When my daughter, Maggie’s, 3rd birthday party topped out over $500, I wondered how long we would be able to keep up the Pinterest-inspired parties. As much as I loved planning and hosting events, I knew too many more years would be tough on my wallet and my sanity!
So following her 5th birthday bonanza, and the birth of her brother (he would have parties one day too!), we took a few years off from celebrating her birthday with friends. It didn’t last long, and as she approached her 8th birthday, she asked about a friends’ birthday party.
I remembered reading about how to do a kids’ birthday party on a budget. And because she is a social butterfly like me, I knew we could work together to plan a party she would enjoy, that wouldn’t bust my wallet.
My husband and I set a budget of $150. Every party cost from invitations, to the activity, to the cake would be deducted from her budget, and whatever money remained, would be her gift to spend however she chose. It was a great way for Maggie to plan her own party, and to make choices about what was most important, while teaching her that every little detail adds up quickly.
It wasn’t easy or natural for me to give up the party-planning reigns, but with each decision she made, she became more excited for her special party. She celebrated her 8th birthday at the American Girl Doll Bistro with two friends, and they had the best time. We were all happy with the new strategy. Not only has it saved us money, but it’s also saved stressing out over silly things that never really mattered to the birthday girl.
As Maggie has gotten older, and her taste has gotten more expensive, planning a birthday party for $150 or less has required creativity. She recently celebrated her 11th birthday for $110, and managed to save enough of her budget to use toward a basketball hoop (when combining it with other money she received as birthday gifts).
Maggie had been to a friend’s birthday that was quite fancy — Bon Vie, ice skating and a sleep over. It was a magical evening, and she wanted to recreate the same experience, without the price tag. We had a few months to talk about ideas as she thought about what she liked most about her friend’s party.
She decided to invite three friends for a dinner party at our house, before playing games and bowling at Rule 3. She researched and learned the activity would be the bulk of her budget, so she would have to plan an inexpensive dinner.
She used $1 notecards, embellished with $1 stickers, from the Target dollar spot as invitations, totaling $2.
She liked the multi-course meal and the atmosphere at Bon Vie: candle light, nice linens, fancy plates, all while being waited on. I offered to be the chef, and my husband would be the waiter, wearing a tie and all. She settled on a simple Italian menu: salad, breadsticks, pasta with a choice of sauce and chicken / shrimp. Instead of a cake, dessert was ice cream sundaes and cookies. The meal used many ingredients we had on hand. We set the table with linens, candles, fine china and crystal, cutting out the cost of party-themed paper products. She chose a $1 birthday banner as the only additional decor. Her total: $21.
My husband works in the restaurant sales industry, so he snagged an apron to wear. He had the great idea of using a curtain to separate the kitchen from the dining room, adding to the ambiance.
Following dinner, Maggie opened gifts, before celebrating with her favorite cookies, stacked into a “cake.” After ice cream sundaes, it was time to continue the party at Rule 3.
Maggie skipped buying party favors, because her friends would redeem tickets earned while playing games for trinkets and candy. She bought everyone a $10 game card while they waited for a bowling lane. The lane rental fee for an hour, with shoes, was $47. Her total at Rule 3: $87. She ended the evening hosting one friend for a sleep over.
Maggie’s 11th birthday had every element she wanted when we first discussed her party. It was another successful birthday to remember, for the party planner and for me.
We peruse Pinterest when planning Maggie’s parties, but we don’t let all of those pins drive up the cost (or the stress) for a perfect party. And best of all? She’s learning life lessons about budgeting and hosting in a fun way!
Maggie’s 11th Birthday Bistro & Game Night:
Dinner Party at Home $21
Rule 3 Game Cards $40
Rule 3 Bowling $47
Party Total $110
$40 saved for basketball hoop!