Updated on 08.27.14

The Economics of Children’s Birthday Parties

Trent Hamm

Recently, a young child that lives nearby (age six or so) had a large birthday party at his home for all the children on the block that were approximately the same age (four year olds to eight year olds, roughly). The party was in the family’s fenced-in backyard and included a magician, two horses, and a barbecue with a folk music band for all of the adults. To top it all off, there was a giant tarp over something in the backyard, and when the tarp was lifted (after the birthday cake), it revealed a play/tree house that must have easily cost $5,000.

As a parent, I can understand the superficial appeal of having a massively over-the-top birthday party like this for my children. It would be incredibly fun to load up house and home with parents and children, make it a very fun day for everyone with little eye toward expense, and have an amazing present at the end that all of the kids would enjoy.

The sheer joy of all of those children would be quite wonderful. But it comes with a few steep prices.

The Cost of a Big Birthday Party

1. It sets unrealistic expectations for your children

Unless you’re equipped to spend obscene amounts of money regularly, you’ve set them up to be disappointed on some level by future birthdays. It’s fun to have a birthday party, but when it stretches the limits of what’s reasonable (and what you can reasonably afford), then it begins to stretch their expectations, often to a threshold that you won’t be able to afford in the future.

2. It encourages consumerism

A giant birthday party with a mountain of presents is a rush of acquisition of “stuff.” No matter how well thought out the gifts are, a huge pile of gifts translates to a huge pile of stuff, and a huge pile of stuff translates into an expectation of more stuff.

3. A big investment in a birthday party is a big investment that’s not going towards long term savings

This isn’t a big deal if you’re a multimillionaire that already has college in the bag, but it’s a huge deal if you’re not there. If you drop thousands of dollars now on a party or a toy that they’ll only play with for a little while and at the same time haven’t adequately covered that child’s future, you’re making a choice that puts their future at risk for a birthday party.

Plan a Memorable and Reasonable Birthday Party

Keep the invitation list reasonable

While it’s fun to have a lot of kids in your yard, keep the list short enough so that all of the children are comfortable with and familiar with each other. This makes the party more fun for everyone and also keeps the expenses under control, as it’s easier to feed and entertain eight children than thirty.

Put a strict cap on gifts from guests – or request no gifts at all

This helps fight the “mountain of gifts” that is prevalent at large birthday parties, which just gives a home a plethora of toys and clutter that’s not necessary. Tell the guests not to bring presents at all – or, if you feel that they should, ask that the presents be very small.

Children can entertain themselves

Just come up with a few games that require minimal equipment and everything will go great. No need for an entertainer or any sort of expensive entertainment spectacle.

Cut back on the food – only serve cake

I’ve been to many birthday parties where there was a meal served, and as a guest I thought it was overkill. Keep it simple – just have a small, homemade birthday cake and a big bucket of ice cream. Total cost: less than $10.

Consider a slumber party

This enables you to dramatically reduce the guest list and at the same time create a memorable party for the child. Just invite three or four of the child’s closest friends and have them spend the night as the party.

Consider a private party

In other words, the only people invited are the people who live in the house. This keeps the party extremely simple, but also quite intimate. Many of my birthday parties as a child were like this and I remember them quite fondly.

Utilize public resources

Have a birthday party at the park, using the shelter house as a place to manage the party. This makes cleanup easy and the park is natural entertainment for the children.

Ask your child what they want – and don’t plant any ideas

You’ll often be surprised at what your child comes up with for what they want to do on their birthday. One of my nephews only wanted one thing for one of their early birthdays: to ride on their cousin’s four wheeler. Another one wanted to pull weeds out of the flower patch in the front yard and redecorate it (seriously). You might be shocked at what they want to do for their birthday, and if it’s reasonable at all, let them do it.

Remember that this party isn’t for you, it’s for the child

The party should revolve around what your child wants, not what you want. If your child wants to just have his best friend over for a sleepover and have hot dogs for supper, go for it even if it’s not what you’d envision for a birthday celebration. Let it be your child’s day, but just keep it within reason.

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  1. Kate says:

    God, I wish my brother and SIL would hear this sort of message. I’ve got two nephews who are totally jaded by toys and activities, precisely because of this sort of overkill. I don’t get them anything anymore, for birthdays or Christmas. It would just get lost in the noise, and I didn’t get any thank you’s anyway.

  2. FFB says:

    You’re last note is a biggie. I see so many kid’s parties that are these great big extravaganzas but honestly the kid won’t remember it all because they are too young. Who is the party really for?!? Sometimes a simple party with some friends can be the most memorable.

  3. nICK says:

    While I agree with you on some things Trent, I think throwing a good sized party for your child once doesn’t spoil them and is a great treat for a hard working and well behaved child. My parents didn’t have the money to throw me big birthday parties, but when they did throw me one once, it was very special. We all need to cut back on the extras, but that doesn’t mean cutting them out completely.

  4. Sarah F. says:

    I agree with Nick. To me, birthdays are the time of the year to do something out of the ordinary, to go over the top a little bit. If you’re reasonable the rest of the year, why not?

  5. Rob says:

    Yesterday I brought my soon to be 2 year old to the mall just to walk around. He found a balloon in the corner. I never seen a child have so much fun. He was the center of attraction with this thing. Throwing it up and catching it, rolling on the floor with it etc. The giggles and laughter that came out of him was unbelievable. On the way home I stopped at walmart and got one of those helium tanks with ballons. Cost; $20.00. There is no money cap on a child. His birthday is coming up. I will spend what I can, make and be frugal as I can, but if I had the xtra money, I would spoil him on that day.

  6. Isabel says:

    I was talking with a close friend the other day. She lives in another state, so we don’t catch up often. She was telling me about her little girl’s 5th birthday party: 100 guests (40 kids + parents), rented hall, costume theme, “children’s DJ,” catered dinner, open bar for parents…it sounded completely crazy to me. I couldn’t bring myself to ask how much it cost. (And no, she isn’t wealthy or anything – very ordinary income.)

    It’s probably a good thing we don’t live in the same city; we’d never be able to stay good friends if we lived closer. We’d each be too horrified by the other’s lifestyle….

  7. Shanel Yang says:

    Great post! As the person in charge of planning all the birthday parties, gifts, decorations, guest list, etc., for my parents and my three younger sisters, I can attest to the fact that putting on a big bash is a real monster of a responsibility and increasingly difficult each year to up the ante. In hindsight, simpler is definitely better!

  8. Rebecca says:

    I think the last point is the biggest thing for me. I am due with our first child in about a month and occasionally people will make mention of a first birthday party. Frankly, I doubt I will be doing one. The child won’t remember and usually just cries because they are overwhelmed. I’ll just give her a cupcake and snap some pictures instead.

