I worked until our girls were about 18 months old. I thought we lived on a tight budget when I was working, but now that I am a stay-at-home mom, we live on a very tight budget. Sometimes getting the bills paid and putting food on the table requires some creativity. So the extras like swim lessons, dance classes, and birthday parties really throw a loop into our checkbook.
Our girls just celebrated their 4th birthday, and this was a big one. It was the first birthday where they really “got” the party thing. Several months prior to turning 4, they received a birthday party invite from a friend. We attended the most darling “Octonauts” party; complete with jelly fish hanging around the room, beach balls, and a sand-bucket for each child. The party included lunch in addition to cake and ice cream, and the party games were incredibly cute. As we were leaving I heard those famous words… “Mommy, I want my party to be just like that.” It was obvious they understood what a birthday party was all about.
FACT CHECK: Did you know the average parent spends $300-$400 on a child's birthday party?
For the next few weeks our girls continued to remind us what they wanted for their birthday. Our Emma wanted a “Princess Party” and Hanna wanted a “Tea Party”. It seemed obvious … we would combine the two and throw a “Princess Tea Party”. The girls loved the idea, and right away they started informing everyone that they were going to have a “Princess Tea Party Birthday”. A few weeks later, when things started to settle down, I sat down and started to plan out on paper the infamous birthday party. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh geese, how am I ever going to pull this off? I don’t even own a Tea Cup.”
As parents we love to celebrate our multiples on their birthdays. It is a big deal. It is a celebration of life as much as it is another year older. But …it can also be a financial burden and a stressful day of chaos. So, how did I survive?? Here are my tips.
TIP 1: GIVE IT TIME
If you really want to save yourself money and stress, give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Start planning your event weeks in advance, allowing yourself the opportunity to shop for bargains. This will elevate any stress that might be associated with trying to do it all on your own at the last minute, and you will save a lot of money. We started planning about 8 weeks prior to the twin’s birthday. When the party arrived, my only stress resulted from the ants that decided to suddenly take residence in my kitchen. The party was ready to go.
TIP 2: CASH OUT
Determine a budget and cash out that exact amount of money you wish to spend. It is too easy to “debit” or “credit” without realizing how quickly it all adds up. With cash in your hand, you limit what you spend your money on and tend to be a little more frugal. I can’t tell you the number of times I picked things up, only to put it back because I didn’t have the cash for it. A debit card would have allowed me to justify that purchase much easier. Once your cash runs out, so does your spending. You might even surprise yourself and come in under budget!
TIP 3: COME UP WITH A THEME
This may sound silly, but planning a theme will keep you on track. It will help you to centralize your thoughts into certain decorations, colors, and activities. It will also help to alleviate any unnecessary spending on party items you really don’t need.
TIP 4: IT’S ALL IN THE TIMING
Most events are held on the weekend. As with anything, the cost of renting a location outside the home increase for weekend events. Planning your party on a weekday/night, might save you some money in the end. Consider planning your birthday party after lunch and before dinner. Serving a meal to your party guests can add up to a large expense. You can still serve a snack if you choose, but you are not obligated to serve a full meal. We scheduled our party from 1-3 PM. Since we invited growing 3, 4, and 5 year olds, we decided to use finger foods as a snack. It was much easier than a meal and it costs a whole lot less.
TIP 5: LIMIT THE GUEST LIST & REQUEST RSVP
So, how many children do you invite to your birthday parties? The fair way in handling this is of course to allow each child a certain number of house guests. At age 4, our job was easy. The girls share their social network and got to invite their entire posse. I’ve heard of two different ways of handling this. Invite one child per year of age, or the birthday age plus one. Regardless of the number of children you invite, it is important to request an RSVP. This courtesy will allow you the opportunity of saving money on party favors, food, and much more. It will also keep you organized in your party preparations.
TIP 6: STAY HOME OR LOOK FOR FREEBEE LOCATIONS
When we were kids, birthday parties were simple. They were held in the home with a game of pin the tail, cake and ice-cream, and presents. Now parents spend upward of $400 or more (9% spend more than $1,000!) on renting locations for child play. If you want to throw a party on a budget, plan your party at home, or find a location that does not charge for renting the space. Parks can be a great place to host a spring or summer event. Your local library might also have a meeting room that they reserve for special events, as do most recreation centers. If you know anyone associated with a clubhouse, they are also excellent locations to host a birthday party. Your local park district buildings are another great resource. If you are a resident you can often rent a multi-purpose room for a more reasonable rate.
TIP 7: RE– USE
Look around your house and consider using what you already have for party decorations, games, or entertainment. Most of our children decide on party themes based on their favorite things. You might have items in your toy box they can use at the party. Utilize these items to save on your budget. We set up our canopy and turned it into a castle. It not only kept the sun off the kids on a 100 degree day, but it was a hit with the kids. We also put out the girls' toys and let them entertain themselves with one big play date. In addition, using your own (or reused) table cloths, tables, etc. will cut down on unnecessary costs. If you don’t have an item, check with a friend, a neighbor, or your MoMs club and see if you can borrow it. When purchasing plates, napkins, cups, etc., avoid buying character themed paper goods. Instead look for solid colored paper goods that you can reuse at your next event.
