Over time I’ve come to realize that kids’ parties aren’t as simple as they used to be.
For many of my birthdays in June my mom invited all of my friends to come hang out at the local pool. Given some Popsicles, soda and cake (sugar high, anyone?), we were set for the afternoon. There was no way I could have talked my parents into an extravagant sweet 16 party, a la the recent MTV series “My Super Sweet 16.”
Simple parties can still be memorable, especially for the younger age groups. I spoke to Donna Dilley, the local area
director for the National League of Junior Cotillions, for some tips on how to throw an affordable party while still following the rules of party etiquette.
While paper invitations are being used less and less today, Dilley likes the classic invites as opposed to digital eCards. And physical cards don’t have to be expensive.
Have a set party budget and let your child help you pick out invitations or make their own. Check out dollar stores, clearance sections and craft stores’ card stock, which can be easily decorated with scrapbooking materials. Postcard invitations are usually cheaper and also save on postage costs.
If you’re not up for inviting your child’s whole class, which can lead to overstimulation and overspending, Dilley recommends following a simple formula: age of the child plus one. Mailing out paper invitations will also help avoid disappointment from children who were not invited.
Party favors are not essential, but they can be built in to the activities for children.
“Favors are a nice thing to have to send the guest home with, but they don’t need to be a necessity. You can build your favor into the activities you’re doing at the party — decorate your own cake, paint a picture, make a picture frame, bead your own necklace,” Dilley said.
Once the kids are through with the activity it will be time to go and they can head out with their homemade swag.
Some other affordable party crafts include cookie decorating, pizza making and model making. Have some of the basics done before the kids arrive, like baking the cookies or buying pre-made pizza dough.
Not only will these party favors keep partygoers occupied, they can be more affordable and better quality than toy trinkets and candy.
The party activities that involve food can also help you knock out two expenses with one: You’ll need fewer snacks and have your favors taken care of. If it’s an afternoon or midmorning party, Dilley says you don’t need to feel pressured to provide a meal.
“Providing something salty, something sweet, like cake, and drinks is sufficient,” she said.
If you are having a party during meal time, keep it simple. Stick to finger foods that are easy for kids to eat and that a majority of kids have a taste for, like chicken nuggets, pizza, simple sandwiches, veggies, fruit and pretzels or chips.
If you opt to pick up food from a restaurant, like pizza or party trays, always search for a coupon or call ahead to see if they are offering a special group deal.
If you’re throwing the party at a location where certain children may want to enjoy additional activities, such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, parents should be prepared cover any extra costs. There’s no need to go over budget to provide supplementary tokens, food or treats outside of what you planned to offer.
“Parents should be mindful that hosts are on a limited budget, and it can be a learning opportunity for kids to be thankful for what’s provided,” Dilley said.
When it comes time for kids to open gifts, it’s important to take note of who gave what for thank-you cards.
If there are gift duplicates, consider donating the duplicates to charity (another great teaching opportunity), passing them on to a younger sibling or, depending on your relationship with the gift giver, explaining the situation and asking for a gift receipt.
If the children are too young to be able to share the new gifts, hold them to be opened until after guests leave, Dilley suggested.
Thank-you cards seem to be on the verge of extinction, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
“As soon as they’re able to write, you can start teaching them about being thankful about the things in their life and how to be considerate to others,” Dilley said.
Like invitations, thank-you postcards can save on postage or kids can make their own.
I like the idea of taking a group photo at the party and creating a photo postcard that can double as a party favor and a thank-you note. Stores like CVS, Target, Walgreens, Sam’s Club and Walmart all offer affordable photo services. It’s possible to find coupons for prints, as well.
Budgeting is important
Throwing a party doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s a good idea to get the kids involved in the planning to help them learn about the value of things. Getting everyone together to celebrate can be a special experience in itself.
“I think the most memorable parties are when the children can sit down and be in a hands-on activity,” Dilley said. “It could be cooking together or making your own jewelry or putting together some type of model.”
The most important thing to remember is to stick to your budget. Think back to the stories other parents have told about kids playing with the cardboard boxes their expensive toys came in, rather than the toys themselves — kids can always find a way to be entertained.
What tips do you have for throwing a successful kid’s party?