Birthday Madness

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Time or Treasure – Which can you afford to part with when planning your child’s next birthday bash?

So here’s the deal. I’m a little bit crazy when it comes to special occasions.

I decorate for EVERYTHING.

I have several blue plastic crates under my stairs that are marked with every occasion from Paddy’s Day to Christmas and all points in between. I have been known to keep the Christmas tree up for a full year and just re-decorate it for each of the changing seasons. Eggs for Easter. Ties for Father’s Day. Bats for Halloween.

Truly, I love this stuff.

In my defense, I come from a long line of Invested Mamas who also love this stuff so it is probably genetic. Knowing this about me, it should come as no surprise that we do birthdays pretty big around here.

Case in point: When my son turned 5, we threw him the best Pirate Party ever. My father-in-law even built a real wooden pirate ship and we had a plank for the kids to walk over to get their “Loot” bags. There were homemade “Desert Island” cupcakes and the guests made their own pirate treasure with plastic beads and string. The family members who helped out all dressed as pirates for the party, eye patches and all. We even had a toy parrot as the mascot for the day!

Similarly, for my daughter’s 8th birthday earlier this year, we hosted a Diva Sleepover for her BFFs. They each made their own pizzas, baked cupcakes, painted crafts and participated in a talent show. Before they went home, we went big (because that’s just the way we roll).

But last weekend my son turned 11 and there was none of the usual hoopla…or at least not by my standards. On the eve of the big day, after he was sound asleep, we snuck out the birthday crate full of balloons and banners and decorated the house for when he awoke. We had all his favorites for breakfast and his gifts from us were wrapped and waiting when he came down the stars in the morning. Otherwise, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful until it was time to go to his party. The venue took care of everything, including food. We simply showed up and they took care of the rest. Easy, breezy.

Rare are the birthday pics where I don’t look a little frazzled. His party? I was fresh as a daisy.  Mellow, even. And he had a blast. Success all around…

Then the bill arrived.

Let’s just say it’s a good thing we took those snaps before I paid the party piper.

“Easy” does not come cheap, my friends. And although I already knew this, I found the party to be a bit of a reminder to say the least. The whole thing has me very reflective this week and here’s what I’ve come to realize:

-       If you can’t invest the time, be prepared to invest the money.

I have literally spent hours planning my children’s birthday parties. I truly cherish every year and every milestone and want to celebrate it (and them) to the fullest. And while that planning and prep can take copious amounts of time, it usually doesn’t cost that much money. But those will likely be the parties that stay with us in memory the longest. For example, my father in law has since passed on and the memories and photos of that little handmade pirate ship provide a smile to this day.

Alternatively, sometimes your son requests the “drive thru” version of a party and you get to relax, sip your coffee and enjoy it as well. Is that really so bad? It’s not if you have the budget for it.

-       Know your limits. Play (and stay) within them.

I won’t lie. I did feel a little twinge in the pit of my stomach as I paid for the party, but I really was not surprised. We had gone in with our eyes wide open. We had a budget and we did not exceed that. The party did not go on a credit card and we can still afford to eat this week.

-       Talk about it with your kids.

Knowing the cost per child for this shindig was steep, we explained to Darcy that he would have to limit the number of guests. We have a spending limit on all events, including the gifts that go along with them. Because this is something we’ve shared with both our kids for years now, it was not a new thing for them and it was easy to have that conversation. Remember, when it comes to spending, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”

-       Then don’t talk about it anymore.

If you, as the parent, decide to invest more money or more time into your child’s party, do so consciously. If you do end up stressed in the process, do not make them feel guilty about it. Nothing spoils the fun like a car ride home spent lamenting about the bill or an evening complaining that you’re exhausted from frosting cupcakes. Blow out those candles, make a wish that you won’t make that mistake again and let it go.

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Recent comments

  • yves
    July 10, 2014 - 10:50

    This is a test. Please disregard.

  • Alison
    May 31, 2014 - 13:50

    So right! "Know your limits and stay within them" rang true even for my daughters university graduation party this week. Handing them these lessons is, in my opinion, one of the best gifts we can give our kids!

  • Larry Snow
    May 31, 2014 - 03:02

    Jackie I always knew you were that special kind of person. I remember back to your very young days you had a very special personality. A smile that never ended & a sense of humor that matched. I knew your family very well as you may notice in my email address. Look at it closely it holds the initials of 3 good friends of mine that happens to be related to you. Keep up the good work. Say hi to your mom. XOX

  • KK
    May 30, 2014 - 13:41

    Well said! Don't complain after the fact once you commit, and as long as everyone involved is aware of the budget and time invested then just enjoy the moment. You won't that moment back again...