MONEY-SMART KIDS


Birthday Party Mania

Janet Bodnar

No need to go overboard on your child's big day. You can create a memorable experience without breaking the bank.



A friend of mine recently called my attention to a story in our local newspaper about a popular entertainer at children's birthday parties. He charges $300 for a half-hour show, and parents are happy to pay -- which the author attributed to the "fundamental desperation of suburban parents."

"It's an insane, indulgent thing to do," admitted one mother. "You could just have a party where you all played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or musical chairs or something. But that is just not done in this area. If you did that, you would be talked about."

Two things about this newspaper story upset my friend. First was the fact that parents would pay $300 for a half-hour of entertainment at a preschooler's birthday party (not counting the moon bounce and the cotton-candy machine). Second was the assumption that everyone does it. "Not in my neighborhood," says my friend.

As the mother of twins, my friend is particularly concerned about keeping parties under control. She makes it a point to have a single celebration for both of her daughters, and to limit the guest list.

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Last year, for instance, when the girls turned seven, they invited three friends for a sleepover. Mom invited a friend to give the five girls hula lessons (no fee, just flowers as a thank-you), bought plastic leis and grass skirts at the dollar store and cooked Hawaiian chicken for dinner.

This year's affair was bigger. The twins are fans of the Felicity character in the American Girls series of dolls and books, and they requested a "colonial" party. Mom and Dad took the girls and five friends to a colonial-themed restaurant for dinner. The girls ordered from the menu, then went home for birthday cake and watched the Felicity movie. The guests left with full tummies, so my friend dispensed with goodie bags.

Total cost: $200 for the restaurant bill. Not cheap, but not excessive, considering that it included nine meals (no desserts) and two parties.

My friend is already thinking about next year's activity -- possibly taking the girls to a college women's basketball game for $3 a ticket.

I could go on about how parents who get caught up in birthday-party mania -- starting with clowns for preschoolers and ending with lavish sweet-16 parties that cost thousands of dollars -- send kids the wrong message. And I could make a pitch for birthday sanity. But my friend's actions -- and her creative party planning -- speak more eloquently than my words.



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