You can’t really be married to any particular activity when you have a birthday party for a four-year-old. Chances are just as good that everyone is going to want to just play cars in the playroom as want to do the carefully prepared crafts you’ve laid out. You just have to kind of go with the flow.
This past weekend we had the Little Miss’ birthday party. She’s not quite four yet, but her best buddy from preschool is leaving next weekend for a summer-long trip to Europe, so we had to have the party a little early. We had a few of her friends from preschool over to the house to just kind of hang out and play. I planned some stuff, but it was all just-in-case kind of stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday party with so little planning – I’m a planner! I own it! – but it was a surprisingly relaxed, quiet afternoon and it went really well.
We almost always have our birthday parties just here at the house, both because our kids prefer it, and because we figure it’s less expensive. But after Little Miss Sunshine’s party on Sunday, we were totalling up the expenses in our heads and both Sir Monkeypants and I were surprised at the results. I definitely could have gone the frugal route in a couple of cases, and saved some dollars. But even cut to the basics, I’m no longer convinced that it’s cheaper to have an at-home party than to have it out somewhere.
So in the interest of scientific research, I’m going to lay it all out for you and see what y’all think. How does our budget compare?
Invites for us are inexpensive – I design them on my computer, have them printed at Staples in full colour for less than $2, then mount them on bristol board and put each invitee’s name on the back. Here they are, aren’t they cute?
I’d love to take credit for designing them, but truthfully I found the whole cat/pink/dots background on the web and just added the text. But I had to choose the font! And it took ALL DAY LONG, because do you know how many fonts there are in the world? YES IT IS IMPORTANT, DAMMIT.
Anyway, total cost of invites is around $3.
The day of the party dawned cool, windy, and overcast. Originally we were going to spend the morning playing outside in the backyard, frolicking in our wading pool, swinging on the swingset, blowing bubbles, and squirting water guns. That would have cost $0, since we had everything already. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so instead I had to put together some inside activities.
First up, the kids made their own PlayDoh, Each kid got a bowl and mixed up a goopy glob made up of flour, sugar, a little oil, a packet of Kool Aid, and water. Then we spent some time playing with the PlayDoh with various toys. In the end each kid got to take home their ball of PlayDoh in a snap-lid container.
Total cost for supplies was around $10, including the take-home containers. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Just wait.
I also had a second craft for them to do. I cut out a large letter for each kid – the first letter of their name – from some bristol board I had lying around from a previous project. Then each kid decorated their letter using glue and buttons, ribbons, and a wide variety of sparkly jewels.
Total cost for this craft was around $15 for the jewels, from the dollar store and Michaels – I had the paper, buttons, and ribbons lying around.
Then we had lunch – take out pizza. We got three large pizzas and that was WAY WAY WAY WAY too much. We could have easily done with just two, but we weren’t sure how many parents would be required to stay by fussy kids, so we over ordered. The total cost of the pizza was $45. We also had chips and cheesies, a variety of fruit, juice and lemonade, but I won’t count that – instead we’ll just pretend we only got two pizzas and the rest of the $45 went to the other food, shall we? It works out.
Then we had cake. The Little Miss drools over the cakes at Loblaws every time we go past the bakery section – it’s the icing flowers that draw her eye. We can’t eat those cakes though, due to food allergies, so I made my own and decorated it with sugar flowers bought at the Bulk Bark for less than $3, and a giant “4” candle for $3 more.
I know, it all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? But there’s more.
We decorated with balloons. Both Sir Monkeypants and I never were allowed balloons as kids, it was considered a wasteful expense. So of course now I totally indulge my kids with balloons on every single birthday. I probably could have passed on these but I love balloons, so festive, so happy, and every kid loves to take one home.
These were around $20 from the Party Mart. We also had streamers and party hats (the Little Miss INSISTED on party hats, and then she was the only one who didn’t want to wear one, FIGURES), for a total decorating cost of around $30.
The last activity was a pinata. Along with a cake with flowers and party hats, that’s the only other thing the Little Miss wanted. I think she saw it on Dora.
I was really worried about how the pinata would go, but it caused MAJOR excitement and everyone loved it. I gave each kid a brown paper lunch bag with their name written on it to collect stuff that they grabbed. Of course there was one kid – you know, THAT kid – who scooped up half the stuff. But everyone else was both reasonable and happy with what they got so it worked out well.
The pinata was $10 on sale at the Bulk Barn, and I spent $25 on dollar store toys and candy to fill it up.
Lastly, there’s the loot bags, I always splurge on the loot bags because a) I prefer to get just one thing instead of the bag of little things, and so that means a higher minimum value, b) I like our guests to feel like they had a really, really good time as they are leaving, and c) it’s a home party, that’s less expensive, right? So blow it on the loot bags!
I bought each kid a Playmobil or Lego set that came to around $10 per kid, plus I had to buy the bags themselves (small pink and purple gift bags from Zellers), so total loot bag expense was around $80, because I got one for all three of our kids in addition to our four guests.
Discuss: should the birthday boy or girl receive a loot bag? It’s causing a philosophical schism here in the Turtlehead household.
So, adding it all up, we have:
Invites – $3ish, crafts – $25, food and cake – $50-ish, decorations – $30, pinata – $35, loot bags – $80. Total cost: $223.
Is that reasonable? To me it seems like a lot to spend on a small party held at your home. I definitely could have cut back on decorations and the loot bags, maybe food too, but I doubt I could have pulled it in for under $150 no matter how frugal I went.
MyFriendJen did a party for her son at A Gym Tale in Barrhaven a few weeks ago, and it was a couple hundred dollars for ten kids, plus it was totally supervised, and there was no mess in her home, AND lunch was included. She still had to add on loot bags and the cake, and she also provided a craft to do too. But essentially, for not too much more than I spent, she got everything done for her and the kids had an AWESOME time.
So, is the home-based party worth it?
How much do you budget for birthday parties?