First, establish a head count (because many of your expenses will be priced per child), then establish a budget and stick to it.
Here are a few ideas to fit your budget.
Just won the lottery? Think along the lines of a small wedding in terms of decorations, favors, food and expenses. For a base cost of only $30,000 or so -- plus food, goody bags and limo service -- your little darling can have her own sleepover at the flagship FAO Schwartz in New York. If you still have money to burn, you can hire professional Broadway performers to dance on the piano featured in the movie Big and play Happy Birthday. Engraved invitations from Tiffany, of course.
If you're planning on a large group and you have the budget, hosting the party offsite -- such as at a fast-food restaurant or toy store -- is a convenient option. Fast-food restaurants provide space and a meal at a per-head cost, while you provide the cake, ice cream, favors and decorations. Big plus: They do the clean-up. Franchises such as Build-A-Bear also offer varying birthday packages without snacks or cake. Check the Internet for details on pricing.
Host an at-home theme party for a few friends or the whole neighborhood. Obviously, the low end of the budget means fewer guests. If you don't have the funds for the themed plates, napkins, cups, goody bags, decorations etc., purchase a few themed items and a few in a complementary color. For example, if you are having a Dora the Explorer party. Choose a stand-out color from the themed plates you've chosen and buy plain cake plates of that color. By asking around, you may find a stay-at-home mom who moonlights as a clown, magician or puppeteer. Many of these part-timers are very affordable and provide a lot of smiles per dollar. Goody bags can include moderately priced items like a shovel and pail set filled with Play-doh, bubbles, crayons, a coloring book and some candy for a cost of $10 to $15 per child. Serve take-out pizza, cake and ice cream.
Yes, it can be done! And the kids will probably enjoy it just as much as a full-blown extravaganza. Pick an inexpensive or free location such as a park, playground or the backyard. Limit guests to close friends and family, and plan a late-afternoon event so you can save by serving cake and snacks instead of a meal. Make the cake yourself, and let your child get excited about the party by helping you decorate it. Serve juice, punch or soda from large bottles instead of individual containers. Have the kids paint "pet rocks" as both an activity and an inexpensive but special party favor.
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