A birthday party is a fun way to recognize important milestones in a child’s life. Family and friends are invited to join in the fun, and everyone enjoys a day of celebration. Behind the scenes, however, this can be a stressful experience for parents. Organizing and throwing a party can be an expensive challenge, especially if the family has several birthdays to celebrate each year or feels pressured to throw an extravagant party.
Pulling off a successful birthday party without going over-budget can take a mix of planning, creativity and patience. Here are a few tips for throwing a successful party while keeping your costs under control.
Put a plan into place. Before you dive into party planning, it’s important to first set a budget. You can always adjust it up or down if necessary, but setting a preliminary price cap will help limit what you can afford to spend on the venue, food and activities. A good place to start may be to contact an entertainment planner to help you determine exactly what your budget needs to include.
Selecting a venue. Whether you’re looking for a place with trampoline-filled rooms or a more conventional spot like the local zoo or bowling alley, many communities have a number of great venue options for kids’ birthday parties if you choose to host any festivities away from home.
Some venues have all-inclusive offerings and will handle all the minutiae. For example, things like invites, entertainment, activities, food and party favors may all be taken care of by the venue, depending on the package you purchase. Another benefit with hosting the party at an out-of-home spot is avoiding the post-party cleanup. If you’re looking for a hands-free and stress-free option, a kid-ready off-site venue could be your best bet, but expect to pay a premium.
Hosting the party at home could save you a lot of money. Alternatively, a local recreation center or nearby park that allows you to rent space for free or a nominal fee could be good options for larger parties. While it will typically take more work, hosting your own party means you get to personalize the event to best suit your child’s personality and interests. It also means it’s entirely up to you how simple or extravagant you want things to be.
Food for thought. Deciding on a menu for your young guests will also contribute to your party budget. Shop around for the best catering options, or prepare the food yourself to save money. A few large salads, pizzas, bowls of pasta and pitchers of juice can be relatively cheap and easy to prepare. Asking guests to bring a dish is also a popular cost-saving method. Do remember to keep your audience in mind, and be sure to ask whether they have any food allergies.
Pick age-appropriate activities. Children often begin including friends in their birthday plans when they’re in preschool or elementary school. These parties don’t need to be complicated with over-priced entertainment — keeping the event fun and simple is the key.
A sleepover or a late-over party (for younger kids who still need to get home around bedtime) can be a fun substitute to a conventional daytime event. The birthday boy or girl can invite a few friends to stay overnight, or for the evening, and eat pizza and popcorn while watching a movie, and if you want to provide a healthier option, offering them fruit and veggies while they veg out may be a great way to go.
Physical activities, such as an organized game or treasure hunt in the afternoon followed by a barbecue could be a good fit for some. Others may prefer creative indoor party activities, such as making friendship bracelets or their own personal pizzas.
Choose a broad theme and a few key decorations. Whether you buy decorations online or shop at a local party store, going all-out with the decorations may not be an unnecessary expenditure. One way to save money is to use a general theme, such as pirates, princesses or superheroes, rather than have the theme be a particular brand or character. After agreeing on a theme with your child, consider looking for place settings and decorations that match the theme at a local dollar store or thrift shop.
There are also great DIY ideas online to create your own décor, including free printable templates and designs.
To give, or not to give, party favors. Party favors might be an absolute necessity in the eyes of your child, and some kids view them as the best part of attending birthday parties. Just remember, most kids are excited to get anything new and different — it doesn’t have to be a collection of high-priced items to be a hit with partygoers. A small toy, bubbles, character or sport cards or something to satisfy the sweet tooth are always hits.
Limit the invite list. Inviting the entire class might be fun, but it’s not a requirement. A rule of thumb that some parents use is to allow their child to invite as many friends as the age they’re turning. You may also want to permit the child’s siblings to invite a friend so they don’t feel left out. Limiting the guest list helps keep a party from getting out of control and your child from being overwhelmed. It also lets you do more with a limited budget, as you won’t have to spend as much on food, drinks, venue space or party favors. When you send invitations, consider using an electronic invite that allows recipients (or their parents) to easily RSVP and add the event to their calendars; it can also help make the planning process less stressful.
Bottom line: Planning a child’s party can get pricey quickly, making it all the more important to set a budget and prioritize your spending. A small budget can be more than enough to throw a memorable and fun birthday party for your child. Focus on what’s important: celebration, family and friends and a slice of cake.
Hugh Norton directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.