TIP 8: — USE THE INTERNET
The internet can be your friend. I would not win an award for being crafty. I have a Pinterest account, but quite frankly, I’ve never pinned a thing and really don’t know how it all works. I did however search Pinterest for “princess themed ideas”. I then tweaked and twisted things just a bit to fit our needs.
Amazon.com saved us. The castle I created from our canopy consisted of 100 balloons I tied up the canopy poles. I purchased them on Amazon with free shipping for $4.39. I spent less than $18 on all our decorations thanks to Amazon.
Remember the absent tea cups? I searched on Craigslist and found 12 white China tea cups for dirt cheap. They now reside in my china closet, but on the table they made an elegant little tea party.
Another great resource is Oriental Trading Company. We didn’t use this resource, but I have many friends that have.
I would also recommend searching the clearance online for various party stores. You can often find paper plates, napkins, party favors, etc. for ¼ of the normal cost.
TIP 9: DO IT YOURSELF
This is the hard one! Who has the time, right? I sent my husband off with the girls once or twice, and then I got creative after they went to bed. If you give yourself plenty of time, you don’t have to do it all at once. I did a little bit each night. Doing things myself saved us a lot of money. You can make invitations, decorations, party favors … just about anything to save you a buck. Use an online party invite website such as Punchbowl or Evite to avoid invitation costs.
TIP 10: MAKE THE CAKE
This was a big one for us. Since multiples share a birthday and a party, we decided when they turned one to give them their own cakes. It is now tradition for our twins to have their own birthday cake. Store bought cakes may be easy to grab at the last minute or pre-order in advance, but they will cost you a minimum of $10 and they don’t always taste or look that great. That’s $20 bucks on yucky birthday cakes. Baking your own cake, or soliciting friends who are good at it, will save you from spending a lot of extra cash. We are fortunate to have a good friend with a lot of talent. She made the girls birthday cakes and they were a hit.
TIP 11: KEEP THE PARTY FAVORS SIMPLE
Let’s face it. Kids love goodie bags. I think they almost expect to receive one. When putting together party favors remember this one thing… It is all about the packaging! If it looks “Big” the kids will love it. It takes a lot of little items to fill a bag, but only one or two big items. The parents will love you for sending home bubbles, sidewalk chalk, or a coloring book instead of a bag full of candy and a pile of plastic toys. If you wrap it up fancy, you can even link it to your theme and save yourself a lot of cash on the little trinkets.
TIP 12: ENTERTAINMENT AND GAMES
We planned to play a ‘Pin the Tail’ and never got to it. We also planned to break the piñata — we barely had time. You can keep the games at a minimum and the entertainment simple. Many people hire in the entertainment to control the party. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a magician, clown, princess, or any other entertainer, consider hiring a friend of the family, teenager, or one of your older children to entertain the group. We had a princess Rapunzel that helped us out. She painted the kids faces, played music with them, cut the cake with the girls, and controlled the entire party. It was great to sit back and take pictures. Just be sure to stay involved with the kids so your entertainer isn't doing all of the child wrangling on their own.
ADDITIONAL STRESS RELIEVERS
Make sure you prepare all the food/snacks in advance, including the ice cream you wish to serve with the cake. Dish up your ice cream into cups/bowls before the party and re-freeze them. When it is time to serve up your cake and ice-cream, bring out your cups and serve them up. This is much easier than trying to scoop up ice cream and take orders of who wants what.
If you want to see chaos’ watch a set of multiples open birthday presents. With the little ones even their friends dive in to help with the wrapping. Before you know it, 8 kids are opening a present and taking it out of the packaging before you can even see what it was. If this sounds familiar, try this: Put your multiples on chairs and all the other children on the floor in a circle. Each child is handed their gift to pass off to the birthday child. After your kids open the presents, put them in a tub/bin sitting next to each chair. The twins get to keep their presents separate, and you get to keep your sanity.
CONFESSION: I saw this successfully accomplished at our friends' (also twins) birthday party just two weeks prior to the girls birthday. It was awesome. At our house, it failed miserably. The kids ran in and presents started flying everywhere. It was crazy! Which brings me to my final point.
GO WITH THE FLOW!
Once you have saved your money, planned a successful party, and worked to make it all happen, sit back and enjoy your multiples in their element. What a gift they are. Each milestone reminds us just how lucky we are to have them. They are unique. Our multiples were born with a best friend; someone similar to them that they can grow with, play with, and share adventures with. With each year that passes, take lots of pictures and remember the moments. Time passes way too quickly.
Minden Buckingham lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Mike and fraternal twin girls, Hanna and Emma. She has two bachelor degrees from Portland State University in Business Management and Human Resources Management. Minden is a stay home mom and enjoys the outdoors, photography, and writing.