Little Susie's birthday is about a month away. She's been asking for a party just like her friends had. But there isn't $300 in the budget to make her dreams come true. What does a frugal parent do? Let's explore some possibilities.
Begin by counting the number of kids that are likely to attend. Many of your expenses will be priced 'per child' so you'll need an idea of how many kids will be celebrating with Susie. When you're counting noses, don't forget to include 'paybacks' (where your child has attended their party). You may need to check your child's school. Some have rules that say if you invite one girl from your child's class you must invite all the girls from the class. There may also be neighbors and relatives that you'll want to invite.
Plan for the highest number that could reasonably attend. That way all your estimates for expenses will be on the high side. You don't need to be ridiculous, but just guess a little high. If there are three kids that are 50/50, put two in your count. That type of thing.
You'll probably feel a little pressure to downscale the party. That's good. It's far better to simplify now than have the bill come in 25% higher than you planned. If you don't like the total now you have options you can pursue. If you don't like the bill later your choices are very limited!
Next you'll want to start thinking of where to hold the party. Think of places that kids like to go. Are your children interested in bowling, baseball, museums, karate or gymnastics? All these are possible sites for a party. Of course, all of them aren't frugal. But you won't know until you pick up the phone and ask.
When you call you'll want to know what the charge per child is. Some places will have a minimum charge, too. Find out what's included in the price. Are they including party favors, cake or other food and drink?
Find out if you have the option of bringing in your own food and drink. It's a pretty sure bet that you can make a birthday cake cheaper than the price you'll pay if it's included in the package. In many cases is cheaper to bring the cake even if you have to buy it at the local grocery store.
For many of you the temptation will be to hold the party at your home. In some cases this WILL be the cheapest place to hold the party. But, make sure you compare costs first. Sometimes, when you add up food, drinks, cake, party favors and entertainment you could end up spending more to have it at home.
If you're having an at home party, live entertainment may not be as expensive as you might think. By asking around you may find a stay-at-home Mom who moonlights as a clown, magician or puppeteer. Many of these part-timers are very affordable and will provide a lot of smiles per dollar spent.
Perfect entertainment for your party may be as close as your friends or family. If your brother-in-law is a fireman find out if they allow public tours. A FREE trip to the firehouse could precede a pizza party at your home and provide a unique theme party for your child.
When you have your party is also important. If you can, plan to have the party during the week after school. Most places that host kids parties are busiest on weekends. Naturally, they charge more then. You'll get a much better rate if you can schedule your party during the week.
Try to think creatively. Last fall our daughter was heading for her eighth birthday. We didn't want to try to compete with some of the expensive parties that she had been attending. To further complicate matters, we were remodeling our house, so an at home party wasn't very practical.
My wife discovered a ceramics studio that gave classes. Better than that, they also held kid's parties. For a very reasonable amount they hosted the party. Each child had their choice of unpainted ceramic items. They all selected one and painted it at the party. The ceramic became their party favor.
We were allowed to provide our own cake and drinks. The studio had an arrangement at a local pizza place for pizzas at $5 each.
The party was a hit! No one had ever had this type of party before in her crowd. The kids loved it! And the modest cost of the party was a hit with my wife and I!Don't let the high cost of kid's birthday parties get you down. Worse yet, don't let it turn you into a Scrooge. Sure there are parents who are busy playing 'can you top this'. But like most things, a frugal mindset can solve the problem. A little planning mixed with a little research and creativity will have you singing "Happy Birthday" without leaving you frowning in the pictures you'll take at the party!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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