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Friday, May 23, 2008

Going Frugal: Kid's Birthday Parties

I'm a mom to three great children who are truly blessings from Jesus; as hard as modern mommying is (and you can read my thoughts on that issue here at my personal blog), they are worth it. Every minute of every day - even when they're misbehaving!

So when their birthdays roll around on the calendar, I love to celebrate the joyful day they came into this world with our family and friends.

I do not, however, think that children's birthdays should mean their parents are required to fork over serious moola. While I do agree that certain milestone ages and cultural/religious events are worthy of larger, more elaborate parties, I think that we as a society of parents have gone completely overboard on the birthday party issue to feed our own egos.

While the Ginormo-Party-to-Outdo-the-Neighbors trend hasn't disappeared completely - you can read some examples of overboard parties here (I warn you, I had sticker shock as I read this article) - there's definitely a new trend of using the traditional birthday party as a chance to give to those in need.

One organization that can help you plan a donate-to-charity birthday party for your child, Smiling Kids Party with a Purpose, will even send you party stationary to help you plan your party. If you do decide to host a give rather than receive birthday party for your child, be sure to get them involved in the planning. Ask them which local charitable group they'd like to help, create a theme around the charity (I like the idea of borrowing a grocery cart and having a contest to see who brings the most canned goods for the local food pantry), and then be sure to contact the parents of the guests personally to explain what you're doing and why.

Even if you decide to have a traditional party, you don't need to rob your child's college fund to make it special. I'm planning my son's 5th birthday party with our family and friends; here's some of the things I'm doing to keep costs low:

*Make my own special birthday cake. I'm trying this cake here; I made a SpongeBob cake for my youngest son's birthday in January which was a huge hit with everyone. You'll save on the cost of the custom cake and can tailor the cake to the needs (I'm thinking of you mommies with food allergy children) of your guests.

*Go online to find ideas for games/activities. I plan on using a couple of the ideas from Family Fun here for a racecar birthday party. Frugal + recycling = good for the budget and Mama Earth!

*KISS. Simplicity is good for the soul. Don't over schedule activities for the party - it's a fun day, not a school day - and remember that time to just play with family and friends is more valuable than yet another hurry-up game with confusing rules.

*Party Favors. I try to keep these simple as well - a little candy, a couple of pencils, maybe some stickers. I don't send kids home with a two pound bag of candy, but it is a nice gesture to acknowledge your guests with a little something.

The most important part of the party is just to make your child feel special and loved. No pony rides, magician, or super-duper event can replace you and your love for your child -- no matter how much they might whine for a party just like fill-in-the-blank's!

And - as I also believe that as parents we have a duty to teach our children sound money management -if your child does whine for a super-duper, over-the-top party and you simply cannot afford it, you have a great opportunity to teach your child about budgeting and financial responsibility. Be open and honest, without any guilt or anger, and seize the chance to sit down with your child and plan the day and the budget together.

I'd love to hear about some of your most successful and simple children's birthday parties! Comment with details and share the knowledge!