  9. AverageAK says:

    This is where the frugal resources available to us on the net really come in handy. I’ve thrown my kids parties that seemed like a huge deal, but in reality the parties cost less than $20.

    My daughter had a fairy tea party outside in a tent with tissue paper fairy wings for all the girls and “fairy dust” (pixie sticks) to chase away the evil goblins who interrupted the party(older brother and cousin). Several of her friends commented that it was the best party they had ever been to..and I know some of their parents spent hundreds on parties.

    Throwing a fun party without spending much money is a great lesson for your kids in enjoying life without spending a lot of money.

    As far as gifts go, we rarely spend more than $50 on a birthday present, and the kids appreciate that the party with friends and family there to honor their day is part of the “gift”

    I totally agree with you Trent, about asking your chld what they want.

  10. clint says:

    Why not just have a simple party with some free party games and a cake. $2.99 Easy as that. I get a whole bunch of ideas from a free site http://www.free-party-games.com then keep the rest simple.

    Save a ton KISS.

    Clint Lawton


  11. Jules says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you: huge parties are annoying and exhausting to host (unless you’re rich enough not to be the one hosting it).

    However, I disagree with your suggestion of cutting back on food. After all, these people made the effort to come to the party–at the very least some nice h’ors d’oevers and juices and drinks are in order. That’s just basic hospitality. A few cheese cubes, olives, some nuts in a bowl–maybe you don’t have to give them a meal, but something more substantial than cake is nice.

  12. dougis says:

    I agree wholeheartedly.
    My wife and I have always tried to follow the rule of one guest per year of age and it has worked pretty well.
    We did two things this year that both girls loved.
    For my oldest’s 7th birthday we had a group of school friends over (I think we splurged and had 8 or 9 instead of 7) and had a mystery tea party with a scavenger hunt.
    5 months later the girls in my daughters class would still remind me of it when I went in to help at school (so it was obviously memorable).
    It took some work, but not a lot of cash (I think we spent a total of $10-$15 for the scavenger prizes) and they ALL loved it.

    for my 4 year old we had a family birthday party inviting her favorite aunt and uncle for birthday dinner (her grandparents live several hours away) which was also a huge success.

    They both got to pick what the party was about and who came so they felt like it was their birthday, not ours.

  13. Shane says:

    You must live in quite a neighborhood. It’s amazing that people would invest that much in a party. I wonder how often it is simply to impress their adult friends. My guess is that with lifestyles growing so quickly, this will become a norm for much of suburbia in this country. Wild.

  14. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU! I loved this post. My children are grown, but for most of their birthday parties, the guests consisted of whoever lived in the house, one best friend (sometimes), and sometimes a grandparent or two, if they lived nearby. They got to choose the menu entirely, which was fun for them and we ended up with some interesting food combinations. Even as teenagers, they loved it, and then some “themes” were the Nike birthday, when my son received shoes, shirts, shorts, socks and there were white swooshes on the bday cookie, and then there was my daughter’s sophisticated “Olive Garden” party,(instead of eating out) with all courses of Italian food, music, and sparkling cider or cranberry juice. They look forward to it and its more fun and relaxing than a lot of cheesy decorations and too many guests. It puts all of the focus on paying attention to the birthday person and letting them know they are important to us.

  15. Diane says:

    Please check out birthdayswithoutpressure.org for some examples of out of control parties.

  16. T says:

    My sister and BIL have thrown 2 large parties for my older niece, which I thought were way overboard. My sister has friends with kids same age who throw similar parties, which just reinforces the craziness. Her in laws helped put on a 1st year party, but it was just for family and was not so extravagant. I considered it more of a family get together than a party. My niece has more toys then my sister and I had combined our entire childhood.

  17. DimKnit says:

    Totally agree. My oldest son gets invited to every birthday party in his preschool class. I understand it’s p.c. to invite everyone, but we turn down invites that are not with kids we know.

    I just think it’s weird. We had cake. And a few presents. And our closest buds.

    And selfishly (or not, depending on your point of view), I don’t want to find room for 30 presents. It’s too much.

  18. KC says:

    Back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid, I’m 35 now, we held a big party in my backyard. It was in August and hot as Hell, but we didn’t care. My parents held the party on the carport and they borrowed chairs and tables from our neighbors and friends and I got to invite everyone I wanted. Of course I’d have like 60 people (adults and kids) there. We had cake and ice cream and played baseball, basketball or whatever games were popular at that age (I had a lot of sport equipment). And the best part is I got loads of gifts cause I invited so many people. It was relatively cheap cause all my parents had to spring for was cake and ice cream. Those were great parties. I’ll do the same with my kid.

    Incidently I attended a 5 year olds birthday party a few years ago (I don’t have kids yet). Her parents did pretty much the same thing. Except the dad went out and bought badmitton/ volleyball, teatherball sets for the kids to play. Now I’m no child specialist, but I know 5 years olds will/can not play those games. Within 30 mins all the games were completely torn apart and all the kids were playing on the swingset/playset that was already in place. They were also just running around like a bunch of heathens. They could have cared less about the hot dogs, cake, games and other organized things. It was just a Lord of the Flies type situation and the kids ruled the cheap stuff. I’ll bet they all slept well that night, too.

  19. Gretchen says:

    Like KC, I can remember the backyard parties that my mother used to have for me. We would play games, and have competition (hula hoop was a popular one). She would serve hot dogs or pizza and we’d have cake. Since we weren’t spending much, she would usually invite all of the girls in my class.

    I think that the reason that parents don’t do that anymore is that they don’t want to spend the time to plan and cook and clean up. They just want to go somewhere that everything will be taken care of.

  20. Kacie says:

    Lol, this sounds more extravagant than my wedding! And sounds like it cost a few thousand more, too.

  21. Niles says:

    I agree that having all of the possible forms of entertainment at once in a child’s party is excessive … you said magician, two horses, barbecue, folk band, and giant tree house … but any one of those things won’t spoil the kids.

    I agree that smaller parties are better (more fun/easier to manage), and in my family for each child we always started large, but as time went on the child would choose themselves for a smaller party (I chose smaller parties for myself when I was about 12 or so).

    Don’t doubt the power of “big parties” not being “cool”.

    But don’t forget that, especially in the early years of a child’s life, the party isn’t for the kids, it’s for the parents. Many of us might not think that that’s right, but I’m sure plenty people would disagree: they’d argue that the parents are the ones that want/deserve the big memories (as I can now see with my mother and her grandson, my nephew, as she fawns over him).

  22. Jeana says:

    We stopped doing birthday parties every year and now do them every few years. When it’s not a party year, the birthday kid gets to choose what I make for meals that day and a dessert and it’s just us (me, my husband and our four kids). After a couple of years doing this, one of my kids commented that she actually prefers the years we celebrate as a family to the parties. The others don’t go that far, but they have said they look forward to the parties and appreciate them more now that it’s not every year.

