Every parent knows the financial hazards of planning a birthday party for their child. Planning birthday parties is an industry among many that pull parents into a major expense that they otherwise might not be part of — at least not voluntarily.
If you’ve escaped the high cost of birthday parties for your own child, chances are you’ve seen it at birthday parties you’ve taken your kid to for their friends.
You know the ones. Whether’s Chuck E Cheese and the chaos that happens when screaming children are pared with soda, lousy pizza and game tokens, or another manufactured playdate at a facility that will set up, put on and clean up after, these birthday parties can easily run a few hundred dollars.
Our daughter is nearing her 11th birthday, and we’ve held most of her birthday parties at our house or a nearby park. We’re lucky because her birthday is during the summer, when it’s easier to have an outdoor party.
These have been fairly inexpensive birthday parties, the kind of old-fashioned one parents have been hosting forever: Games, cake, food and a BBQ and drinks for any parents who wanted to stay for the event. Everyone has fun.
The problem with hosting a birthday party, of course, is all of the legwork and planning that goes into it. There’s food and decorations to buy and set up, a house and yard to clean, and afterward everything has to be cleaned up.
Paying an amusement center $400 or so to host the party and take care of cleanup can be worth the cost. That’s a great option if you can afford it.
The past few years we’ve offered our daughter the option of either having a birthday party with a bunch of her friends, or taking a few friends on an outing where they’ll get to do a lot more than have cake, lunch and open presents after playing some party games.
She’s always chosen the party option — partly because it’s a lot of fun to have all of your friends over for a party — but also because, I think, because 12 presents are better than two.
This year she’s taking us up on the “day out with a few friends” option. I don’t necessarily think this choice means she’s growing out of birthday parties at home, but that she realizes the chance to try something new is worth taking.
What are we doing? Taking her and two friends to an amusement park for a day, and spending the previous night at a nearby hotel so we can get to the park as soon as it opens on the morning of her birthday. The park is a bit of a drive from our home, and while a hotel stay isn’t necessary, we hope it adds to the fun of the celebration and will make the trip easier.
The cost will be much more than we’ve ever spent before on one of her birthday parties. But that doesn’t bother me — too much.
Outgrowing birthday parties
What hits me harder is that my girl may be outgrowing birthday parties where I’m allowed. The cost is going up, but I never expected her to want to have birthday parties at home every year, no matter how inexpensive they were when compared to going out for the day.
Her growing out of birthday parties may not be happening anyway. Next year, she may want to have one in our back yard. Or she might want to just go out with some friends to lunch and a movie.
However she celebrates another year of birth — no matter what her age — I hope to be there in some way. It can be a dinner out at her favorite restaurant (Old Spaghetti Factory for now) or at home with a BBQ, or some other idea we haven’t thought of yet.
Whatever it is, it’s an expense that any parent is happy to have if it makes their kid happy. Unconditional love doesn’t have a price — except for maybe a small piece of birthday cake.