Let me digress a few years. It started with our first child, whose very first birthday slumber party was about first grade, and involved 15 shrieking little girls. Maybe my mistake was in the amount of girls allowed? We never looked back, and the parties seemed to grow from there. We were (and still are) the parents who let the kids stay up late, take winding treks through Panther Hollow for a thrill, and buy them pop to drink through the night. The 5 a.m. pounding I hear through the floor could be better if I stopped buying them pop to drink, but I probably wonít. We are the pancakes or donuts in the morning parents, and the ones who sit around telling them funny stories from our past (this would be Georgeís area).
This past weekend we held our sonís Sweet Sixteen birthday party, replete with a DJ spinning house music, lasers that shot through the night sky, and 50 howling kids that got louder as the super moon rose over the trees. And where were we, said fun parents? Out on the dance floor, or shall I say the fringes of the dance floor, chaperoning/dancing the night away.
Why is my column about this? Because over the years weíve perfected the birthday party event into a highly sharpened balance of fun and frugalness Ė and Iím here to tell you how we invite so many kids yet never break the bank.
1) Never be afraid to invite as many kids as they want.
When Hunter told me he had invited 75 people, I figured about half that amount would show up. We did have about 50 kids there all total. Now before you freak out, remember that only eight of them stayed overnight afterward. I always let them know how many can stay beforehand. That way when you have 50 kids overtaking your house and yard, you know around midnight that number dwindles to a manageable overnight amount. He created a Facebook event to invite people. FB event equals free. You can also make a word document invitation, print it out, then take it somewhere for cheap copies to pass out. This equals pennies for cheap invites also, if not everyone has Facebook.
2) Keep the food simple. I said SIMPLE.
Weíve found that kids come to a party to, well, mingle with other kids. They donít come to find fancy appetizers and huge main courses. I have at times thrown in my chicken enchiladas if the party is on a smaller scale, but for huge events I usually go with hot dogs. Grilled, baked, boiled Ė no one cares as long as there are cheap eats. If youíre not picky, you can pick up a pack of about 30 dogs at Walmart for about five dollars. I work at a wholesale distributor and was able to buy 200 hot dogs for a song. Thatís cash money in my pocket. I bought buns at Aldi, made a condiment tray of onions, cheese, and, since the party was on Cinco de Mayo, pickled jalapenos were included. I made a huge bowl of salsa, which when made with cans of petite diced tomatoes, goes a long way. The salsa was devoured. Hunter didnít want cake, so I made two types of bars, and a brownie batter dip with pretzels for dipping. It was more than enough and everyone was full. For drinks, I always go with my trusty ally the Walmart version of Crystal Light. The lemonade or pink lemonade version is to die for, and mixed with 7-Up tastes fab. When thatís all gone, I put pitchers of iced water out. You donít have to have unlimited supplies of food. When itís gone, itís gone.
3) Decorations set the mood.
My husband is a genius when it comes to setting the mood for a party. We always have it outside, and thank goodness weíve had luck with no rain. Always have a backup plan, or just consign yourself to the fact your house might be overrun with kids if it does rain. We gather up Christmas lights, or whatever color you have lying around, and start stringing them up. He puts them around the garage, in the trees, and wherever he can find to string them. This year he even strung up little lanterns and placed them in the strands. The effect is magical, and when the kids walk in they stare in wonder. They are never sure what looks so cool, but as they are standing there under the lights, they know that they feel good being where they are. Donít go out and buy special lights for the party Ė use what you already own, or borrow. The kids donít care what color they are, they just love the effect. Owned/borrowed lights equal free.
4) Music is an integral part of ANY party.
When they were smaller, we would just throw on some CDs and let it play in the background. Not so simple now. They each have tastes and likes that I can never keep up with. My solution? Invite my nephew, Jordan Miller, who is a DJ, to spin some tunes. He has all the equipment, lighting, speakers, smoke machine, and the coolest lasers anywhere. We had cleared off the patio for dancing, and he set up to one side and soon had the kids dancing away. His music was current, the night was sparkling, and the party was grooving. He wouldnít accept any money from us for this event, so that equaled free.
The key to any party, be it birthday, graduation, or whatever event youíre throwing, is to keep it simple yet focused. Good, simple food Ė atmosphere Ė and music to cut loose by. Donít forget to have a bonfire going for the kids who are danced out, or simply donít like to dance. There was a whole other set of kids who enjoyed our huge bonfire. And my last words of advice? Keep on smiling, refilling the drink pitcher, and get in there and share a dance with the kids. Why? Because it lets us have fun and remember why weíre doing all this for them, and makes their friends want to come back for more.
Published: May 7, 2012