  23. Tara says:

    This is a great, great, great post! I have a 1-year-old child, and I’m already seeing absurdly elaborate parties. I wish I could hand this out to all of the parents I know. Seriously.

  24. maryann says:

    For our various sons’ birthdays we have had backyard campouts, arts and crafts parties, a scavenger hunt,movie night, an “olympics” and other totally do-it-yourself parties. We have never hired anyone, other than the friend who taught cake-decorating and did amazing cakes. All activities were amazingly cheap, done with simple materials and with the help of friends. For example, backyard Olympics involved the swingset we already had along with frisbees, rope for tug of war, balloons for balloon races and the boys and I made medals from juice lids. Arts and crafts was one of the messiest but most fun, especially the hats we made from old wrapping paper. The adults always had as much fun as the kids. Food was never huge either; the cake along with ice cream and punch, maybe hot dogs on the BBQ. Those were the days, the youngest is 12 now and at most wants a few friends over for a sleepover. We provide cake and pizza and videos and they stay up all night. Personally, I never understood the huge expensive party concept, especially the ones involving giant bounce houses given by people who clearly lack the money.

  25. JReed says:

    As I have mentioned before, my sister throws a party for her daughter every year and invites the entire neighborhood…macaroni and cheese; hot dogs; apple sauce and birthday cake. No gifts are allowed; only baby food, diapers, wipes etc. as donations for the local food pantry. The children get such a charge out of loading up the pickup trucks and going to make the donation. The kids are so proud. This party has been going on annually for 11 years and the kids never seem to lose interest.
    But Kent; as with the clothesline, when in your neighborhood do as your neighbors do. Mustn’t offend anyone with your ideals or morals…your neighbors are too valuable. Start saving…you have alot of birthdays to go.

  26. TJ says:

    This is so right on! We always have a family get together, and invite a few friends. Usually my kids get one big gift and one or two small from us. The big gift is less than $50, although this year it may be a bit more as we are replacing her bike that we bought used for her birthday 2 years ago. We want our kids to know that while we’re celebrating them, it’s not all about them.

  27. TJ says:

    Oh and one last thing, the best received gift we ever gave at a birthday party: A 89 cent pinwheel. It was a hit.

  28. Keith says:

    Depending on how old your child is, taking them on a tour of a fire station is a huge hit. We just called up our local fire department and asked if they give tours for birthday groups…and it was all set. The kids (8 of them) had the best time and all walked out with hats and badges. It didn’t cost a dime.

    We took everyone out for pizza and cake afterward.

  29. paula d. says:

    When my son was small we didn’t do a party every year. We would always do something special, and of course a special meal. It’s hard to not get caught up in the party competition, with the one-up’s manship going on.

    I think my son would agree that the best birthday was when he was old enough to go to the “grand prix” racing and drive the cars.

  30. Shevy says:

    That’s outrageous for a six year old, but there’s extravagence at every age. What about over-the-top bar/bat mitzvahs where the parents rent a hall, have a band, a sit down dinner, plus a lunch in synagogue? I refer to those (although I haven’t been to one in years) as dress rehearsals for the wedding.

    In contrast, for his 13th birthday, my eldest had several classmates over for hot dogs and cake before they walked a few blocks to watch a mid-afternoon baseball game. It was special and a lot of fun, but it wasn’t terribly expensive.

    And yes, we had a kiddush lunch at the shul, but I made the food (along with a few other ladies).

    What will a child who has a magician, ponies *and* a band all at the same birthday party expect for the next birthday, never mind the wedding? And, even if the folks could afford to spend $5,000 per year for the birthday party and $50k for the wedding, why would they?

    Fifteen years of birthday parties would be $75,000. Add that to the $50,000 and you’ve got $125,000 not even considering the interest that money could have earned in 15 years! That would be a 25% downpayment on a very modest detatched home in my city, but would buy an entire house in some places! If you want to throw that kind of money around, why wouldn’t you put it into a home for your child instead of tossing it away on performers?

  31. Allison says:

    Super post. I feel sorry for all the parents of the kids who attended that party, who saw all that extravagance. We live in Los Angeles, and parties like you described are the norm in some circles. Fortunately, not mine!

    Because we live in the city, we don’t have a yard, so for my son’s birthday last year we reserved the picnic area at our local park, which was free. It’s connected to a playground, where the kids climbed and played in sight of the parents, who hung out at the tables in the shade. I had some snacks, drinks, cake and ice cream. I did not give out favors. With a few balloons and some festive paper tablecloths to decorate, I think I spent maybe $50 on everything, including utensils.

  32. Tiffany says:

    For my 2 year old’s last birthday, we did a book exchange instead of gifts and goodie bags. The kids each brought a new wrapped copy of their favorite book, and we switched them around in a circle so everyone went home with a new book. The parents raved about it and many have said they’re going to start doing it.

  33. Michelle says:

    A friend of mine, with 5 kids, suggested this scenerio, “big” parties at age 5, 8, 12, and 16. Big meaning having friends over with a modest party. Otherwise, it’s just cake with family and a few gifts from the family. The 12th birthday is a slumber party. She says it’s saved her family a lot of money on birthday parties and the kids really like it. We’ve decided that’s what we’re going to do with our kids.

  34. Flea says:

    I laugh when I see people spending tons of dough on a kids birthdays when they are like 1 or 2. A friend of ours dropped big bucks on a kids 2nd B-day party…I just shake my head and say why don’t you have a family get together and put the rest in a 529 or a savings bond for the kid.


  35. Louise says:

    My parents did something similar when I was younger. You’d get a birthday party every other year (e.g. your sister had a party last year so it’s your turn this year). On your birthday, you’d get to pick the dinner menu, and we’d also go out to eat at a restaurant of your choice that weekend. Oh and for years the best part was the “Birthday Throne” which was your seat at the dinner table decorated with pink and purple crepe paper and balloons. It always stayed up a few extra days. Birthdays are awesome.

  36. Quatrefoil says:

    Wow! I’m astonished that anyone would think that was reasonable. I remember having absolutely fabulous birthday parties as a kind, but looking back on them they were not at all expensive, despite the fact that my whole class, plus friends from church, brownies etc and all the kids in the street. We’d spend days before decorating the house with crepe paper streamers and balloons, and on the day there would be a cake, very cleverly made by Mum in the shape of something special or the appropriate number. I remember a circular cake full of jelly with frogs in it one year. We helped make all the food, which was party pies, hot dogs, chips, fairy bread and cupcakes – stuff we never normally got to eat. We played traditional party games – musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey, blind man’s buff, pass the parcel etc, and a peculiar invention of my mothers involving cutting slices out of an upturned cup of flour until the sweet on the top fell in and you had to retrieve it with your teeth. Then dad would run novelty races in the back yard, with lollipops for the winners, cleverly designed so everyone would win something, while Mum put tea on the table.

