How to save money on a kids’ birthday party
Kids’ birthday parties have gotten out of control
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Kid birthday parties may have gotten a little out of control. When party favors outdo the actual presents for the guest of honor, and entertainment is on par with a Vegas residency, it can feel pretty hard to keep up.
We often get the advice to “spend what you can afford,” but that’s of little comfort when you're showing up to kids’ parties that cost more than your mortgage payment. What’s a parent to do?
What’s everyone else doing?
According to one survey, the average parent spends around $400 on a birthday party for their child. Jay Tanner, an event planning expert based out of Los Angeles, and the former proprietor of party venue The Great Escape Club, says she sometimes saw parents spend thousands on a single birthday party. “Sometimes this is their one big party of the year, so parents go all out,” says Tanner.
An informal survey with an online mom’s group had caregivers spending between $150 to $1,000, with parents of only children admitting to going bigger with their kids’ parties than parents of two or more children. This is also a situation where the younger siblings don’t receive quite the fanfare of their older siblings.
“For the first kid it was insane, like renting train cars at the train museum, a custom cake, lunch and appetizers, drinks and entertainment. Now with the second I just buy cupcakes for her preschool friends and drop it off at class. So, um, $5 all in?” says Molly Sakahara, a mom of two in South Pasadena, California.
Tanner says her best advice for parents is to not stress out over what everyone else is doing because, when it comes right down to it, the kids don’t care.
“I made a living off of birthday parties but, truth be told, kids love birthdays in the park with cake and pizza,” says Tanner. If the idea of a $2,000 birthday party isn’t your thing, but you aren’t quite at the “$5 all in” level, Tanner has lots of tips for helping you find the perfect mid-point.
According to Tanner, there are years to scrimp and years to splurge, and that depends largely on how old your kid is and how much of the party they’ll remember.
Many parents do a big blowout party for their child’s first birthday, but Tanner recommends you save up for an age they’ll remember. She likes to spend big on milestone years like 5 and 10, while giving modest parties during the years in between.
“One-year-olds won’t remember all of the time and money you put into their party. If you’re throwing that party to acknowledge that you made it through a year of parenting, then make that party about you,” says Tanner, adding that when it comes to kid-themes and party favors, the first birthday is one where you can keep things simple.
Downgrade the cake
Tanner says in her years managing a kids’ party venue, she never heard a child give sophisticated commentary on the flavor, texture, and culinary fortitude of a birthday cake. So, as it turns out, if you grew up on Duncan Hines boxed birthday cakes or sheet cakes from the grocery store, you’re probably just as well-adjusted as your friends who got their cakes from a high-end baker.
“A cake’s a cake! If you want to impress your friends with an expensive one, go for it—but kids just don’t care,” says Tanner. “Throw a plastic toy on it and call it a day.”
As an added bonus, if you go simple with a birthday cake, there’s less of a chance the kids will fight over who gets which piece. Just think how simple 12 pieces of uniform chocolate frosting will be to hand out.
Go small on the snacks
When you’re hosting a party, it can be tempting to put out a lavish food spread but Tanner wants you to remember this is a kids’ party—not a cocktail soiree. She recommends you keep things simple with food and snacks.
“I saw gorgeous spreads go to waste while parents begged guests to take home plates of food,” says Tanner. Kids are always too busy playing to eat so if you’re looking for a way to cut costs, either keep it straightforward with pizza, chips, and cake—or opt for a party that takes place just after, or finishes just before, a meal time.
“Kids are such picky eaters anyway. Give them just enough to keep their blood sugar on track,” says Tanner, adding that a big spread doesn’t fare well sitting out for two or more hours during a kids’ party, and children rarely touch the fresh fruits and vegetables that hosts put out.
“If they have a choice to keep playing or to stop for a plate of blueberries and broccoli, they’re going to keep playing,” says Tanner. In our experience, she’s right.
Where to splurge
If you are going to splurge in one area, Tanner recommends you spend money on the entertainment.
“You don’t need to plan for a whole lot of things for kids to do, but I do recommend that you plan for one solid activity,” she says, adding that too many activities can be overwhelming for kids who just want to play and socialize.
A solid activity that anchors a party can be a well-planned game, an entertainer like a magician or reptile presenter, a Disney princess, or—Tanner’s favorite—a bounce house. Bounce houses go the distance when it comes to keeping kids happy and busy and they are enjoyed by a wide range of ages.
“You’d be surprised, even older kids like bounce houses,” says Tanner. “And they don’t have to be expensive.”
She loves bounce houses—and says they are always a hit—because they entertain kids, while also wearing them out.
“Parents love other parents who throw parties that send their kids home tired,” she says.
You can rent, or splurge on your own and have it to use at birthday parties, summer parties, and any other party you can think of.
- Get the Ubesgoo 81' x 106' Bounce House with Slide and Air Blower at Wayfair for $332.80
- Get the Bounceland kids’ party castle at Amazon for $548.99
The bottom line
There really is no hard and fast rule for how much you should and shouldn’t spend on a kids’ birthday party. Maybe you don’t tend to throw a lot of parties, and your child’s birthday is the one day each year that family comes from near and far. Maybe you’re the type of family that prefers to bring cupcakes to school and then spend the birthday budget on a family getaway to Disneyland.
Tanner said that the best advice she can give is to really figure out what your child wants and then decide how to budget to get there.
“We all want to celebrate our kids and there is no reason to feel like you must hold back if you want to go big,” she says. "But you don't have to spend a ton for kids to have fun."
Kids parties can be a lot of fun. As long as you’re spending your money on what you and your kid want, and not to keep up with someone else’s expectation, you can’t go wrong.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.