Raising a child supposedly costs you a quarter of a million dollars, but it can honestly be more daunting to face the idea of spending $80 on bottle nipples in a single month. Expense Report gives us a look into the spending, scrimping, and wishing that defines parenthood, from what moms spend on birthdays, to childcare, to sleep, to self-care (we wish!), and beyond.
It's safe to say that the cost of kids' birthday parties has gotten a bit out of hand these days. With the popularity of Pinterest and social media flexing, gone are the birthday parties of yesteryear when roller skating and homemade sheet cakes would suffice. This feels particularly true in Los Angeles where we live. I've been to toddlers' birthday parties that likely cost more than some people's weddings.
My children's age difference is four years, but their birthdays fall exactly one week apart. The last few years, I've been able to get away with giving them experiences (a family visit to Legoland, for example) instead of parties, and we've loved that tradition that counts as both party and gift. This year, however, my luck ran out. They both wanted parties. Separate parties. Here's what we spent on two parties, thrown within one week of each other. #blessed
The Family: A mom and dad in their (late) 30s
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Number of children: 2 (ages 4 and 8)
When my oldest son was turning 3, I decided it was time to throw him a big party. Translation: I decided it was time to show off my party-planning skills. Frozen was at its peek popularity so we billed it as a "Frozen in Summer" party because his birthday was in June. Y'all, when I look back at the lengths I went to in order to make this party "special" I want to slap myself. I hired a chalk-artist to draw a giant Olaf in my driveway. I had a huge sandbox built in my backyard, complete with a "life size" Olaf cutout to greet the kids and "treasure" buried within. There was a bounce house, face-painting, a custom-made cake (plus gluten-free cupcakes), Frozen-themed food with clever little names. It was epic. And expensive. And stressful. And, my son doesn't remember it...
For these parties, I was determined not to get caught up in the birthday party hype. I wanted to keep them simple, stress-free, and not break the bank since our financial situation has changed this year. Read: less money. First up, we had to figure out the location for each party.
We decided to have our youngest son's party at home which, technically, is free. However, we needed to do a massive spring cleaning of the yard so our gardener came for the first time in months. We also rented some kid-size tables and chairs.
Tables and chairs: $30
For my eight-year-old's party, he really wanted to play soccer with his friends, so we reserved a nearby soccer field/park area for five hours. We brought our own tables and chairs for this one.
Field rental fee: $144
Location subtotal: $374
I kept this pretty simple for both. I got my 4-year-old's balloons from Party City, but then I remembered one of the dollar stores nearby also has balloons, so I got my 8-year-old's balloons from there at a fraction of the cost.
Decorations subtotal: $45
Food & Beverage
This seems to be where I always go overboard. I want there to be enough food (and a variety of it) so that everyone at the party leaves feeling satisfied. I also usually serve wine and beer at our parties because if I'm going to load your kid up on sugar and possibly injure them in a bounce house, I at least want you to have the option of a glass of Chardonnay while you watch the chaos ensue. I made the cakes from scratch this year. Did you read that? I made the cakes from scratch! I still had to spend some dough on the fixings to perfect each theme though: animals for my four-year-old and soccer for my 8-year-old.
Fresh Brothers Pizza (8-year-old's party): $95
Snack items for both parties: $112
Beverages for both parties: $100
Cakes and cupcake ingredients/supplies for both: $57 (including this set of soccer candles from Party City I couldn't pass up)
Food supplies (plates, napkins, utensils, serving trays, etc) for both parties: $67
Food and beverage subtotal: $431
All my 8-year-old wanted to do was play soccer with his friends, so we hired his soccer coach to come and lead the games. He brought everything with him (goals, balls, etc.) and made it an absolutely pain-free experience.
My 4-year-old wanted a bounce house. A lion bounce house to be specific, which went along with his animal theme. I decided to also rent a bubble machine as a fun surprise. Thank goodness I did, because right after the bounce house was delivered we discovered there was a tear in it. To make a long story short, we had to wait for a new bounce house to come and it didn't arrive until 30 minutes before the party ended. Thankfully, pre-schoolers are easily distracted, so we kept them busy with the bubble machine, a tabletop foosball table we had, legos and a pack of balloons from the 99 Cent Store that they tossed around and tried to competitively pop. Side note: the new bounce house was spaceship-themed. For this inconvenience, I was refunded $50.
We also hired our amazing babysitter who coincidentally is one of the best face-painters we've ever seen! She didn't even mind switching my son from a tiger to a zebra after he had a post-cake meltdown.
Bounce house: $40 (with discount)
Bubble machine: $32
Face painter: $60
Miscellaneous games from 99 Cent Store: $7
Soccer coach: $140
Entertainment subtotal: $279
Let me be clear, I loathe party favors. I don't like spending money on a bunch of (pardon my French) crap that's just going to end up in the trash by week's end. I stated as much to the parents at my 4-year-old's birthday party as they were exiting and it was met with exuberant "thank you!" responses.
For the eight-year-old though, I wanted to get a couple of small things that they could enjoy during the party and beyond, so I found some small $4 soccer balls at another dollar store, and also some soccer ball sweat bands from Party City.
Soccer balls: $44
Sweat bands: $23
Party favors subtotal: $67
Total for both parties: $1,197
My goal was to keep each party at $500, so I suppose I did relatively well at staying within that target. We didn't have a ton of food waste, which I'm always thankful for, and I have some leftover cups, plates and utensils I can use at another party. And, while I still hope we can go back to doing experiences next year, seeing how excited my boys were for their parties and watching all the kids have so much fun was, as they say, priceless.
Though I'm still pretty bitter about that bounce house.