Saturday, April 26, 2008

FAMILY FUN FRIDAY: A Frugal -- for Me -- Birthday Party

Nutmeg turned 4 this week, and on Sunday we are having her entire class over for a pony party. I love putting together themed kids birthday parties, and it's an area where I tend to lose control of the budget. I see one cute theme-related thing after another, I buy way too much food and drink, etc.

This year I vowed to keep the expense down. In advance of the party, I made a few decisions toward that goal:

1) I didn't invite the parents, unless they really wanted to stick around. Most of them didn't. So I will only have to buy a few adult refreshments, i.e., I'll put a few beers in a cooler on the back deck.
2) I set the party from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and specified on the invitation that cake and ice cream would be served. So I don't have to buy lunch.
3) I am serving the cake on plastic trays with reusable plastic cutlery, not themed paper plates and disposable cutlery.
4) Although the party has a theme -- PONIES! -- it is not a commercially licensed theme, i.e., "My Little Pony." I did buy a few My Little Pony things but if I had shelled out for matching everything -- decor, plates, cups, tablecloth, napkins, invites, etc. -- I would have spent much more.
5) I am shoplifting with permission as many party supplies as possible from CVS.

Here's a rough rundown of what we're spending:

left over card stock, construction paper. Free.


  • Cake mix and frosting: about $2 after coupons

  • ice cream: free at CVS

  • Juice and milk: free at CVS


  • My Little Pony cups: $7.16

  • balloons $1.19, Target

  • napkins left over from last party, free

  • My Little Pony tablecloth $3.29

  • maybe picket fence make of wrapping paper tubes and cardboard. Free.


  • pinata $12.99

  • pinata candy some free at CVS, plus $3 at Dollar General and $4.50 at Target*

  • pin the tail on the pony game: $1.49 for pipe cleaners used for tail. Epu will paint the pony on a large piece of cardboard, free.

  • 16 pony-on-a-stick for riding $16 at Dollar General

  • 2 stuffed ponies for centerpieces/prizes $12.48

  • 2 cowboy hats $4

  • 16 gift bags at CVS, better than free

  • pony stickers, $12.50 (+ some free at CVS)

  • My Little Pony socks $24

  • small toy ponies $15 after coupon at Target

  • My Little Pony coloring sheets with mini markers $3 at KMart

  • 17 pony ear headbands: $17 for headbands, $2.99 for foam to cut ears, $2.50 for glue sticks.


  • $3, 3 packs note cards from Target dollar section

It adds up to about $121. There may be more spending as we hustle to get ready today and tomorrow morning, but I am sure the whole party will come in at under $150.

By comparison, we could have spent $150 for a bare bones party at local kids playplace/museum Wonder Works (plus the $2 we'd spend on refreshments). Or $200 with goody bags and tshirts. Hmm, that actually sounds like a pretty good deal -- no prep work, no cleanup, similar cost outlay. I think My Gym would cost $250 or more for this size group, which is also not bad when you consider the work involved in doing it our way.

However, I wanted to have the party at home because summer is coming and I want all the school parents to come by our house and know where we live, and hopefully the kids will be encouraged to want to come back and play in Nutmeg's sandbox, on her swing, etc.

Also, I think the kids will remember her specific party more than they will remember another trip to My Gym, as much as they love that. We're invited to our second My Gym party this year already.

Which brings me to the next money issue with kids' birthday parties: Presents. I wish parents would get together and set an official price limit on kids' party presents, and that it would be low -- $5 or $10. I recently heard another mom say that her reason for working nights part-time was to pay for "diapers and birthday parties." Doesn't it seem like something is wrong when kids' parties become such an expense that you have to deprive yourself of sleep and be away from your family to pay for them? And believe me, Nutmeg doesn't need 16 more toys in the house. Far from it.

What to do? I have received kids' invites that say "gifts not expected." But I brought one anyway. I don't like telling my guests what to bring or what not to bring, and I do like Nutmeg to learn that she is expected to bring something to someone at a birthday. I just wish there was some agreement among parents that these gifts would be tokens. At Pebbles' recent birthday, we unwrapped gifts including multiple items -- i.e. a nice outfit and a nice toy -- from people who were not even relatives. They were lovely, and the sentiment is very kind, but... Must I reciprocate at this level?

Well, maybe the thing to do is just to give modestly, with homemade elements (i.e. including homemade play-do or home-molded crayons), and hope that others remember when it's our turn again that it's ok with us to receive a modest gift as well.

And there's always the toy aisle of CVS.

* I actually bought TOO MUCH candy, which sucks, because that's the last thing I want lying around the house. I should have stuck with what I got for free at CVS.