Birthday parties! Oh man, they can be a budget buster, am I right?
Our parenting plan included no birthday parties. Firstly, because we are not party people, believe it or not. We’re sit at home quietly and read books people. Secondly, all of our birthdays are within a few weeks of each other. My eldest and my husband’s birthdays are literally back to back: the 6th and the 7th. That’s just not a lot of turn around for the person who plans these birthday extravaganzas. And by “the person,” I mean me.
The solution we landed on was to do family experiences that encompass all our birthdays. No parties, no planning four different celebrations, and a cool experience making memories we will treasure as a family forever. Our 2018 trip that I am saving towards is, in fact, a birthday trip. We were pretty sure we had figured this birthday thing OUT. Parenting level gold star achieved.
We did not count on friends.
For the child of people who like to sit quietly in their house, our four year old has a lot of friends. With friends come birthdays and with birthdays come parties. I swear to you, this young lady has attended 429 birthdays parties in the last year. So it was only a matter of time before we started hearing, “When do I get the candles on cake?” “When do I get the presents?” “It’s my turn for birthdays?”
Tell me how you explain to a 4 year old that you’re budgeting for a family experience where we will create memories that will last longer than balloons and candles and presents? Because I couldn’t do it. Her little four year heart just wanted a turn at birthdays. We were going to have a party.
How do you throw a birthday party for 429 children when you’re budgeting for something else? You get creative!
VENUE. We looked at movie theatres, museums, zoos, parks, you name it. Many were too expensive, some couldn’t hold 429 kids, a few just didn’t look that fun. Cut to me chatting about our predicament with the lady who runs an indoor community playground. The venue is wonderful, but because of their operating hours, they don’t host parties that often. Luckily, because of Mr. Kristen B.’s very specific work schedule, their availability lined up perfectly with ours. The kids loved it, the parents loved, and I loved it because it was a bargain and she gave us an extra hour just because. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
FOOD. Speaking of creative, we went the opposite direction when it came to food. Our menu was: pizza, cake, bottled water. That was it. The kids were running around like crazy, so they didn’t have time to eat. And the parents need something they can drop at a second’s notice so they can go rescue their kid stuck in the middle of the slide. One of the parents said to me, “I’m so glad you have pizza. I was worried it would be like every other birthday party and there would just be some carrot sticks.” Listen, I love a good carrot stick, but if you’re feeding a lot of people, stick with the basics. Costco pizzas have 12 pieces a pie and cost $10. A Costco sheet cake is $19 and feeds 48 people. A case of 40 waters will run you $3. We came in under budget for food, and we still had leftovers.
THEME. My little wanted a Belle Party. Of course she did. This is another place where we stuck to the basics. You could go to the party store of your choice and they’ll sell you character balloons for $1 a balloon. Or, do what I did: get a mini helium tank, and a package of gold balloons for $2. Then you’ll have enough balloons for each of the 429 kids to pop one during the party, take one home, and lose one to the ceiling of the venue.
Same principle with plates and napkins. Kids don’t care if they’re eating pizza off Beast’s face, or a generic blue plate. I had some blue and yellow plates from a baby shower I threw forever ago. $0 out of pocket for that. I avoided buying fancy centerpieces by re-purposing some artificial roses from an old event (save those crafts!) I tied a gold balloon to each rose and bam, every little girl in the place asked me if she could take home a “balloon rose.”
When I checked out a cake from my favorite grocery stores, I got some serious sticker shock. Half of a Belle Barbie sticking out of the cake did not justify those premium prices for me. So I got a Costco cake. Costco cakes come in one of twenty all-purpose designs (ie no licensed characters), but they’ll write anything you want and they’ll do the frosting in whatever colors you want. For a little extra theming, I put our Belle Dorbz next to the cake. Belle was another $0 out of pocket, since I got her through Disney Movie Rewards. The lesson here is to use what you have. Re-use and re-purpose!
For favor bags we went yellow for girls, blue for boys. Guess where those bags came from? If you guess Baby shower, you get a prize! I scored a deal on Ring pops, thanks to this very blog, and dug deep in the gift closest for the some fun food shaped erasers and mini bubbles. Target Clearance also provided me with ample blind bags on sale. They were marked at 50%, but when I got to the register they all rang up .74. They weren’t necessarily on theme. It was a grab bag of Marvel, Disney, My Little Pony, Care Bears, and Littlest Pet Shop, but no big deal. I have yet to meet the kid who says, “Oh, take this free toy away from me because it is not on theme!” Each bag contained an eraser, pencil, blind bag, bubbles, and ring pop for the cost of .85 a kid. Gift closet and clearance sales to the rescue!
My little beauty’s birthday was a massive success. Not because of the décor, or the theme, or the food. But because she spent an evening playing with her friends, and feeling loved and celebrated by them. And if I am honest, her non-party people parents had a great time, too. I loved watching my little social butterfly flit from friend to friend, making sure everyone was having fun. We were thankful for the time getting to know some of her friends’ parents. We’re still going to shoot for experience based birthdays, but a party here or there never hurt anyone.
If you are Saving to Disney, or saving to a car, or saving to debt free, it can be easy to think these kinds of events are out of your reach. But I promise, they’re not. All you need to do is think outside the box, stick to the basics, and use what you have. Then you have a turn at birthdays, too. ;)
What are your birthday party tips? Do you like big parties? Let me hear all about it in the comments!
Kristen B. is wife to the best Prince around, mama to the spunkiest little princesses, and lover of all things Disney. She started her savings journey three years ago and is now dedicated to making her family’s wishes come true one coupon at a time. She is so excited to take her love of saving to the next level and share her journey with you! Click here to catch up on Kristen’s Savings and join in on your own savings adventure!