Tuesday, April 6, 2010

kids and birthday parties, great freebie...but hurry!!

Four kids equals lots of birthday party fun...and even for a tightwad like myself, it can be a challenge to provide a fun time without seeming to be...ahhh...well...a tightwad:). I can tell you that it has always been a pet peeve of mine that my kids go to a party and come home with party favors that are more valuable than the gift they brought. I must be honest though, it seems that there has been a bit of a down tick in that dept., and I'm thankful.  Blame it on the economy if you will, but I also think that a little rationality is seeping into the collective conscience and parents are realizing that overt materialism is not such a good thing after all.

I just read an article in our paper by Kathy Peel (great author of family management books) about this very subject, so I thought I'd tackle it. Some of her highlights:
1. Kids up to 3 years of age should have morning parties that are only 60-90 minutes long. This avoids afternoon naptimes and the grumpy factor.
2. One lady bought a blow up "moon walk" on ebay for less than she could have rented it, used it once, and resold it on ebay for more than she paid. Now that's smart thinking!
3.Another lady had a "pajama party" at Krispy Kreme for her 3-year-old daughter. She bought little pillows at a dollar store and had milk and donuts for the kids and coffee for the parents.
4. Make your own invites and hand deliver. (One thing I would add here, if your child has a bigger school class, don't hand deliver at school. And please don't invite everyone in the class and leave out only one or two kids...that's just plain ol' mean.)

Now here are some things that worked for us:

I didn't have parties until my kids were big enough to remember. I mean, honestly, who's that one-year-old party for anyway? If we happened to have family in town, we maybe had them over. This is rare because we are so far from family. (I remember one summer when we were in Mich on Lee's birthday and combined it with a family get together)  We always celebrated the younger years with our own fam, and when you have 4 kids, you have enough for a party anyway!! At our house, you can pick your evening meal (usually pizza, lasagna, broccoli soup-that's Lee-or homemade mac and cheese). They also pick the kind of cake they want...with a heavy leaning toward carrot or chocolate. When the kids were little, I made themed (dinosaur, barbie, hot wheels, Mr. Potato head, etc..) cakes, but I have never purchased one from a store/bakery.

Around age 5, the kids were allowed to invite one friend for a party and/or sleepover. Since most of our friends have more than one kid, this usually turned into inviting the whole family over for the meal. Age 10 was our first "big party," when the kids got to invite whoever they wanted.  This tended to be 10 or so kids. One kid did a movie night at the dollar theater, one spent the afternoon at a large park. Again, I tend toward the less organized, less expensive venues. We were in Maine when Will turned 10. I was working full time and was really tired. We just invited his friends over for the day. It had rained hard the day before, so they brought swim trunks and water guns and had a blast running through puddles. I was feeling kinda bad about not planning more when one kid came bursting into the house shouting, "This is the best party EVER!!!" Sometimes less really is more! Thirteen then became the next "bigger" party. Will went for laser tag, Aaron chose a movie marathon (LOR), Abby had a sleepover...Lee has a year to go!

And going to parties? I don't spend over $10.00 for a gift. If the kids want to add more out of their own pockets, they can...and now that they are older, they often do. I still pick up new gifts at yard sales, the kind still in shrink wrap with tags attached. I also get like-new hard back books. Often these are $20 retail books that I find for a buck. Great gifts!! Again, now that my kids are older, they like to buy their own gifts for friends, which is fine with me!!

And gifts for my own kids? You can imagine that I shop way ahead and try to get things on sale. The older they get, the harder it is. Typically, they get one "bigger" gift  and then 2 more smaller ones, and always a book. The cost of the "bigger" gift determines how much I spend on the rest.

There are some thoughts...I'm sure I've been inconsistent, and someday my kids will tell me how unfair I was...story of my life!!

Happy Birthday shopping!!

And here's a great freebie for a cleaning caddy filled with products, good for the first 3000, click here:


  1. Summer birthday parties are always the easiest, we had squirt gun/water balloon parties for Zach that he and his friends loved.

    I think for kids, the key is having over friends and then doing something out of the ordinary. It doesn't have to be expensive, just fun. We once had a sleep over back yard campout. Three tents in the back yard with a healthy dose of flash light freeze tag.

    I really like the jump house idea on e-bay. I'd bet those don't come along every day though.

  2. I am one of those mean ole moms who does not buy party favors for the kids. I mean, whose party is it, anyway? And when my kids go to someone else's party, I take them to the dollar store to pick out a gift. Really, a 4 and 7 year old don't have much money of their own, and I'm not interested in stockpiling the toybox of someone else's kid (except of course if it is family or a close friend). And you know what? The kids LOVE our parties! Even without the goodie bags. For Jason's last birthday (7), he and his brother were invited to invite 5 more boys over, and we did a campout in the yard party. I asked everyone to bring a sleeping bag and a flashlight, and they were invited to come over AFTER they had eaten dinner (also not interested in dealing with the vagaries of every 7 year old's finicky eating habits). I provided the enormous tent (which I borrowed from a co-worker), the campfire, and the s'mores and popcorn. We started by setting up the tent, then gathering wood for the firepit, then cooking our popcorn and s'mores over the open fire. Once it got dark, we buddied up and went for a nighttime nature walk up into the National Forest behind my house. By the time we returned, they were tired and just the tiniest bit scared by all the night noises, and I had no problems getting them to go to sleep. In the morning, there was every type of fruit imaginable plus cold cereal for breakfast, and all the parents came to pick their children up before noon. It was long, but I took advantage of what I have (lots of outdoor space) and I got lots of feedback later from parents that their kids thought it was the best party ever. No decorations, no party favors, not even any cake and ice cream. The only real cost to me was the fruit and the s'mores ingredients, but the truth is, I'd have bought that stuff anyway.

    And on the gift front, my son brought a $1 whoopee cushion from the dollar store to the last party he went to (again, remember, he's 7). Apparently, we should have brought more than one, because it was the gift that everyone wanted to play with from the MOUNTAIN of gifts that kid received that day.

    In short, it doesn't cost much to have fun!

  3. Gotta love it! Thanks ladies for the input. You are so right...fun doesn't have to cost a lot!