” To my delight, one of my friends was like, “Oh please. That’s totally fine. It’s good for the boys to just be with other boys sometimes.” Whew! (I agree and I am totally not offended when little girls have all girls parties either!) The boys came with their dads (for the most part) and it ended up being a wonderful “Daddy & Me” type party. On a side note, as a mom it was good for me to see the men interacting with their sons, because I usually see the boys with their moms. The men were very low-key, but attentive and interactive with their kids. There was NO DRAMA at all during the party. It was quite delightful to be a “fly on the wall” to see this.
3. Focus your funds on the things that your kid cares about. Michael cared about the food and the entertainment. He wanted Papa John’s Pizza and wings (his favorite) and a cake, so that’s what he received. Since he is such a gamer boy, he wanted a Nintendo Wii themed party. He got it. We played a variety of the games that he loved. The kids really loved Active Life – to the point that one chaperone was going to buy it directly after the party. (It’s a very active game – a great workout for “inside” days.) I knew that every kid wouldn’t be “into” video games/that they all couldn’t play at the same time, so I also had some board games set up in the other room. Scatterpillar and Hungry Hippos were kid faves. The boys also enjoyed playing with the various Iron Man gifts that Michael had received for his birthday.
4. Cut prices (or eliminate) things that your kid does not care about. I was able to do that on invitations, food and entertainment.
*Invitations: I used pingg invitations. They were cute and kept an accurate count of who was/was not coming.
*Decorations: Michael doesn’t like them, so I skipped them.
*Cake: Disclosure: this was one area where my blogging connections came in handy. Here’s the story. I was writing down information about Michael’s party on my way to a Kung Fu Panda event last Monday and I noted that I wanted to do something special for his cake – maybe find a cool Wii-themed cake topper. While at the event, Nancy, a blogging friend mentioned that she was doing marketing for this new company, YouCake, that does cake toppers. She casually mentioned that if one of my kids had a birthday coming up that they would love for me to try their product. I said, “Well since you mentioned it, Michael has a birthday coming up this Sunday. Is that enough time?” It was! How cool is it that she brought it up? I offered to pay for the topper (it’s only $14.99 to $15.99), but she wouldn’t let me. She recommended that I buy a quarter sheet cake from Stop & Shop to place it on, which I did. My son loved the cake and the people at the party couldn’t believe that you could actually eat the image, but you could. Here’s the thing, detailed cakes like this one cost over a hundred dollars locally. The YouCake topper (which I will definitely buy in the future) would have been $16 tops. The Stop & Shop Cake was $17. Thirty-three dollars compared to hundreds of dollars for a personalized cake? Score!
5. Ditch the goody bags. I am not a big fan of goody bags filled with a lot of little doo-dads anyway. My kids look at what is in them for one day and then forget about it. I can only imagine how many goody bag items from kids’ birthday parties are littering landfills across the world. Rather than giving a whole bunch of little things, I gave each family something that was meaningful to Michael. (Up until this month, Spiderman was Michael’s favorite superhero, so everyone received a Spiderman throw – to use for park outings and such – with a little “Thank you” note attached.)
So did I meet my goal of spending less than $200? Yes, I did! Even factoring in what the cake topper would have cost, I would have spent a little under $150. I think that if I had planned a little bit better, it could have been even less. (The original superhero gifts that I had planned to get were sold out when I went back to the store. Also, a couple of kids who had not RSVPd came, so I snuck out to get them parting gifts too. Note to self: buy in bulk when I see something that I like that is on sale!)
Overall though, I was really happy with how well everything turned out. Michael was happy. Everyone seemed to have fun. Most flattering of all (to me) was that at the end of the day, my husband said, “You are really good at planning parties. You just have a gift for it. It went off without a hitch. I know that you don’t want to, but you would be a great event planner.” I love my man 🙂
Do you have any money-saving party tips that you would like to share?