Saturday, May 9, 2009

Keep Parties Warm And Meaningful (And Cheap, Too!)

Saving Money Tip #135 - Keep Parties Warm And Meaningful (And Cheap, Too!) In today’s busy day and age with on-the go coffee, take-away meals, and portable offices, it seems like parties have become packaged like a fast-food dinner also. Pay someone a couple hundred dollars and they will do the work for you – a magician hired to entertain a group of partygoers, a restaurant package lunch party where guests go to eat and then leave, or a gymnastics event where children are herded in like cattle, do a few moves, are fed a piece of cake, and are ushered out before the next group of children arrive. What ever happened to the days where parties were actually occasions when people got together to socialize and celebrate in a simple, personalized atmosphere?

With families earning two incomes, and everyone seemingly in a rush these days, it seems that the idea of a party has changed from a nice time to get together and hang out to an event where some people try to find a way to dazzle their guests with entertainment or impersonal activities. By succumbing to this type of party, people end up spending hundreds of dollars to entertain, and the event often falls flat compared to a warm, well-thought out party thrown by the hostess.

Why not bring the parties back home? If you want to celebrate a girlfriend’s upcoming nuptials, then instead of a fancy luncheon in an impersonal hotel, hold a tea with sandwiches in your home and plan simple activities to honor the bride, such as sharing recipes with her, giving warm advice on married life, and simply sitting on a well-worn couch and talking. In ten years, the bride won’t remember what she ate at a fancy hotel luncheon, but she will remember sitting among friends and family listening to great aunt Ethel tell how she and her husband lived happily for over 50 years of marriage.

If your son is turning 5, don’t be tempted to pay the local pizza and laser tag parlor two hundred dollars to entertain your son’s whole first-grade class, instead invite a few close friends over for lunch, and make up your own activities. Plan a treasure hunt or a dinosaur dig in the backyard. Your child will remember helping mom and dad hide dinosaur bones in his backyard more than he will a laser tag day where several of his classmates held parties as well.

The advantage of holding a warm, personal, at-home party, in addition to them being meaningful to guests and hostess, is that they are usually at least half the cost of a pre-planned package party. A simple brunch in your home served on grandma’s fine dishes will cost a fraction of a fancy brunch at the city’s nicest hotel. A day of playing pin-the-tail on the donkey, having sack races, and eating ice cream in the backyard will cost pennies compared to the amount a packaged kids’ party at the local tumble and play place costs. Not only will it be cheaper, but the memories the guest of honor has from her special day will not be blended in with all of the other packaged-to-go parties that are the norm these days.

In Real Life – I am a big fan of parties at home, which I have mentioned in the past. I am constantly looking for ways to put a personal stamp on things, and it’s even better when it saves me money in the process. My just-turned 4-year old daughter was counting the days until her birthday for about 3 months, or at least asking how many more days until the big day. When it came time to plan the birthday party, I opted to invite some special friends over our home for fun games and dinner, instead of inviting her whole preschool class to a local gym or Chuck E. Cheese.

Without berating my friend for her choice of having her daughter’s party at an outside venue, I want to compare costs of a packaged party outside the home and an at-home party and also figure out whether the professional one was any more enjoyable. My friend held her daughter’s party at a gymnastics center three weeks ago. The cost was $140 for up to 10 children, which included using the gym led by an instructor for 1 hour, and using the gym’s tables in the entranceway for cake and snacks for 30 minutes. The instructor led the children through tumbles, balance beam activities, and a few other gymnastics moves for about 30 minutes, and then the children were free to jump on the trampoline or do other things until the hour was up. Afterwards, the mom put out a store-bought cake ($20) and ice cream sandwiches ($5), some snacks and juice boxes (about $10) and handed out goody bags (about $15). She set up and cleared the things herself and also served the food herself. The total cost of the 1 ½-hour party for the 8 children, including the birthday girl was $190 or $23.75 per guest plus the cost of paper goods and invitations.

We did a party a couple of weeks later for my younger daughter in our home. My daughter, along with nearly every other 3 and 4-year old girl, loves princesses. So we did a princess-themed party. She invited 7 girls plus her big sister and another guest’s big sister, for 10 children total. The party lasted 2 hours and included dinner from our favorite mom-and-pop-owned, local pizza place. During those 2 hours, the girls dressed up as princesses with dresses, wands, crowns and shoes from our dress-up collection ($0), made a craft of jeweled bracelets ($11), ate dinner including pizza, fruit, and juice ($27), played a homemade game of pin the princess in the castle ($0), made ice cream sundaes ($10), ate homemade cupcakes ($2) and played in our backyard until it was time to go home ($0). Goody bags were an additional $10. The total cost of the 2-hour party for 10 children was $60 or $6 per guest plus the cost of paper goods (I used leftover princess ones from my older daughter’s party) and invitations.

And while I may be biased, I think my daughter’s party was a lot more fun than my friend's for less than 1/3 of the price. Not to mention that it lasted longer, included dinner, and served more guests. We didn't have a minimum number of guests we had to pay for - whether they showed up or not. Plus we were able to be more flexible - one guest had to be dropped off early, while another stayed late. No one got ushered out the door, while the next birthday group showed up. The birthday girl’s baby brother was able to nap in his crib during the party. If the girls got bored, I could have found another game from our house to fill the time. But frankly, dressing up, doing crafts, and playing in the backyard was the most fun for these girls who really just like playing together without too much formal instruction. Fun and frugal plus pizza and ice cream sundaes. Can’t beat that. For more Frugal Friday tips, check out Life As Mom.

No comments: