I close my mouth and yell into the phone, “You want how much? For a bounce house? For two hours?”
As an ex-boyfriend of mine used to say at a restaurant, looking at the bill: “I just wanted to eat, I didn't want to buy the place!”
At our house, along with spring comes birthday parties. One at the end of March and the other just a week and a half later. It was bad planning on my part - I should have told their dad I had a headache. I mean, my son was only a year and 9 months old! What was I thinking? Saying "I'm not in the mood" for another 3 or 4 months then would have saved me a lot of frustration now.
So, now that the kids and I live on one income (that doesn't quite pay the bills), birthday parties have become a big issue. Throwing two parties in three weeks makes it that much harder. But, where there is a will, there is a way. The kids have the will, so I have to find a way. Cheaply.
Trick #1: Think of free games
Cost: Whatever paper, a bit of computer ink, and creativity are going for nowadays
“We are going to play games at your parties!” I tell them with as much excitement as I can muster.
My son looks up. “Oh, cool.”
Normally “oh cool” would be a nice reaction, but I know my child too well – he misunderstood me.
“Not video games. Regular games.”
“Like pin the tail on the donkey!”
“Pin the what on the what?” they say, more or less in unison.
“Pin the tail on the donkey.”
“Hey, Zoe. Did you know another word for donkey is -”
“Okay!” I shout. “No time for vocabulary lessons. We need to plan.”
Trick #2: Activities
Cost: By using items you already have, activities can be free.
I hope all the little girls want to have their faces painted like Spiderman. Red is the only color lipstick I have left. I think I have an old black eyeliner around here somewhere too.
We made a pinata using an unused balloon found in the corner of my son's room, a newspaper stolen from a neighbor's recycling bin and old, green house paint. We call the creation: A Springtime Egg Pinata. I thought that was clever. As long as it's filled with leftover goodies from the other birthday parties we've attended, the kids won't care how it looks.
Trick #3: Decorations & Food
Cost: Time, some gas, and a few “thank you”s
We'll be visiting every Publix Supermarket from here to Orlando the day before the party. Did you know they give out balloons AND cookies to the kids? I'm figuring one cookie per kid, so we really only need to hit the closest 10 stores. That's not bad.
I found out last year that, for the life of me, I cannot decorate a cake. What started out as a ambitious design of Dora's head turned into a lopsided, black-and-pink-smeared pile of yuck. Not even the kids ate it. So, this year I'm making the kids do the hard part – they'll each get a cupcake to decorate however they see fit. I provide the frosting and sprinkles, they provide the artistic talent.
Trick #4: Goodie bags
Cost: If you do it my way, it's free!
Just don't do it. They got the random crap from the pinata, what else do they want?! Those goodie bags can be expensive! Cute little plastic bags and matching useless toys that will be their parent's worst nightmare 10 minutes after they get home are not necessities. Plus, all that plastic is terrible for the environment. So, in effect, by not giving them anything, I am really saving their lives.
Trick #5: Happy kids
They are kids – put them together, give them something to do, and they are happy. Their parties are about them, not the stuff we surround them with. They will have a wonderful day and remember it for approximately one week – the same amount of time they would recall the expensive bounce house, visit to Chuck E. Cheese, or the guy dressed up like a Power Ranger making balloon animals. By the way, you can buy a “make your own balloon animal kit” at the Dollar Store for, you guessed it, a dollar. It even comes with directions. So what if all the kids get swords – you've just created another game!
The kids are happy and Mom is happy. Primarily because she didn't go into debt over a five-year-old's birthday party. She can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the debt won't come for 15 more years. My next article will be “How To Throw A Wedding For Less Than $500”.