A Great Birthday Party
Blow Out the Candles, Not the Budget!
Happy Birthdays on a Budget
In the area where we live, upscale, over-the-top birthdays are the norm! My daughter was invited to one last year that included a visit to Build a Bear for ten girls, followed by a trip to the Rainforest Cafe. Must have been over $400!
How do I handle the fact that we can't/won't/don't want to reciprocate on this grand and lavish scale? We've tried the slumber party route, but we prefer to do family birthdays. Some of my frugal friends say that they simply don't let their kids attend these lavish, over-the-top celebrations, but I don't want to cut my daughter off from avenues for socializing and making friends.
We're seriously thinking of moving out of this area because of the enormous social pressure to consume! Sometimes, it just feels like we're telling our kids "no, no, no" all the time. Any hints on how to handle this and still have your kids included in things and happy, short of moving? Thanks.
Our solution to the "big" Birthday parties is to do all our kids' parties together. My children are 10, 13 and 14. Their birthdays are in March, May and August. We do a family party on their birthday and may invite one or two friends on a sleepover. In June or July, we do a large "group" party. Often, we rent the local swimming pool. It costs $75 to rent and you can invite up to 50 people. So the kids can invite pretty much all of their friends, and the parents can come too. And I only have to do one big party. It's great and the kids love it.
Neysa in Amarillo, Texas
I think you have already come up with the best solution when you said, "We're seriously thinking of moving out of this area because of the enormous social pressure to consume!" Let me share my experience to illustrate. When my eldest daughter was in eighth grade, we made the move from the city to a rural area. I was amazed at the different perspective from the rural population. The most impact was on the children, especially the eighth grader. She was so relieved, though neither of us had realized the social pressure that she had been under. Numerous times, she has mentioned how glad she is that we made the move. I do not think moving is a drastic solution, especially when the outcome of your children's lives can be changed for the better.
One way to battle the drive to consume might be to invite people for a cake and ice cream party and ask for cash gifts to be donated to a local charity (like Habitat for Humanity). You might even contact your employer or local businesses to see if they will match the donation. This will teach your children the value of sharing with others as well as be an example to your rich friends and neighbors.
Julie in Midland, TX
When I was growing up, friend birthday parties were limited to "milestones" like turning double digits (10) or 16. However, I was always allowed to invite one or two close friends over to share the celebration with the family.
With my own three children, I have found a lot of parents spend outrageous amounts of money on parties. We do not. We do friend parties every other year and the budget is around $40 dollars and their friends tell their parents that my kids' parties are "the most fun." We have them at our home and I bake and decorate the cake myself. I make a piņata from a regular balloon and newspaper. Instead of covering it with tissue paper, I'll often paint the theme on the balloon. Fill it with generic candy or toys and the kids have a blast breaking it open. Kids are so overscheduled that they really enjoy being at a friend's house with just a few typical games and simple play.
It is difficult to raise children and keep up with the Joneses. So we don't try. We are proudly "counter cultural" and must be doing something right because my 8-year-old said to us, "We're rich because we have people to love us and everything we need." Hang in there, Mary, it will be a struggle, but it turns out in the end.
As a parent privileged to live in Oakland County, Michigan, I must respond in kind to your concerns. My children have the privilege to attend a private school and live in an area where most families are far wealthier than we are. Their eight hours a day at school and functions is spent amongst the wealthy. We feel privileged to afford this education for them but have cautioned them always against its reflection of "real life." Happiness, contentment, knowledge are not tied to the money. If they can experience a "high end" party, so be it! It may promote them to study harder for a well-paid job. I'm always preaching "balance" in school, at home, with friends to the kids. It's the only way to true mental and physical health.
If their experiences are out of balance with your sense of right and wrong, then plan an activity in another area or with others that reminds them of the bigger picture. I think it's the parent's responsibility to provide this balance until they can better see it. Our oldest daughter, now a sophomore in college, is much more aware and interactive with all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations, and appreciates her family's gifts much more.
Expensive birthdays are the norm in our area too, but we've come up with a plan to handle it. We have decided to plan family vacations for the week of our son's birthday (early September). This year, we will go to Florida. We also have plans to make trips to other areas around the country on future birthdays. When other kids ask, he can say, "I haven't had a Birthday Party, but I've seen the Statue of Liberty, Old Faithful, the Pacific Ocean, a glacier in Alaska, and a volcano."
I don't remember much about my childhood birthday parties, but I'm sure my son will remember all our family trips that we will take together. Most of the expenses of these trips will be taken with frequent flyer miles and discount coupons, so the cost will be kept low. Requesting tourist information from areas that you wish to visit is a good way of finding bargains in advance. The last time we visited Alaska (just hubby and myself), we were able to find a deal where we got a two-bedroom apartment (fully furnished with maid service) for only $440 for a ten-day stay. What a deal!