    These were so much fun and I remember them so fondly that I recreated them for my 30th birthday and laughed til I cried watching adults run three legged races and play musical chairs.

    I’m sure I got small presents from my friends, but I don’t remember those.

  37. Thanks for the post — another price that is paid (and not by those throwing the party) is by the children and other guests who attend. The parents could potentially feel inadequate and the kids come home saying, “Mom, why can’t WE have a party like that?”

  38. jtimberman says:

    This is all a great example of the “Child Worship” that has overtaken our country. People worship their kids and let them have anything they want, with no boundaries at all. A friend of ours bought her 9 year old boy an iPod shuffle. Only $60 right? Except she doesn’t even have a computer!

    I mean really, does reality set in for people, ever? Have they lost their minds? Absolutely. My kids don’t have iPods, and won’t unless they save up and buy one. Why? Pretty simple. I don’t indulge children on something I’m not even willing to indulge myself.

  39. laura says:

    My husband and I have four kids. After our oldest wanted a party at a roller rink, that cost $150 just for the facility rental (plus gifts, cake, ice cream, drinks, etc.) we decided to make some changes in our budget. Now we give the kids their own budget of $150 for the entire party. If they want to have a huge party, great… they understand our gift to them will be small. They learned that they can have a great slumber party including pizza for about $50 and get a really nice gift, usually an American Girl Doll. They really think about their plans for a long time before deciding what they want to do. It works very well for us.

  40. Sara says:

    I agree with people noting that an over-the-top party won’t be a problem for a generally good kid. The problem is that the party creates a domino effect for all the parents and kids who attended. Younger kids aren’t developmentally able to understand that they got a big party last year, so they shouldn’t care that Suzie’s getting a big party now.

    Growing up, we did family parties. The most fun I remember having was when I received a cheap, outdoor toy. After opening gifts, we all packed in the car and headed for a special park and experimented with the new toy together. It was a crappy toy; even on that day it was crappy. But I still remember playing together as a family. The spirit of the day really does count more than the cost.

  41. Margaret says:

    And what’s with the gift bags? Who started that? I don’t do them. My kids have yet to get anything in a loot bag that lasted more than 48 hours. They are just a waste of money and resources. Maybe if we point out the environmental impact of filling up bags with junky plastic, people will stop.

  42. Rich G. says:

    I remember two birthday parties that were big from when I was a kid and I remember them as extravaganza affairs with a cake as big as me and more balloons than would fill the house and… well, you get the picture. I looked at the pictures recently with mom. My memory of the dozen or so balloons and the home made cake was so very very colored by the fun I had.
    I remembered it so well because it was special and fun and exciting. Not because it was fantastic in decoration or other stuff… the greatness was in the fun, not in the accouterments.
    You’re spot on with your most. Memories aren’t made up of stuff and that’s what parties are for… making memories.

  43. Shevy says:

    “a peculiar invention of my mothers involving cutting slices out of an upturned cup of flour until the sweet on the top fell in and you had to retrieve it with your teeth”

    That’s very reminiscent of a scene in an Agatha Christie novel, “Hallowe’en Party”, where among the games for a Hallowe’en party is the Flour Game. It was described as a cup of packed flour with a sixpence on top. (The prize was the sixpence.)

    So I looked very superficially online and found a couple of references to the game. An interesting, if messy, idea but it doesn’t appear to be unique to your mother.

  44. fathersez says:

    In many ways, this birthday party thing has become a little ridiculous.

    McD and KFC amongst others have departments that handle this…shows how much of an industry kids parties have become.

    With our five kids, for us, it’s a cake, a little Happy Birthday to you, singing and that’s it.

  45. Carlos says:

    However well-intentioned, posts like this drive me insane. A lot of the dynamics of having a party aren’t directly driven by “the parents”.

    My middle daughter is turning sixteen next month. If it were entirely up to me, I’d donate some money to the Heifer Project in her name (perhaps for a water buffalo – http://www.heifer.org/site/c.edJRKQNiFiG/b.2663611/) and call it done :-)

    The reality is that a lot her friends are immature, self-conscious, and have parents willing to shell out inordinate amounts of money in a feeble attempt to outdo each other. We gave her the choice of spending “a lot” of money (by her standards) for a sweet-sixteen party, or taking a trip with a small group of friends. She asked for a car, instead :-)

    If we had just home-schooled her, she wouldn’t have nearly as many friends to compete with :-)

    There’s an awful lot more to these parties than the economics – which are too numerous to describe in a post. A majority of life’s elements can’t be quantified with Excel; trying to do so demonstrates a complete lack of social awareness.

    Style and taste are not about economics, they’re about personal choice. Do I think going into debt for these activities is smart? No. Do I have an issue with other people doing it? No.

  46. Mike Sty says:

    I felt compelled to reply to this.

    I’m 19, and I was quite a brat as a kid. While the parties were not as lavish as people are describing for today’s 5yo kids, there was all kinds of crap when I was in kindergarten/preschool/first grade in New Jersey. The entire class was invited to some party at some facility. Video games, sports, etc. etc. I think I even had my own shindig one year after a friend had hers there. It was insane at times. Fortunately, my parents hadn’t lost their mind, and didn’t really overdo me so I never expected much. I’m so glad! They gave me all sorts of crappy junky gifts, even though I was the nutty kid that had way too much fun with the box.

    Maybe I’ll have kids someday, and hopefully I’ll save and reference this :) Seriously. My family was never really that involved in my life – I never appreciated it, and that’s sad. A small, practical, fun, reusable gift – not some cheap plastic crap. I’m visiting my dad and I just threw away all sorts of old plastic junky toys. Sad. The only things worth keeping and passing on are things like knex, legos, etc. If you’re going to buy your kids plastic crap, get them stuff they can create with, build with. It WILL give them higher SAT scores :D and hopefully cognative abilities and mechanical inclination!

  47. reulte says:

    Great post!

    As a single, working mom, I’ve had to keep birthdays reasonable. At 1, my boy received a cake in which he promptly stuck his hands, some money (which I put into his account) and some cards. When he was two he and his best friend had cake and then went into the back yard and played in the sprinkler – now that was a great time for them both!

    Now that he’s 6 birthdays are still very simple – usually limited to a cake, a few gifts from family (which I may sequester for a while so they have more ‘Wow’ impact) and a sleepover with 1-3 of his best friends. For gifts, I try to hint or (say outright) that he loves Matchbox cars and building things like Legos. Sometime in the next 2-3 years he’ll be getting a ‘big boy’ bicycle and, if we settle down where I suspect, a treehouse which he will help build. Lots of balloons are always a hit – even with adults – for balloon volleyball and squash-a-balloon and water balloon tournaments.

