When I was a kid, a birthday party was having friends over to your house, with cake and ice cream, balloons, hats, presents and—if you were big time—a piñata. Sometimes a sleepover followed, sometimes not. Birthday parties were simple and pretty standard so there wasn’t much concern with being behind the social curve.
But as a parent with kids of my own, I quickly discovered that a few things had changed over the years. Gone were the simple affairs that kept us so content when I was young. Now it’s paint ball, amusement parks, laser tag, race cars, live entertainment—if you can dream it, somebody’s doing it for their child’s birthday.
Kids’ birthday parties aren’t standard anymore, they’re cool. And they have to be; apparently one of the factors a child is measured by today by his or her peers is the quality of their last birthday bash. Birthday’s aren’t just cool either, they’re also something else—they’re competitive!
Let me say from the outset that this isn’t a condition I agree with or am in any way trying to promote. It is however a natural extension of an over-indulgent culture in which the same people who borrow money to pay for houses, cars and vacations they can barely afford will also borrow a little extra to throw an outsized birthday extravaganza for junior’s big day.
How do you give your kids a cool party without breaking the bank?
My wife and I investigated and tried some of the popular birthday venues for our kid’s parties, tending to stay on the lower end of the price scale. It wasn’t too hard to do so when the kids were really young, say up to age nine or ten. But as they got older the level of competition only seemed to increase. Middle school was the worst—imagine that!
I don’t have a problem having a low key party for my kids, but my kids have to go to school on Monday and face the judgment of their classmates, so we tried to keep that in mind as we looked for alternatives. And we found one that satisfied the “cool factor” for our kids without demolishing our budget.
For our kids, my wife and I chose to have sleepover parties at a hotel. We’ve done it on four occasions, two of which were combination parties for both kids at the same time, which saves even more money. It was a world above a sleepover at home, but both simpler and a whole lot less expensive than the popular birthday venues.
I don’t know what your budget for your kids’ birthdays might be, but this is definitely a consideration if you want to do something that the kids (and their friends) will enjoy and remember without spending a bunch of money.
A cost but one with real benefits
In our corner of Suburbia, the local Embassy Suites charges $109 (plus tax) per night for a two room suite with two double beds plus a double fold out sleeper in the front room. The room will accommodate up to six people.
The only other costs for the parties were pizza, soda, cake and of course, a gift for our kids, all of which we would have paid if we had the party somewhere else, or even at home.
But here are the benefits we got in exchange for $109 (plus tax):
- We didn’t have to clean our house before the party the way you would for a home party or sleepover
- We didn’t have to clean our house again after the party the way you would for a home party or sleepover
- No decorating was necessary (though my wife would decorate the hotel room(s) anyway)
- We didn’t have to worry about sleeping arrangements or kids bedding, like sleeping bags or pillows
- We didn’t have to pay the $200-$300 (or more) that many of the specialized birthday venues charge for a two hour party—and we had all night
- We didn’t have to worry about paying for souvenirs or other extras or add-ons—there weren’t any
- The hotel pool kept the kids busy as the main attraction—we never had to plan activities (though my wife added some anyhow)
- We had a choice of either the room(s) or the main dining room for pizza and cake
- The relatively long walks to and from the room(s) and the hotel pool and dining room provided something all kids need: running room
- A hot and cold breakfast buffet was available for up to six people per room the next morning and it was included in the price
- Because hotels impose limits on the number of people who can stay in a room, we had a natural ceiling on the guest list; inviting the whole class—thankfully—went right out the window
- All the kids had a good time and thought it was a COOL party—which is very important to the birthday girl or boy!
If you’re at all concerned about the six person limit, there’s no need. The limit applies to the number of people staying at the hotel overnight, not the number visiting. When we did individual parties, my wife or me, our son or daughter and four of their friends stayed over. For the two times we did combination parties, we rented two rooms. My wife and I would both be at the hotel for the night with our two kids and four friends each for the sleepover. However, for each party, they invited kids who only came for the party and not the sleepover.
This actually works well because as we discovered, not all kids who come for a party can sleep over. The kids might have had eight friends each, only half of whom would do the sleepover, so we were never confronted with an over load situation.
I’m not saying this type of party is for everybody, but it’s something to think about when you’re looking for an idea that’s a little different but won’t cost a fortune. My wife and I and our kids liked it so much that we did it four times.
What do you normally do for our children’s birthday parties? Have you ever had a party at a hotel? What did your kids think about it? How much is too much to spend on a birthday party?
This post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog OutOfYourRut.com.
(Photo courtesy of Tony Crescibene)