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Monday, 12 November 2012

Partying for less

My son just turned four.  Hosting a successful birthday for a four year old boy would be hard enough, doing it while maintaining our frugal lifestyle is a whole separate challenge.
First of all, Walter had to have a cowboy birthday. I learned quickly that the theme was simply not negotiable.
Secondly, I feel that it goes without saying (and yet here I am saying it) that you can get the most from a frugal lifestyle when you DIY as many projects as possible.  This philosophy has got me know in my circle of friends as "that one who crafts".
Finally, our children have birthday celebrations, not birthday parties. The only difference really being that we request no gifts.  We do understand that some people desire to mark the occasion with a token, which is why we collect non-perishable food items for our local food bank.  (More on this in a later post.)
Although I wouldn't change our birthday celebrations, they do present an additional challenge.  Take your average child's birthday. They are typically about two hours long with the large majority of the time spent eating pizza, then having cake followed by gift opening.  Remove the pizza, (I can explain) and the gift opening and I'm stuck trying to actively engage these children for the whole two hours. All on my grabd budget of $150!

i could have bought standard cowboy themed party invitations at the local party supply store. But at $7.95 for 8 it would have broke my frugal heart.  So instead, I dressed Walter in his cowboy attire, stood him against the wall and snapped a photo of him with the majority of the photo space being blank wall.  Then i uploaded the image to PicMonkey (GREAT free photo editing software online), turned the photo sepia and added the required text.  Since it was all done in a photo format i was able to send the image to Wal-Mart for processing and walked away very happy with my 20 cent custom party invitations,. Total coat $2.50

Our home is flat out not suitable for hosting 15 four year olds along with their parents indoors.  I'm so not the type for the fast food restaurant party, nor the movie cinema.  I love using our community center,  If i am forced to spend money, at least i know its a reasonable amount and its going back to support our community. Total cost for two hour rental of the large gym of the community center $65

This is where having a generic birthday, like cowboy, and not a licensed party, like Woody, really pays off. Keep it simple and stick to a two colour theme as best you can.  We went with brown and red. gold (because i could not get brown) and red balloons.   For the record, what i really wanted to do was get red and WHITE balloons and colour cow spots on the white ones with sharpie markers.    But That  Guy kept rolling his eyes at me every time I mentioned it.  *sigh* Can't win 'em all I guess.
Two red and white checked plastic table cloth from the local dollar store was just right for the food table and   the donation table.  The fabric store sells burlap from the bolt.  Two meters of that for $7, cut into table runners gave me four great runners.  One for the food table on top of the table cloth and one for each of the seating tables.
Centerpieces i kept simple and playful.  Literally. I picked up packages of plastic toy horses and other farm animals from the dollar store and grouped them together at the center of each table.

Finally was the western town. That Guy and I created a whole western town out of appliance boxes and some spray paint.  Okay, technically That Guy actually cut and painted all the boxes into a jail, bank, saloon, general store, a wagon wheel and a few cacti.... but I nagged for three months to get the job done.  So I view this as a 50/50 workload split. :)  The town was a huge hit and totally free!

Total decor cost $17


Dollar stores can be SUCH a great resource!  Each child received a cowboy hat, with a small thank you tag attached.  On each tag I also included a self adhesive mustache.  Total cost for guest favours $17

Let me explain the no pizza.  Pizza is actually not required at every party.  So often I am at children's birthdays where there is waaaayyy too much food.  And usually the item that tips the scales on this is ordering  three or four trays of pizza for a party for toddlers and a handful of parents.  The easiest way of avoiding the $50 cost on pizza? Host your party between 2-4.   Everyone has had lunch and is leaving well before dinner.
Food is one of our cultures social lubricants so I am not suggesting you serve nothing.  But there are alternatives.  We served pretzels, string cheese, water, juice boxes and a few theme related foods. I wanted to serve corn on the cob (totally western).  That Guy said no four year old is going to be drawn to corn.  So I did Candy Corn, off the cob instead.  I wanted to do baked beans.  That Guy just looked at me. (Really, he is very supportive! But hes also my reality check) So I did jelly beans instead,    I wanted to do roasted marshmallows.... lets just say I settled for un roasted marshmallows on a skewer.  Then, of course, i made small signs to explain my compromised clever- food choices.
In lieu of a cake we did some cactus cupcakes for all the kids to enjoy.
Total food cost $40

The westen town won hands down and was how the kids enjoyed spending the majority of their time.  I did also plan a few other activities though.  I spray painted some empty pop cans (tin cans would have worked better but I had way more empty Diet Coke cans than I did empty soup cans) silver and with a tennis ball it became s shooting gallery game.
I bought some favour sized bubbles from the dollar store (4/$1) and wrapped them in small balls of tin foil.  Spray painted gold  these became "gold nuggets"  that i hid around the room for the kids to find.
Finally I did my version of musical chairs.  Instead of chairs the same number of balloons as children, less one were thrown into the air.  When the music stopped the child who didnt catch a balloon was "out".
Total cost for games: $3 (for bubbles)

Total Birthday cost $144.50

Best of all, I was able to reach out to someone who was interested in hosting her own cowboy birthday for her son and pass on all the western party supplies and decor so it did not have to go to waste! :)

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