    We (extended family) occasionally do what we consider big parties, but they aren’t connected to anyone’s birthday or any particular holiday (so no gifts) and are usually travel related – such as Disneyworld, cruises, national parks, museums and the beach.

  48. Sam H. says:

    I agree 100%. Kids’ birthday parties have gotten WAY out of hand. I like the idea one commenter had of stopping the whole silly gift bag thing. Why does a party guest need a goody bag? They’ve gotten to go to a party and enjoy free food and entertainment. Why the need for a goody bag?

    Re. your slumber party suggestion- it’s a good idea, but then you have to feed the guests at least dinner and then breakfast the next morning. So that will tack on some bucks to the party total.

  49. i can’t stand the elaborate party thing. here’s what we did for our 7yo daughter, and we’ll do the same for our 5yo in a few weeks:


  50. Alyson says:

    I don’t have children yet but I’ve seen this with people around me. One cousin doesn’t go too out of control but does feel the need to invite hordes of people to her children’s parties. I don’t go. One, we’re not that close. Two, Um, why? Three, I’m not buying some crappy gift for a kid who doesn’t need any more crappy gifts. I have resolved that for my children, one of two things will happen: I will not invite the entire planet to their birthday parties and if I do, no gifts! Ack, stop with the gifts.

    Now, my husband and I have parties for ourselves. I just did a BBQ for him. We supplied burgers and dogs and potato salad. No gifts but we asked that the guests BYOB and maybe bring a potluck dish. That way everyone has the beverages they want, we don’t go broke on food or booze, and we can all get together and hang out with no pressure. It’s fun that way. I think I’ll adapt it for the kid parties.

  51. bob says:

    When giving the child the choice between a several thousand dollar birthday party or a $100-$200 trip to chuck-e-cheeses or an amusement park, I’m guessing the child will forego the birthday party every time.

  52. VM says:

    YES – YES – YES!!!! Think about it: all a young kid wants in his early years is to be with those who love him the most – FAMILY. All they want is to be reassured of that love. They DO NOT want a zillion presents – and the parents want them even less. I fell into this with my now 12 year old once or twice….what a waste!! She remembers the small, simple birthdays the most. Family, cake, and fun pictures. Gramma sends her her ‘big’ money gift, and that’s it!! We’re all much happier for it!
    If you are starting a family, my suggestion is to NOT get caught up in this popular huge birthday thing – you will never regret it.

  53. Kim says:

    This trend of parents setting up unrealistic expectations of the consumer sort for their kids has been going on for a while now. It’s troubling.

    For example, many of my (college) students drive MUCH nicer cars than I do – or ever will for that matter. Lots of Lexuses (Lexi?) in the student parking areas – all bankrolled by Mom and Dad. I know for a fact that my graduates’ incomes will not buy so many of the things they are accustomed to.

    So, what happens when the funding for the luxury car dries up? Burdensome debt and a life of dissatisfaction are two possibilities.

  54. Mike says:

    This is primarily directed at the commenters: It’s fine if throwing a party like this isn’t your cup of tea. You don’t, however, need to impose your value judgements on others who do not share your viewpoint.

    I could just as easily scoff at the idea of washing out resealable plastic bags for reuse because to me that is extreme. While that isn’t a choice that I’d make, I’ll hold off passing judgement on those elect to do so.

  55. leslie says:

    The whole goodie bag thing at parties is a huge pet peeve of mine. Everyone of my mommy friends agrees with me but I have actually had several of them say to me “I am not going to be the one that doesn’t give goodie bags”. Well, I AM the one that doesn’t give goodie bags. They are generally just full of platic junk and candy that is cheap individually but by the time you buy stuff for all the party invitees then it really adds up. As the host, I have just provided entertainment of some sort and food for and hour or two. Really, isn’t that enough?

  56. Gilora says:

    I totally agree with Trent on this one. My kids are 2 and 4. The older one gets invited to every birthday party in has class and has been since he was 3. It winds up being something like 25-30 parties a year. Lately we’ve been more selective about which ones we attend, but just the cost of gifts can really add up.

    While some of the parties seem to be reasonable — pizza and cake at the community pool — some are just over-the-top crazy. We recently went to one — for a two year old — at a local “play center” which was catered for the children and adults and included elaborate gift bags and a costume change for the birthday girl. When the cake was cut, she was in a princess costume sitting on a mini throne. In addition to the attractions at the play center, the parents had also hired a clown to perform.

    For now, we are keeping our kids’ parties to family only and having them at our house. We do serve a meal, but I do all the cooking and the cake comes from a supermarket with a nice bakery section. I don’t know how long we can keep this up, however; sooner or later the four year old will realize that his friends have “nice” parties and his are at home.

    I’m also with Leslie when it comes to the goody bags. I think they’re over-the-top and I’ve seen the party kids (mine included) running to grab them. They really expect them these days and I don’t know if I’d have the courage to be the only mom who doesn’t give goody bags. Maybe when the time comes I can find a source of inexpensive children’s books and give those instead.

  57. mbkonef says:

    Great post. I have four childern and each gets a birthday party each year, up til and including age 13. After that we can still celebrate and do something with a few friends but not a full blown “party”. That said, our parties have always been at home, simple “theme” parties. The kids enjoy helping me plan, find frugal activities etc. I find that these parties are always really memorable for their friends because they differ from the norm of having a party “out” at a bowling alley, roller rink, etc. I think one of our most memorable parties has been a “puppy” party. It was such a hit that we have repeated it for each child, at their request. The favorite activity is a dog food eating contest. It involves a bag or box of generic/store brand chocolate cereal which happens to look quite a bit like dry dog kibble. The trick is convincing the party guests that it is actually dog food. We fill a bowl for each without them seeing what it really is and have them kneel on the floor at eat with just their mouths. It is always a hit and they talk about it for months, even years later. My favorite resource for creative party ideas is Family Fun magazine – many ideas can be found on their online site. We have fun, creative frugal parties each year that their friends remember for months without breaking the bank. I think my favorite part of it is the chance to plan with my kids, see what they are into each year, what sparks their imagination and what activities/theme we can come up with to match that. Other favorites have been backwards parties, all holiday parties (involved trick-or-treating in the summer to a select few neighbors who had been prepped ahead of time), Star Wars party, summer splash party and rainbow party. At least 75% of ideas for most of these came from Family Fun. I definitely recommend checking it out (on line or even at your library) for great creative ideas.

  58. I read an article a few years back about the mega birthday parties that many socialites throw for their children. The cost was staggering…upwards of $250,000 for a 16th birthday party.

