Exiting the kiddo birthday party arms race

This was the year.

Since dd was on the cusp of 3yo, we’ve been attending kiddo birthday parties that made everything I grew up with pale by comparison. Honestly, I don’t remember my friends having big birthday parties when I was a kid…although, to be fair, I primarily was close just with my bff and didn’t really get the time of day from the “cool kids” that treated me like crap. (Back then, it wasn’t cool at all to be the smart-but-short-fat-girl-with-glasses; these days, I’d be the subject of my own YA book series with an option for a 3-movie deal.)

When we attended the first of these new-fangled kiddo parties, at a mini gym, we were immediately taken with the notion of having someone else be responsible for corralling, entertaining, and then cleaning up after a classroom of kiddos. It seemed like a fantastic idea. Well, that is until we saw the price of these parties.

In most cases, it was something on the order of $300+ just for the location and the staff; then you had to add in the cost of the cake (typically store-bought, for simplicity’s sake), pizza (if it was near a mealtime), drinks, and favors. In some cases, the starting price is even higher (especially for the indoor bouncy place near us), in which case the final tally for a party would be anywhere from $400-500. For a party. For pre-schoolers.

We knew this couldn’t last.

Last year, for dd’s 6th birthday party, we did a gymnastics party at our local YMCA. The limit on kids was something like 27 or 29, including dd (it was all based on ratios of coaches:kids), and we invited her entire Kindergarten class plus a small group of neighborhood kiddos and close friends. The idea was that we would wait to see who from her class just blew it off and then we’d add in the remainder of kids we also wanted to invite. Trouble was, nobody backed out. We had 100% YES RSVPs. It was shocking, to say the least. The YMCA team, much to their credit, rallied and managed to handle the large crowd in style – especially at improvising additional games/activities when some aspects of the party took less time than anticipated. I think we all just found the party overwhelming, and then after doing a twist on the invitation game with ds’ 4th birthday party this summer (starting with the list of neighborhood kids and close friends FIRST and then inviting only select kids from day care), we just felt like we were overspending and overthinking it all.

In our neck of the woods, there are plenty of kiddo party options (outside of the house). You can be active (YMCA, indoor bouncy / gym / playarea, karate, gymnastics, etc.), you can be crafty (Joanns, Michaels, paint-your-own pottery, etc.), you can be educational (such as kid-oriented museums), and you can be outdoorsy (hayride with pumpkin picking, hiking at the nearby Audubon or state park, etc.). The options become completely overwhelming, and the cost isn’t far behind. Even the party favors end up stressing me out: let’s see if we can spend less than $100 on gifts for up to 30 kids and not make it all plastic junk toys or candy. My go-to favor solution has mostly been some kind of notebook, notepad or coloring {thing}, along with some kind of writing/drawing implement (markers, crayons, or pencils) and some form of innocuous kid-oriented food {thing}, such as Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. Buying the writing/drawing stuff from the local Job Lot or Target and the Goldfish from BJs, we typically manage to keep the price on the favors within budget…but it’s all still crazy.

So, this is the year that I pulled the brakes – to a certain extent. I didn’t say that dd couldn’t have a birthday party; I figured we needed to get her on a step-down program. What we’re doing instead is a targeted party at a local Build-a-Bear for just a very select crew. I can’t adequately describe how awful I feel at not being able to invite all of the neighborhood kids, but it’s just cost-prohibitive. For this party, we’re keeping it to just 8 kids, including dd and ds, so she had 6 invitation slots she could fill. That. Was. It.

I figured we could skip the expense of the favor (each kid is going home with a stuffy they made themselves, so I am comfortable with saying THAT is their “favor”), and I let dd pick out a scaled-down cupcake cake that should result in no leftovers and be relatively easy to wrangle in the mall food court, as we take over a table for the food portion of the party after the bears (and other assorted stuffies) have been built.

There’s a part of me that is incredibly happy to say goodbye to the era of the big party for dd; aside from the expense, the stress of trying to figure out how to maximize the experience for a large number and variety of kids is exhausting. Even dealing with the thank you cards is just some new level of insanity; my hat is totally off to the parents of ds’ preschool classmate, who put thank you cards in each favor bag. KUDOS on getting that out of the way, man.

I don’t know how this party will go. It’s tomorrow, and both kids have been stoked to go build some bears. The other kiddos invited to the party have also been jumping up and down at the thought of going, so I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be some kind of build-up for not much actual return for them. I just want everyone to have a good time and for it not to break the bank. A part of me also wants dd (and ds) to have the parties I just don’t remember having or going to when I was that age, even though I sincerely doubt that withholding such parties will end up severely adding to their future therapy bills.

It’s just that fine line – balancing the needs of the few (dd & ds) with the needs of the many (all the other kids) and the needs of the one (checking account). Something had to give…and we drew the line in first grade. If this works out fine, ds has only 1-2 more years of “the big party” and then he’ll start his own party step-down program. It may seem crazy to think about it this way, but did I ever mention that I’m an overthinker? Yeah…in spades.

2 thoughts on “Exiting the kiddo birthday party arms race

  1. 100% RSVP’s – wow!
    Yes, those parties are expensive and there is a need to keep up. Last year, when my older boy turned 9, we invited his close friends and did something more personal. My wife is good and into making the house parties. It is more work but certainly more reasonable.
    I hope the party tomorrow goes well. I’m sure it will.

  2. I did one small party for Katie when she was little, just in the backyard at home, a couple little activities and cake. That was it. We still celebrate, but just as a family. And really, we’ve stopped going to a lot of parties. Most are too overstimulating for my kids, they go nuts, and I have to practically drag them out. Katie has started to ask why she doesn’t get a party, but she was happy how we celebrated this year – she got the day off school to spend with her grandparents who were in town, went to Peter Piper Pizza to play games, saw a movie, dinner out at Olive Garden, and a small cake at home. I don’t really have the money to do much else, except that soon we might invite a few friends over to have cake with us, but that will be it.

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