Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I love birthdays! Always have, even my own. When I became a mom, birthdays became even more special to me, especially my children's birthdays. I want for their birthday to be a special occasion for them. Each year, they get to choose their theme and we build the party around their choice. For the most part, birthday parties are held on the weekend and include family and family friends. This year, we did have a party with his friends for my son at the local minor league ballpark, but that isn't something that we will do every year to be certain.

One of the challenges of throwing a party (of any sort really, not just birthday) is incorporating the theme and keeping things on budget. I do my best to balance the cost with the experience.

We typically design and print our own invitations (or occasionally e-mail them). This allows us to customize them to fit our theme without having to pay licensed product costs for the initiations. When we did an airplane theme, we created mock boarding passes for each guest and housed the party details in the flight details section of the ticket. When we did the Wiggles theme, we put together concert tickets for the event. My husband is in charge of the creative part, but I usually try to provide ideas (or challenges) for him. The airline ticket was my idea, the concert ticket was his, but the execution was all him.

The next thing that I do to keep expenses low is to throw the birthday party at my house. As our kids are older and our family and friends have more children and they get older, our house is starting to feel a little tight at birthday parties, but then we just spread out. In the summer, for my son's birthday, we take advantage of the weather and open the party up to the outdoors - eating on the deck and playing in the yard. In the winter, for my daughter's birthday, we have to rely on sending the kids off to play in the playroom in the basement (which works now that they are older and we don't have to monitor their every move).

Another thing that I do to keep expenses low is to cook for my own party. Catering might be quick and easy, but it comes with a price tag. It may be boring, but for my son's birthday, we center our meal around hot dogs and hamburgers. It includes picnic fare and more. For my daughter's birthday, we have a roasted turkey with all the trimmings. We are able to feed a lot of people for a reasonable price.

When it comes to partyware, I make a balance between themed and unthemed partyware. This year, despite the plates and napkins not being available until sometime in October, I was able to find reasonably priced Phineas and Ferb paper goods on eBay. (I actually contacted Hallmark to find out where to purchase locally. I could tell from the stickers in the eBay pictures that the products were Hallmark. They were the ones that told me that they weren't yet available and there was no way to get any to me - for purchase or review (I asked, since they don't actually sell consumer direct by phone and was wondering how else to get them) because they wouldn't be available until October. If so, why were there no fewer than 20 people selling them on eBay?) As I was saying though, I balance between themed and unthemed. For Phineas and Ferb, I bought a couple packs of plates and some napkins that had Phineas and Ferb on them. Then I bought yellow napkins and plates (and used plain old white for dinner - which I'm thinking I'd like to move to something more green, more on that later). I stacked my napkins in an alternating pattern. Not everyone through the line got a Phineas and Ferb napkin, but everyone got a plate when it was cake time. Sometimes, I have to make my partyware fit a theme, because we seem to choose themes that don't yet have partyware. The best and easiest example was the Wiggles party we had a few years ago - we simply bought bright red, blue, yellow and purple plates and napkins. Easy Peasy! In general though, I go for dessert plates in my theme and napkins in my theme and combine them with solid napkins and with plain plates for dinner.

One other thing that we do to save money (and make it more memorable for the kids - I hope) is to make our own cakes. I've mentioned before that this is my creative outlet. I'm not an overly creative or crafty person, but something about the challenge of a themed cake - I love. I think because it is more problem solving than anything and as an engineer, that was what I was taught. Here is a picture of my Phineas and Ferb cake (you can see past examples here):
(turned out pretty okay if you want my opinion!) I made a regular cake in a 9x13 pan and then some cupcakes (which weren't originally part of my plan, but I was glad to have when the logo didn't fit). I frosted the cake in a solid yellow color (matched my napkins nicely). I took my marshmallow fondant experience that I gained last year in doing the Dueling Light Saber Cake, and applied it to the decorations. The Phineas and Ferb were inspired by nice pictures that I found on a folder in the back to school section. It was nice to have them at a scale that was similar for what I needed on the cake. The best thing about making a themed cake is seeing your child's eyes light up when they look at it. It makes it all worthwhile.

This approach works for me and allows us to create a special party experience for the kids without the price tag that might be expected.

This post shared at Works for Me Wednesday.