I, too, live in an area where people feel they need to spend a fortune on birthdays. If your children are younger (preschool), a party where the kids just play as they wish with some favors for the children to take home can be a huge hit without costing a lot. Older kids can understand a budget. Give him or her an amount and tell them that they can do what they want within that amount. Check out Family Fun magazines at your library for inspiration. This magazine gives ideas for theme parties and events in every issue for families that do not have unlimited budgets. Most of the ideas are very cute and can be adapted to appeal to multiple ages.
Put aside all worries and make a party that you can afford and are comfortable with. Fun does not have to cost a lot of money. When I was a child, birthday parties were cake, ice cream and punch. A few simple games with inexpensive prizes were played, and we opened the gifts. My parties did not include clowns, magicians, treat bags, or trips to expensive places, but somehow my guests and I managed to enjoy ourselves in the midst of the deprivation. We didn't even realize we were suffering (grin). Read The Complete Tightwad Gazette and see a couple of examples of amazing birthday parties that Amy threw for her kids that required very little money but were a big hit with the kids because they were so creative, well-planned and fun.
Times have changed, however, and it does seem that some sort of a lunch is often expected, and goodie bags are popular. But food can be inexpensive. Serve individual homemade pizzas that the partygoers top themselves or hot dogs and burgers with all the fixings.
Goodie bags can be plain brown paper lunch sacks. Let the guests decorate their own bags with markers and inexpensive stickers. While they're doing other things, fill with fun little things from a dollar store, plus maybe some candies and any crafts they may do at the party.
It all boils down to doing your daughter's party in a way that suits your needs without worrying about what other families do. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised that most kids will probably have just as much fun at your party as at some big, expensive blowout. If any of the kids or parents seem to have a problem with it, well, it's too bad. Ultimately, you have to be true to yourself and it's their problem, not yours. It's not the cost of the party, but it's the thought and love that goes into planning it that matters.
There is absolutely no need to cut your daughter off from the social life of her circle just because you can't, or don't want to, host such elaborate events yourself. Yes, accepting invitations from others does obligate you to reciprocate in some way, but it is the host, not the guest, who determines the style of the event. Here are some ways you and your daughter could fulfill your social obligations without breaking the bank:
What a perfect opportunity to teach your child about the rampant consumerism that paralyzes our society! The fact that you would consider moving because of social pressure on your child is a perfect example.
As a single mom, I live in a highly affluent suburban area of one of the nation's largest cities and deal with the issues of which you speak. The first defense is a good offense. Talk to your child about "what really matters." It's not the $50 teddy bears and simulated rain forests! "Relationships" will always outpace riches. Kids want attention, adult interaction and plain old fun.
If your daughter would enjoy this, engage two friends and do manicures/pedicures/fancy hair. Or tell the girls to bring a favorite doll, buy a bunch of hats from the thrift store and serve "high tea." If she'd prefer a more sporty theme, print "Birthday Team" t-shirts with inexpensive printer transfers and have a local college soccer star come to give a workshop on winning plays. Or take them to a farm league baseball game, sit on the lawn and ply them with cracker jacks and juice boxes.
Another alternative is to skip birthdays altogether and do things at other times of the year that get more attention for their uniqueness. In grade school, I picked my daughter and five friends up at lunchtime and did a "Spooky Lunch," complete with dollar store ghoulish goodie bags, bright orange macaroni & cheese and hot chocolate with ghost marshmallows. In middle school, they liked "Sunset Saturday" water balloon fights in our back yard. I have one in high school now and big parties seem to be "lame" while one-on-one trips to the city seem more "in." Things change.
There will always be pressure to "consume" and to keep up with the crowd. If your daughter learns that lesson now, she's going to be mentally healthy, wealthy, and perhaps even wise. Plus, she'll perhaps teach you a lesson or two in the process.
I, too, live in a very wealthy area where over-the-top birthday parties are the norm. I have always let my children attend these parties, seeing no reason why they shouldn't be spending time with their friends. There are many resources that you can find on throwing your own parties that tend to be more fun on a small budget.
I have never had a problem telling my children "no." Kids need to understand their family finances (in a general sense) so that the "no" makes sense to them. Our family does spend a lot of time volunteering. We have donated our time at rescue shelters and taken mission trips to very poor areas of the country to help those less fortunate. This instills a sense of perspective for your children. It is very important for them to see how most of the world really lives. No matter how much money your family has, your kids will come away feeling blessed for what they do have.
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