    Extravagant gifts for the child, name recognized musicians, famous celebrities to attend the party, food, etc.

    I know it’s their money, but what a waste of resources. Hell…even if you spent one 10th of that it would be a memorable party.

  59. Lisa says:

    I just found out that one of my family members will be hosting a karate party for her son. For the low low price of “only” $35 per kid (10 kid minimum), they get an hour of karate instruction and cake and punch. Oh did I mention that this family member recently asked me for money because she couldn’t pay her energy bill for the 6th month in a row? I said no, thank goodness. What is is with these people? I swear it borders on mental illness sometimes.

  60. Beth says:

    Being a mom in a mini-Brady Bunch family (only 2 children), we always struggled with birthdays. My daughter and step-son are only 11 months apart in age – which meant 2 birthday parties in 3 weeks! My children got way too much stuff from non-custodial parents who were just trying to buy the child’s attention. We always said ‘no gifts’ and invited every child in their class (small town advantage). We would have treasure hunts. My husband would work for hours coming up with clues – at each spot there was something small – candy, a juice box, a whistle, a $2 bill – and a clue to the next treasure spot. My children are in college now – it is amazing how many of their classmates remember those parties and speak of how much fun they had at them. Fun does not have to cost money!

  61. Karen says:

    I remember fondly one birthday as a child – my birthday is the day before Halloween and my Mom did a ghost story and passed around bowls with brains (cold spaghetti), eyes (olives), etc. Since it was dark we didn’t really know what we were feeling. It was so much fun and so scary!!!

  62. TParkerson says:

    Trent, thanks for the reminder, (actually the most important point of the post) that it is supposed to be about the child. Timely for me, as my “baby” turns 17 this weekend…it was fun to remember the parties big and small that we have had for him. One of the best ever was a picnic at home with friends and family and cheap plastic water guns! Who knew…grown-ups are really just big kids too!!

    I have been struggling with co-ordinating what he wants to do with my needs. Yes, needs…I know the window of all our days together grows smaller with each passing moment. Soon he will be in college and then the military. I needed the message…if he wants to be with friends all weekend, he can be. I think I will plan a small family dinner Friday and write him a really special letter that he can read later in his life, when he needs his mom for a minute.:)

    And to interject a thought from reading I have been doing lately…Moms and Dads, what are you doing for YOU today? What about your birthdays? My wish for you all is blessed birthdays and even more blessed every days!

  63. Gigi says:

    Don’t be afraid to drop the goodie bag!!! Or as I call them, “straight to landfill” bag. I’m so glad to hear other people hate them too. If you really feel you must give something to kids, do something that they can have some fun with, a flashlight each for a slumber party (a buck a piece at the dollar store), funny headbands, a pair of cute socks (for girls, of course). The dollar store is great for small things like this. Or do a craft- my daughter’s birthday is right by Christmas, so one year I got clear glass balls, some glass paints and had each kid paint their own Christmas ball. I don’t think it cost me $10 total. When they were done, I marked the name and date on the bottom and sprayed them with polyurethane. They decorated our tree that night, and then I wrapped them in tissue and they took them home the next day for what I would consider (as a mom) a fabulous keepsake. Of course, I make my kids make me a new ball every year anyway, and they’re my most treasured Christmas decoration. A few years I did feel the pressure to do more traditional bags and I simply did a small bag of chips, juice box, and maybe some candy. In my fairly junk food free house, that is a huge treat! And at least it was eaten and some plastic toys thrown in a landfill. For my daughter’s 16th, money was kind of tight and her party was to have a sleepover for 12. I made 4-5 huge homemade pizzas that they all raved about, had some soda, and made a huge ice cream cake. In the morning they made their own pancakes.

  64. oneofnine says:

    This is a GREAT post. Goes right along with the recent discussion on marketing to kids and how to avoid the consumer trap. Someone mentioned gift bags– what is UP with that? I remember a friend telling how she had brought a $15 b-day present for her toddler’s friend…and the exact same toy was in all 40 of the guests gift bags. Of course, she was mortified, but my thought is WHO CARES?

    My sister complains all the time that she and her husband don’t have money, but at her 5-year old’s b-day party they spent $300 to rent a bouncy castle for the guests. Why would you put that financial strain on yourself?

    My husband and I have been round and round with this issue. My father-in-law (who is very wealthy) sent us $200 to buy presents for our son’s 2-year birthday. We were at Toys R’ Us picking out presents and I was in tears. A 2-year old doesn’t NEED nor can he USE $200 worth of plastic Chinese crap. But my husband insists it is worth it to make his day special. Even if the money didn’t come out of our own pocket, I would have rather put that money in his college fund than wasting it on toys he doesn’t even play with.

    My husband grew up in a rich family, and although he is solidly in the frugal camp now that we have our own business and home, he fondly remembers the lavish, over-the-top birthday parties he used to have as a child. He believes the kids’ experience is worth the money we spend. SO I try to compromise and meet in the middle. For example, my 2-year old is obsessed with Curious George. So we went all out with the Curious George theme party, but I got all of the plates, balloons, and decorations during a 50% off promotion (months before the party) at our local party store. In addition, I went online and learned how to make a Curious George b-day cake (my son thought it was a cow, but oh well!). We had a great time even though it was a little more over the top than I would have liked. I guess sometimes the most important thing you can do is find a happy medium!!!

  65. Talitha says:

    Great post, Trent! I absolutely abhor birthday parties. More because I can’t stand being around 10 to 20 screaming kids at once than anything else, but there are other factors also. Too many presents, self-centered children, elevated expectations, to name a few. For my daughter (now 8), I always send cake to school with her on her birthday and then we have a very small celebration with one or two friends separately. One year, two of my friends and I took our three girls out to the Nutcracker and then to an upscale Italian restaurant for dinner. We dressed up and the girls all wore tiaras. They LOVED it! Another year, I took my daughter and one friend to Build-A-Bear and then to dinner at a restaurant of her choice. That was the only gift she received that year, and it is still one of her favorites. Next year, at her request, we’re planning a small sleepover party with pizza, movies, and painting nails.

    I do end up spending over $100 each year, but I believe it’s much more valuable to spend that money and make great memories than it is to spend five times as much for a party that she’ll barely remember because it’s identical to everyone else’s.

  66. irina says:

    Umm… I am that evil clown… err.. a balloon artist.. I am regularly hired by those parents for those parties at those prices…

    Wait… Don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me… :-)

    What can I say… I love my job.. :-) and I don’t consider myself and other party entertainers evil, money wasters. A good entertainer is an event in itself, educational and cultural experience. Like going to an art museum or traveling to another country but at a smaller expense.

