Party On … a Budget
I didn’t set out to have a do-it-yourself party for my son’s fifth birthday last fall.
Admittedly, I was cheap even before it became “recession chic,” and wasn’t about to pony up $400 for my kid and his 14 friends to go somewhere else for a party when I have a perfectly nice house to destroy. Don’t get me wrong: the no-mess, no-stress party outside the house holds great allure, but it was more than I was willing to spend.
But I would have gladly bought decorations, ready-made games and a cake. While I used to love to entertain, my inner-Martha Stewart left home about the same time my first child arrived.
However, when that child was about to turn 5, he set his heart on a party theme that would muster all my crafty-mom abilities: Peter Pan.
Not surprisingly, there’s no such thing as Peter Pan paper plates, even on eBay. Sure, you can find Tinker Bell on everything from piñatas to underpants, but she apparently left her Neverland pal in the pixie dust when she flew off solo for Pixie Hollow.
I searched in vain but knew I wouldn’t be able to dissuade my Peter Pan-obsessed child, and I wasn’t about to disappoint a kid who starts planning his birthday parties six months in advance.
So, I decided we would do it all ourselves.
Invitations were a snap and cost practically nothing. Anyone with a color printer, Google image search and some card stock can whip out fine-looking postcards. Or, you can save money, time and trees by sending an Evite or Pingg invite online.
The decorations were a little more challenging. We made life-size figures of Peter Pan characters by tracing my son on butcher block paper in different poses. His job was to color them in, which ended up being a terrific (and time-consuming!) post-preschool activity for several weeks.
The Peter Pan figure served double-duty as the background for “Pin the Feather on Peter Pan’s Hat.” We also cut out heads and hats that party-goers could decorate to make their favorite character. The kids’ favorite game, by far, was “Throw Water Balloons at Captain Hook,” taking aim at a sidewalk-chalk drawing.
Rather than hire entertainers, my husband and I strong-armed grandparents into doing face painting (at “Tiger Lily’s teepee”) and giving temporary pirate and fairy tattoos (at our cardboard box pirate ship).
I baked a cake (for the first time in a long time) and topped it with Peter Pan figurines my son found at a used-toy store. But after wrestling with white icing on a chocolate cake, I think Safeway may get my business again this year.
I loathe goody bags filled with candy and plastic junk, so we gave Little Golden Books of Peter Pan, at $3 a pop. My local bookstore was able to order multiple copies and save me the shipping costs. For more ideas on party favors and other planning tips, see our interview with party planner Simla Akyol on page 12.
Since I was already in full-on frugal mode, I decided to forego the customary pizza and make sandwiches for the kids and a Greek salad with grilled chicken for the grown-ups.
Still, when I counted up the receipts, we had spent about $200. Food and supplies do add up, which may make a ready-made party option even more attractive.
With his birthday just four months away, my son is already mulling themes (Star Wars or Batman?), and I’m searching for ideas. If you are, too, don’t miss our feature story, “Birthday Bashes” (p. 22), full of great tips for party planners from penny pinchers to big spenders.
– Janine DeFao, Associate Editor