Monday, November 9, 2009

Hold A Party At Home

Tip #206 - Hold A Party At Home. One of the main ways to keep costs down on anything is to do it yourself. But there are some things you really want to consult an expert for. Heart surgery? Probably want an experienced surgeon to do that. Rebuild a transmission on your car? Probably want an expert for that too. But how about cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, painting a room, cooking meals, or running a party? All of these things are activities that a reasonably fit, active person could do. It may take some time to do them. And there may be a bit of a learning curve, but it can be done by YOU for much less than the professionals. This is one area that most frugal people will agree – the more you do yourself the more you save money, especially if you have more time than money.

One thing you may do a lot of, especially if you have several children is hold birthday parties. And once you have thrown one party, you have thrown them all. They all follow the same general game plan. Once you have a theme, make an itinerary: a game(s) or activity, a craft, and food – either a meal or cake and ice cream. Then when you have the general layout for the party, you can plan the details.

The nice thing about giving lots of parties is the more you give them, the less cost each one entails because items can be used over and over again. Instead of a one-time use plastic tablecloth, buy a nice flannel-backed one that can be reused. Plates in general colors can be used for multiple parties – so buy a bulk package. Leftover craft supplies and party favors can be used for future parties. Games can be played more than once.

So, let’s talk about some examples. If your youngest daughter wants a Dora party, you may do an activity like a treasure hunt that Dora goes on. A craft might be one with a Mexican theme. And a piƱata may round out the party. Serve some cake and ice cream on brightly colored paper goods and the party is done. Suppose your next party is for your oldest daughter and is a princess party – mix in some red paper plates from the Dora party with some pink ones. Red and pink make a very pretty, feminine combination. Use the same tablecloth from the previous child’s party. Some favors from the previous party’s goody bag might translate well into game prizes for a few of the children. Cups that are clear that were bought in bulk for the previous party can be used again. Suppose you son wants a Spiderman party for his birthday, red paper plates from the same package can still be used, along with the same tablecloth. Mix it in with some Spiderman-themed decorations, and guests are none the wiser. Use the same moonbounce for all three parties, and the cost per use is suddenly quite small. Cook food yourself in advance, make decorations on your own, and shop all year for small party favors, and you can do a party yourself quite cheaply. Best of all, parties you hold yourself are unique. Kids will enjoy going to a party that hasn’t been done over and over again. You will enjoy having more money in your pocket.

In Real Life (IRL) – We held my oldest daughter’s 8th birthday yesterday. We had 16 children at our house including my two daughters and kept our party cost to $125. Now that may sound like a lot of money. And yes, I could have done it cheaper – much cheaper, but I chose to buy pizza from a favorite, local, NY-style pizza place, and my daughter wanted a store-bought ice-cream cake, which often costs more than regular cakes, and especially more than baking one yourself. Had I done away with feeding the kids dinner and made the cake myself, the whole party would have cost about $50!

In the past few years, my daughter has been invited to several Chuck-E-Cheese parties, many Build-A-Bear parties, too-many-to-count gymnastics parties and the a few bowling and swim parties mixed in. Frankly, these parties are expensive. I know; I’ve looked into them. $250 for a gymnastics party for up to 20 children is the norm. That does not include cake or party favors. When all is said and done, a birthday party could end up costing well over $300. That’s not what I want to spend on a child’s birthday party – especially when I have three children. And if I were to spend that much, I’d want it to be unique – not a party that everyone else has.

Our carnival party was different than most other parties we’ve been to. And even though we have been to a couple of carnival-themed parties, we were able to make ours unique because we planned it ourselves, using our creativity and materials that we had on hand. We didn’t rely on a chain store, mass-produced idea. So what did we do for $125? I’ll break it down:

$0 – Invitations (I sent these electronically for the first time, saving about $7 in stamps plus the cost of the invitation)
$48 - Pizza Dinner From Local Pizza Place (could have easily been cut out if I wanted to)
$23 - Ice Cream Cake from Supermarket (could have been cheaper by baking a cake)
$1 – Plates (only needed some dinner plates; used leftover cake plates, cups, and napkins from previous parties)
$3 – Neon Poster Board for signs (bought with coupons at Michael’s)
$2 – Popcorn bags (bought with coupons at Michael’s)
$1.75 – Popped popcorn (using kernals and butter we had; cost estimated)
$0 – Goody Bags (left over from previous party)
$18 – Prizes for each of the games that became the party favors (bought throughout the year on clearance and at thrift stores. For slightly more than $1 per person, each child received a Duncan Yo-Yo, a tin box, a fancy pencil, a sheet of stickers, and some fun carnival candy buttons and Pixie Sticks
$12.50 – Bead craft (bought with coupons at Michael’s, with plenty left over to use at a future party)
$.25 – Tickets for the kids to use for each game (bought at yard sale)
$1 – Moonbounce (original cost years ago was $25 at a thrift store – been used well over two dozen times that the cost per use is now under $1)
$0 – 5 Carnival Games (Three were kids' toys we had in the house – a bowling set, a Whack-the-Mole Game and a ring-toss game. The other two were handmade – penny pitch into cut out milk cartons, and a bean-bag toss into a foam board clown with holes, made for a previous party and reused)
$3 – Tattoos
$2.50 – Face Paints
$10 – help for two hours from the teenage girl across the street

Total cost for entertaining and feeding 16 children for 3 hours - $126 or less than $8 per child. Again, I could have easily cut the cost down by not serving dinner or serving homemade food for much less, but it’s not something I wanted to do. But as you can see, food was the biggest part of our budget so it would easily be cheaper without some of it.

Parties really are much less expensive to do at home. It does take a fair amount of work along with some creativity, but as I mentioned earlier, once you do one party, you just have to change a few details to do the rest of them, and it becomes quite easy to handle. Why not try to plan one yourself? (Or you can always call Chuck-E-Cheese and spend twice as much. :-))

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