    That said, I do feel that you should always spend within and bellow your means. I do suggest less costly alternatives all the time for people to consider, even if it means less business for me.

    I am all for frugal parties and educational, functional gifts or no gifts. Myself, I have been giving gift certificates for my time as presents for a long time. (I even gave a gift certificate for my time to my former boss at his B-Day party! Value $300… He-he.. It is nice, you can put any value on your time providing you can justify it…)

    As an event entertainer, who goes to events every week, have seen a lot of waste at parties, be it for kids, adults or corporate events.

    In conclusion, I can’t vote against live entertainment at parties because those parents pay my bills and everyone, including me, enjoys the whole thing so much. :-)

    But I will vote with two of my hands for party food waste, presents and decor excess and not teaching kids fundamental values.

    Kids should learn care and share and empathy for others.. With those values in place kids will not feel deprived and be much happier, no matter what.

  67. Anitra says:

    I think the suggestions in general are great – there is a problem for elementary-school kids that many schools now have the “invite one, invite everyone” rule for parties. I know the school I went to for 5th-8th grades did: if I invited ANY girl in my grade, I had to invite them all. Does away with the “small party” idea unless your child has close family and/or friends not at at school.

    That said, just because you’re inviting 15 kids (or more!) doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. More than once, I had a “sledding party” which basically involved piling into 3-4 cars to go to the nearest park and spending an hour or so there (in January). We couldn’t have a party at my house since it was too small to have a dozen kids inside (for very long) without destroying things. When I was older, we did things like a sleepover at my church – lots more room to run around.

  68. DivaJean says:

    A topic I can really speak from experience!

    We do not have kid birthday “parties” until the child is 4 years old. Period. We have family dinners with cake on birthdays until they are old enough to have friends, some social skills, etc. The grandparents come over and they get their presents. The end.

    For ages 4 & 5, we have had simple, at home birthday parties. My son’s party last year had a bouncy house- only because we *borrowed* it from someone we knew who had one. (Why someone needs a bouncy house everyday is beyond me, but our one family friend seemed to think so and bought it for her kids- it has been up maybe 3 times, once at our house). Otherwise, its all about creativity. We once had a tea party for the American Girl crowd my daughter hangs out with- the girls made fancy hats with scraps of fabric and ribbon I had plus straw hats I bought at a garage sale. The favor- was dollar store tea sets I found. SOme of the girls still have them as I see them when they have their dolls out.

    The 6th birthday- has been a trip. Literally. My eldest daughter wanted to go to the motherland- otherwise known as The American Girl Store in NYC. A tour bus had a trip from our city (6 hours from NYC!) on her exact birthday– so just me & her went. By the time the day rolled around, another mom and daughter (my daughter’s bestie) joined in on the trip– and best of all- we got comped another 2 person reservation. ultimately, 2 friends and their moms accompanied us. The trip included meals and the show. The tour folks gave my daughter a tiara and tons of free stuff for her birthday. My daughter spent birthday money and christmas money for the doll of her choice and I bought other souvenirs for her present. In the end, it cost about $180 total. But it was really REALLY special. My daughter understands this was a one time deal and not every year will increase incrementally from this. In fact, this year was just a regular at our house kind of party that she planned out mostly herself. Hubby made pizzas and the gang danced around to Hannah Montana for a few hours then had cake.

    My son just had his trip birthday. He invited his two besties and their moms and my hubby took everyone to our fave amusement park for a long day of fun. The kids got wrist bracelets to ride all day- moms decided to just ride a few rides– thankfully you could do that at the park we like (Knoebels Grove).

  69. Barbara Wills says:

    We alternate years for parties or let the kids choose. They can have a party (which is more like a play date with more kids and cake) or a special date (dinner out with mom and/or dad, trip to zoo, little trip etc.) They often choose the date option.

    My other birthday tip is for attending parties. I buy things on sale over the course of the year for general birthday gifts and keep in a rubbermaid tub. The kids choose something for their friends out of that, avoiding a trip to store and them asking for toys for themselves! I rarely spend over $5.00 a gift that way.

  70. Anna says:

    To Mike (comment #54)

    Washing out plastic bags to reuse them is done in one’s own home and affects only one’s own family. Of course it is inappropriate to impose a value judgement on an activity that doesn’t affect anyone else.

    Birthday parties, however, are often generated by our culture and can affect whole neighborhoods and social circles. It’s clear from the majority of comments here that people really feel victimized by extravagant parties, plastic junk gift bags, and the implied need to conform. So the “value judgement” argument doesn’t apply.

  71. Jenzer says:

    * “Everyone of my mommy friends agrees with me but I have actually had several of them say to me ‘I am not going to be the one that doesn’t give goodie bags'”.

    * “People really feel victimized …by the implied need to conform.”

    These two observations hit what I think is a core issue behind extravagant birthday parties. If such parties are the norm in your socioeconomic circle, then not having one for your own child can mark your family as “different” (read: weird, strange, out there, etc.) Difference from the norm can carry quite a social stigma with it. For some parents, then, the motivation behind holding a large, expensive birthday party may not be that they genuinely want one, but that they fear the social repercussions of NOT having one.

  72. Francine says:

    Wow! What a great article! I read all of the comments and saved a bunch for future parties. Thank you, everyone.

    My step-daughters (8&9) received too much for Christmas, and they do not take care of what they have. I ask them about something and they say they lost or broke it. I was wondering about what to say on the birthday invitation. Thanks.

    I am 41 and have 2 out of control nephews who have EVERYTHING. They never get 1 of something, they get the whole set. I was so disgusted at my godchild’s birthday when he literally ripped open a gift and threw it aside. My mouth dropped. I wanted to say, “Hey! I paid good money for that and put a lot of thought into that.” My brother and his wife did not correct the behavior. From now on, money for college, and not even a card.

    My fondest memories were of the small parties. Also, the one my parents threw the games – drop a clothespin in a bottle, flip a card into a garbage can, look at a tray of stuff for 1 minute and write down all you can remember. We also had a summer family reunion picnic with horseshoes, egg toss, water balloon toss, volleyball that I remember.

    Also about comment #54- I believe it has gone from what is best for society to all about the individual. I have seen that “child worship” – it affects ALL of us – the kid with the ear piercing scream in the store and the parent calmly talking to him/her – LEAVE THE STORE! Also, I heard a Dad telling his son to jump off the escalator, and then I heard the dad say, “good job,” Excuse me? Good job for jumping off an escalator?

    Off my soapbox. Thanks for letting me (rant) – express my views.

