17 August 2011

Partying on the Cheap

My friend Ginger of Neos Creations challenged me over the weekend, after hearing about our plans for our firstborn's eighth birthday celebration, to write a blog post about how to do a kid's birthday party on the cheap.  Since I really didn't have anything better in mind to write about, I decided to take her up on her challenge.

In this day of large bouncy houses, local bands and everything else that goes into making birthday parties bigger and better than what the next door neighbors did, we opted for something more sedate and low-key.  In the past, we've done more expensive parties, but we usually favor more intimate parties, conveying our belief that it's not the extras that make a good party; it's the time spent with friends (and cake and ice cream, of course).  Last year, when she turned seven, we hosted a soapmaking party, allowing all her friends to make some bars of melt & pour soap they could take with them.  Our ice cream last year was homemade, and every girl took a turn at turning the crank on the ice cream freezer.  For our daughter's fifth birthday, we rented the clubhouse at our apartment complex (this was what jacked the price up so high).  However, it was much roomier than our townhouse, and we were able to use the pool.  We had a lot of space and just had a blast with our beach party!

This year, our daughter wanted a beach party.  "OK," I replied, mentally pondering how to convert our home into something with a beachy atmosphere and wishing momentarily that we were back in our townhouse with the clubhouse and the pool.  Then, before I could sink too deeply into "If onlies," she clarified, "At the beach."  Now that's a totally different ball of wax there!  I already had in mind who we'd invite, but I wasn't sure if their parents would be willing to make the drive.  It's only 30-35 minutes, but that's still more than everyone walking over to our house.

We created our plan and the other parents were on board with the idea.  After all, who doesn't love a day at the beach when you know you'll have other eyes on your children, right?  That part taken care of, I moved on to the food.  We'd eat lunch at the beach, then come back here for cake and ice cream.  My daughter prefers cupcakes to cake, and I discovered a local baker who makes the most incredible cake creations.  My daughter told me what she wanted her cupcakes to look like, and Monique at the Burgaw Bakery did a wonderful job of making the vision come to life.
Completely homemade cupcakes with fondant flip flops - totally delish!
While these artisan cupcakes were the best I've ever had, the other kids only wanted to eat the frosting, so I decided that next time, I'd buy my daughter the mondo cupcake and get the rest of them from the grocery store.  (No offense to Monique, but I have to work on a budget, and I've heard rumors about homemade cinnamon rolls in her bakery case, so I think she'll be getting plenty of money from us in the months to come.  Did you catch that?  Homemade cinnamon rolls.  In our little town of indie businesses.  Woohoo!)

OK, so how exactly did we do this party on the cheap?  Some of it was pure dumb luck.  My daughter picked out the flip flop decor she wanted - invitations, cups, plates, napkins - and with it being so late in the year, everything was half off, including the cool flip flop lights my husband picked up.  We drove to the beach and picnicked on take-out chicken when it was time.  The kids were able to play in the sand and water to their hearts' content, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  This way, everyone got to play, without us having to worry about party games and stuff like that.  We came home and showered, then all the kids reconvened at our house for cupcakes (sugar-spiked icing?), ice cream and gifts.  Our daughter played with her friends afterward until it was time for everyone to go home.

There seems to be a climate of near-bribery in childrens' birthday parties these days.  Children want and expect bigger and bigger gifts, so parents feel, in order to justify that - to soften that blow - they must provide flashier, more elaborate, more expensive birthday parties.  We're trying to emphasize to our daughter that it's mostly about the time together.  Sure, gifts are wonderful, and there's certainly an appeal in sugar-hyping children before sending them home, but time together is so valuable, and it's here where the memories are made - memories that'll last long after the last cupcake wrapper has been trashed and the toys have broken, worn out or been donated.  We tried to model this on Friday.  Two little girls - sisters - had been invited to our daughter's party, but they weren't able to make it.  The younger one, a little angel who's three, happened to be at her dad's (our neighbor) unexpectedly.  Obviously, she didn't have a present, and she asked if she could stay.  We had cupcakes for her sis and her, anyway, so I told her, "Of course, you can stay!"  It wasn't about if she could "buy" her way to the party with a present; it was about her presence as a friend of our daughter's.

What tips or hints do you have for throwing a child's birthday party without breaking the bank?
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Ginger said...

You are so right! It is about the company not the fan fare. Great job, Mom! This sounds so much more fun than any elaborate party with all the "will you like me tomorrow" trimmings. Daughter is happy getting what she wanted, friends have a blast, parents able to have a good day too. Score! A win-win-win! Memories are made, wallet isn't empty. Another score! Win-Win again. A few lessons learned. Extra bonus points! Fabulous! Love this read :-)

Sara's Soaps 'n Such said...

Thank you! I'm not entirely sure any of the kids ever remembers all the party fanfare from the year before. We've gone to parties at kid gyms and one was at a place called Grandma's Princess, which is probably the only party my daughter's gone to that she remembers. I was impressed, too, and I think they got off cheaper than we did with the rented clubhouse/pool deal. It's the memories of the fun had, not the stuff.