Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Busy Mom's Guide to Planning a Birthday Party - Part Two

Yesterday's blog about party planning was geared quite a bit to when money wasn't overly tight. Today I'll give you some ideas as to what I did when money was tight.

First off, just a reminder that I enjoy making the kids birthdays special. As a working mother I feel the need to build memories when we can and this is one way that I do it. I do realize it's not for everyone. The other thing to remind you of is that this is geared towards moms who don't have a lot of time. I know most moms would say that there isn't enough time in the day to get things done but sometimes we have seasons that are worse than others. My goal was to have the best party we could with the least amount of work on my end

As I stated yesterday we have two parties for the kids. The first is for the extended family and the second is a friend party. My first suggestion is....

Try to talk the kids out of a friend party
A friend party is always so attractive to the kids but it's an awful lot of work for the mom. Since both kids were old enough to make a decision (about 5) I've given them the option of having a friend party with no presents from mom & dad (they would get something small) or a really cool present from mom & dad. There have been times when my son has chosen the present over the party which was fine with me. Unfortunately most of the time my daughter has chosen the friend party.

Don't have the party at your house
Why have the party at your house when you can have it somewhere else? Having the party somewhere else doesn't have to be expensive. Think outside of the box and ask around at area businesses. Here are some of the places I've had parties before
- The karate center. My son took karate for a number of years. For one of his parties I was able to have the party at the karate center. They provided the food, cake, entertainment and party favors for about $3 per kid (keep in mind this was a number of years ago). I was thrilled with the price and we ended up inviting his whole class. Very successful party with absolutely no work on my end
- Movie theater. When my son was still having parties we had quite a number of parties at the movie theater. I allowed my son to invite two friends and we took them out for dinner and to the premier of a movie they wanted to see. This was about the time Lord of the Rings was big so it was quite the event. We didn't have a budget theater in our area of time but that would be a good option if there's one in your area
- YMCA. Our YMCA has a party room you can reserve if you are a member. The kids had to be members to get in for free but we were able to get our hands on some free passes for those who weren't members and ended up only paying for a few of the kids. We brought in a cake and the kids had a fun day of swimming and running around.
- Pizza place. The pizza place I took my kids was a local place but I know that there are chains out there like Chuck E Cheese that run coupons all the time. In our area we have a local program similar to Groupon where you can buy parties for half price.

If you have to have the friend party at your house.......
I usually like the sleep over. You can keep the guest list small and this is probably the cheapest party of all. Frozen pizza, cake, potato chips and cereal for breakfast. When the kids were smaller I would look for an inexpensive craft for them to make, now that they're older I just rent a couple of movies. I don't bother with goody bags or anything. What mother wants more junk at her house?

I like having the extended family over for parties and I like to have a 'meal' versus pizza. Here are some options I've done for meals when I couldn't afford to have it catered
- Chili is a favorite of mine. You can make a big batch of chili for practically nothing. meat, beans, tomatoes and spices. I can make enough chili to feed at least 20 people for under $15. Throw some saltines, sour cream and cheese out on with counter with homemade bread and you have a feast.
- Ham and turkey sandwiches. This may not work for everyone but this was one of our cheapest meals. Every year I would get a turkey free from work and my husband got a free ham. I'd have the butcher slice the ham up for me and warm it up in the crock pot. The turkey I'd cook the day before and serve cold. All I ended up buying was the buns and condiments. I would typically make a salad or something to go with it. Obviously not everyone gets free meat or has birthdays at Thanksgiving or Christmas but it's an option if you can find sales. There's a grocery store by us that has ham on sale every Sunday and they also throw in free buns.
- Lasagna & Macaroni Cheese. Once again this is a super simple, cheap meal that I could make ahead of time. Throw in a salad and some bread, you have a full meal.
-Homemade cakes. When money was tight and I didn't want to pay $20 for a store bought cake I'd make a 'special' cake for the kids. My go to cake for my daughter is a triple chocolate bundt cake and for my son it's a pineapple upside cake. It may not be the traditional cake but they haven't really cared because they are getting the cake that's important to them. I've also found shaped cake pans (Barney or Barbie) when they were smaller, but that takes a lot more time.

The above may not work for everyone but it's worked pretty well for me. Both of my kids love their birthdays and always talk fondly of their parties. There have been quite a few women at work who don't have parties for their kids because it's to much work or to expensive, I just want to show that it doesn't have to be either. I'd love to hear any ideas that you may have.

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