    Best Wishes,

  73. Sandy says:

    Birthday parties for my girls were quite small, family and sometimes a few friends, depending on where we lived. Usually, it was just a cake and free play in those early years. We really didn’t have the kind of money that your neighbors obviously have.
    As the girls got older, they were allowed to have a party at the location of their choice. Often, the location offered the cake and goodies, not to mention decorations and such included in the price. These parties cost in the $200 range. Then, the next year, they would have a sleepover party. The parties that we paid for were a local wave pool, a bouncy party place (you know…those big inflatables), and another year, the local swimming pool. One year, we did a combined party with the neighbor boy (the 2 kids birthdays were a week apart). We did a science themed party…the dads were “Mad Dad Scientists” and did several chemistry experiments with 10 party goers plus our kids. We had a bee keeper friend come with her portable hive and talk to the kids about bees. They made flubber. They made balloons stick to the wall after rubbing their bellies/hair. The cake was a volcano cake, and the piece de resistance was the outdoor volcano (add that to your baking soda thread, Trent!) and a pinata. The whole party cost less than $50, but everyone had an amazing time. I think that was a great party, and it really only took some imagination on the part of us parents!

  74. Margaret says:

    That invite one invite them all thing is because kids can use their birthday invitations for social bullying. Don’t send the invitations through school — mail them. If you mail them, then the school has no business whom you invite. If you send them through the school, then the school has to deal with the bullying and hurt feelings and it becomes their business.

    I think the big parties and one upmanship is just symptomatic of the insane expectations put on parents these days. I didn’t enroll my 5 year old in soccer — GASP — because he said he didn’t want to be in it. I’ve gotten a few eyeballs over that.

  75. Sandy says:

    Oh yes, about those goody bags. I always tried to do the goody bag with an eye towards what wouldn’t go in the trash within a week. For most goody bags, rather than bags, I’d use a bandana or pretty or funky scarf (depending on the age and interest of the girls). Inside the scarf, I would put in something like marbles, lip balm, hair doodads, a card game, nail polish, a nice animal figure, or somethings to that effect. Everyhting would be tied up in the scarf, and I know that the children would use it over and over again. For other parties, I found a pretty box and filled it with treasures, and for the last party, I found little beach purses and filled it with a disposable camera, and lip gloss and gum.
    Obviously, this may not work if there are 25 kids at the party, but for parties of under 10 kids, it’s a very nice and environmentally friendly way to handle the goody bag issue.
    When my daughter had the bouncy party, 25 kids were there. For that party, I got a tray of bottles of bubble juice and packs of bubble gum for everyone to take home.

  76. Amy says:

    A child’s first birthday party is for the parents. They should just invite friends, with or without children.

    We have twin children and, for the next few birthdays, we followed a rule of thumb of inviting one other child per year of the kids’ ages. At those numbers, birthdays were pretty manageable.

  77. reulte says:

    For Francine (comment 68) and anyone with young children . . .
    In regards to a child telling his son ‘Good job’ for jumping off the escalator. If the child was under the age of 5 or so, then it is easier for them to jump rather than attempt to walk off the escalator since it requires a lot less coordination. Toddlers and escalators can be a deadly mix and young children should actually be carried off a moving sidewalk/escalator. Particularly watch out for shoelaces, dragging pants legs and – most recently, Crocs and Croc-style shoes.

  78. Chetan says:

    My daughter turned 4 this year in January and we had a “grand” (by our standards) party.

    What we did is rent out an enclosed picnic shelter at the local park ($175), decorate it with balloons and streamers ($25) and arrange for some kids games ($25) and food and drink ($75) for our guests – all 9 families that we invited.

    Total cost = $300

    However, this was a one-off and we made it clear to our daughter subsequently that going forward, she’s getting small at-home kind of affairs. However, she gets a bonus – now she gets to invite her own friends, not ours – and she’s quite happy about it.

  79. Rob O. says:

    I blogged about this very topic just a few weeks ago. Birthday parties have jumped the shark!

    Otherwise well-intentioned friends of ours revealed that they set a budget of $700 for their son’s modest birthday party. The entertainment, in this case, wasn’t the biggest indulgence – it was the gifts! They did rent a large “jumper” for about $75, but that seemed like a reasonable extravagance considering how many kids could play in that thing at a time and how much they all enjoyed it. But the gifts… There was a long folding table (maybe 3′ x 8′) piled high with gifts. So much so that the birthday boy got bored with tearing open gifts after the first 10 minutes. Portable DVD player, rapid-fire super-soaker, commando Nerf bazooka, Playstation games, etc, etc. Good Lord!

    Our families were of very meager incomes when my wife & I were kids, so birthday gifts were sparse. And yet, we’ve decided that it’s precisely because we were NOT showered with dozens of toys the way kids are now, that the toys we did receive were more meaningful, more special, and certainly more treasured…

    And another issue I have with much of the junk that’s given to kids as birthday gifts is that there’s not nearly enough thought about the appropriateness. I’m convinced that tactile toys are still far more mind-expanding – and certainly longer-lasting – than high-tech gadgets & doodads.

  80. Catherine says:

    At my house, I only allow the child to have a birthday party alternating years. Then we do let them invite friends and have a good time. This year, my oldest (going to be 11) wants all the children to bring gifts for the Humane Society – nothing for her. I’m very proud of her.

  81. Rachel211 says:

    I just wanted to say that you shouldn’t always assume how much was paid for something. Yeah, that party was over the top and probably cost a ton – but as far as the $5000 playset is concerned, you might be wrong about that one.

    We wanted to get our kids something to play on in the backyard. We spent weeks trying to find a used set on craigslist. We finally found one for $400 and were planning on picking it up the next day and a friend we told about it said, “Uh, our kids are big now and we are getting rid of ours. Do you want it?” So we ended up with one for free! I spent a week sanding, restaining, and putting on a new roof. It looked brand new when I was done – and it cost us only the cost of the building supplies.

    But was the one you saw brand new? Probably. But on average even some of the fancier models run about $1500. If you are really concerned with how much they spent on it – don’t jump to the conclusion of someone spending $5000.

  82. Tall Bill says:

    Some years ago, my sister spent the better part of a month getting ready for a young nieces birthday party with a fairy princises castle 4 feet tall and accurately decorated, outfits hand sewn, decorator cake, favors, the works. Neighborhood kids had a ball, which pleased her as she had invested all that time & $$.

    A month later, I had a Large delivery less than a mile away & carefully unpacked it & had a large 4 x 6′ box left over. Borrowed a pickup truck & drove slowly over with a marker and box knive. Our niece helped in laying out the door, windows, etc & I crafted it as a supporting house to the castle at her request. Within 2 weeks, the “Designer Castle” with more than 100 hours into details was destroyed & that leftover box with less than 1/2 of a marker in ink & about a hour of my time had all of the neighborhood playing with it for the entire summer. Lasted till the rains of fall.

    Vested interest is never to early to learn.

    Reality is cruel at times.

    Imagination still rules!!

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