Parenting Perspective: Affordable, fun parties

April 2, 2010 8:44:20 AM PDT
By my estimation, I've thrown more than 30 birthday parties for my three sons. So, I know that making a birthday into a fun, memorable event can be a challenge - especially if you're trying not to spend the child's entire college fund in the process.

I'll admit, in the name of convenience, I've probably spent more than I've needed to from time to time, but I would like to share some cost-cutting ideas.

First, decide if you want to have the party at home or at an outside venue. My two older sons have birthdays in October and May, when the weather is generally pretty good. So, we've had a number of at-home, outside parties for them. Having the party at home can be a great money-saver. One of their favorites was a sports party. Luckily, my husband is a sports fanatic and great coach, so this was easy. We brought out all sorts of sports equipment we already had and organized races and games - each lasting just 15-20 minutes. That way, none of the boys got bored. We also added some silly races - like relays where you had to put on goofy hats and costumes. After the cake and ice cream, we had a medal ceremony, giving out medals (bought cheaply at a party goods store) and making sure each boy won for something.

If you don't want kids wrecking your house and the party's not when you can easily plan for outside, you might want to consider taking the kids to the movies. If you go to a matinee, and bring your own treats, this can work out to be fairly inexpensive. Check to see if your theater offers discounts for groups, or see if you can buy two-for-one tickets through the Entertainment Book or I also bought gift certificates from to pay for my youngest son's 8th birthday party at Arnold's Go-Karts in Oaks. Instead of costing about $300, the party cost $150, and that included lunch!

We have also had fun parties at minor-league sporting events, which also often offer packages and are MUCH cheaper than pro teams. When Jason, my oldest son, was in first grade we took him and about half-dozen friends to a Phantoms game. And when Billy, my middle son, was 11 we took two carfuls of boys up to the Reading Phillies. When Micah, the youngest, was seven we got discount tickets to take the boys to a Monster Truck Jam. And remember, you don't need the best seats in the house. Even in the "nosebleed" seats, the kids will have fun just being there together.

As for food, I've found kids don't really eat all that much at parties. And you don't have to serve an entire meal. One homemade cake or cupcakes that kids can even decorate themselves (which adds a fun activity to the party), and scoops from a big container of ice cream usually do the trick.

Finally, remember that you, as the parent, can limit the number of kids you invite. Especially if you're sending treats into school, there's no need to have the whole class at a party. A good rule of thumb is to invite a number of children that equals the child's age (five for a fifth birthday, 7 for a seventh birthday, etc.). Even during celebrations, it's ok for children to know that there are limitations.