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Here’s our guide to hosting a birthday party at home on a budget

First, decide if you are having a drop-off party (parents leave after they drop kids off) or a stay and mingle party (parents and kids hang out together).  If parents stay you will need more food, but you won’t have to hire a babysitter or ask friends to help supervise the party.  The success and safety of a drop-off party depends on the number and age of the kids and how much back up you have as hosts. 

ages 2-4:  parents should stay because navigating the potty, food, and random bumps for this age kiddo can be challenging. 

age 5 and up:  drop off parties work but you need to have enough adults on hand to supervise.  Make sure parents leave their emergency contact info, any allergy information, and know when to pick up their kid.   Make the party boundaries very clear to kids, especially if you live near a park, a lake, or have areas of the house that are out-of-bounds.  

Invitations:  include the time, date, location, directions, and a contact phone number.  Send them for free by email or use an on-line service like evite (http://www.evite.com/).  If you want to save money on food, pick a non-meal time to host the party like mid-morning or mid-afternoon.  Let parents know what food will be served (ie: cake +/- ice cream, pizza, etc.) so they can plan accordingly.  Including siblings and making it a no-gifts party makes it easier for families to attend, especially if your invites go out late.  

House preparation:  Have the kids put away precious or breakable toys that they don’t want to share.  Look for kid hazards:  open stairways, extension cords, cords on window blinds, a hot stove or fireplace, sharp corners, etc.  If you are serving chocolate or other messy foods, have a plan to contain the mess (eating outside is easiest).  

No gifts/no goody bags:  Lots of money, time and stress can go into buying birthday gifts  for parties or giving goody bags.  If you are like our family, you probably have a collection of unused unsharpened specialty pencils from past goody bags.  In the past our guests took home craft projects (like paper mache puppets) or helium balloons.  Now we skip goody bags and ask people not to bring presents.  If you want to send kids home with something, here are some low/no cost options:  paper airplanes or other origami art, baked goods, or flowers from your garden. 

Activities:  really depend on the number and ages of kids you’ve invited. We tend to have multi-age parties, so the kids naturally form small clumps of activity playing with the toys and the spaces we have.  If you are hosting 20 5-year olds for 2 hours without parents, having a plan will be much more important.  

Our best parties end with a home made piñata.  We use sturdy rope or a double length of twine to hang the piñata from a tree branch.  Kids take turns swinging at the piñata, starting with the birthday kid and then going shortest to tallest.  Make sure the kids stand back so they don’t get hit.  You can make it more difficult for older kids by using a blind fold, twirling the piñata (it is harder to hit when spinning), or raising and lowering the piñata as they swing.  Have older kids avoid giving the piñata the overhead chop - the weakest part of a homemade piñata is the point where the string attaches to the piñata.  The overhead chop won’t usually break the piñata, but it will knock it to the ground.  

Gluten-free vegan party food:  Our youngest is allergic to eggs, wheat, dairy and all kinds of nuts.  Baking with these restrictions is tricky and the ingredients are expensive, so good recipes are crucial.  My favorite site and my favorite recipe so far is the “Allergy free girl scout cookies” (http://cybelepascal.com/allergy-free-girl-scout-cookies/).  These cookies taste amazing, freeze well, but aren’t cheap to make — it took about 3 bags of the expensive allergen free chocolate chips (Enjoy Life semi sweet chocolate chips are available at Woodmans for $5-6/bag; we couldn’t find them at Trader Joes or Willy St Co-op East).  Her allergy free french apple cake (http://cybelepascal.com/allergy-free-french-apple-cake/) made a delicious birthday cake.  Her site has excellent information about baking supplies.  

Celine's fourth birthday party

This weekend we had a multi-age party with 15 kids ranging from 2-10 years old and 12 adults.  The party ran from 10 am to noon.   We served a green salad, edamame, corn chips and salsa, veggie booty, carrots, fruit, and three gluten-free vegan desserts.  For drinks we had water and apple juice (served in cups, no juice boxes), iced coffee, and wine.  The kids ran around and played for about an hour while the parents talked and drank coffee.  Then we moved the food and cake outside for picnic eating in our neighbor’s backyard.  The grand finale was breaking the castle piñata.  Check the Summit Facebook and youtube links in a couple of weeks - we will post a video showing how to make a piñata. 

Our birthday budget was $100.  We spent $4.77 on allergen free candy for the piñata (2 bags of lifesavers and 1 bag of dum dum lollipops.  The kids didn’t complain but many of the lifesavers were shattered by the time the piñata broke).  I had a large bottle of glue, balloons, and paint on hand that I used to make the pinata.  We spent $65.22 on Celine’s gifts, and $10.32 on party snacks (apple juice, apples for the cake, and veggie booty).  We had two extra gifts for Celine from our toy stash that were about $22.  Dave’s mom brought the corn chips and fruit.  The rest of the food and drinks came from our pantry/freezer, including the gluten and allergen-free baking supplies. 

Shout outs

Capital Kids (http://capitolkids.com/): quality toys, amazing service, free gift wrapping

Ultimate Paper Mache website (http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-recipes):  I used the glue-based paste. 

Dave’s parents:  grandparents rock. 

All of our friends but especially our neighbor Liana:  she offered her bug-free yard for the party and mowed our yard as we wrote our weekly blog post.  

Takeaway for the Week

What is more important than we realized:  Our kids remember experiences more than presents.  I don’t think any of us remember what Will got for his 5th birthday party (he claims it was an ice cream scoop but I thought he got that for Christmas).  But, we all, including the neighbors, remember the dragon piñata that withstood 3 rounds of pummeling.  Planning a house party and coming up with your own family tradition gives you an opportunity to make strong memories (which is a bit trickier to do within the scripted format of most commercial birthday party venues).  

What is easier than we thought:  Including parents and siblings makes our house parties more fun, enjoyable and less work.  One of the older siblings even helped run the piñata for Celine’s party.


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Parties are very fun--thanks for providing great ideas for entertaining on a budget :)Job well done! ...Happy Birthday Celine!

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