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Frugal Living & Freebies

Blow Out the Candles - Not Your Budget!
by Kimberly Danger
Anyone with children under the age of ten will tell you that birthdays are a big deal. They're anticipated as much as Christmas, and the party is the center of all the excitement. What theme to choose? What games to play? Who to invite? These are the big questions that kids begin to ponder months in advance.

With birthday parties bigger and more expensive today than ever before, a frugal mom may feel defeated before she even puts the guest list together. However, the real focus of your child's party should be spending time and having fun with friends and family, which doesn't have to cost a lot. Here are some suggestions to keep the budget in check, while still throwing a fun and memorable party:

Keep the Guest List Small
Don't feel guilty about limiting the size of the party. Experts recommend that the number of kids on your guest list should match your child's age. Your child will have just as much fun with a few close friends to help him celebrate, and no one will be overwhelmed.

Compare Costs of Locations
In most cases, the most economical place to hold your party will be your home. However, some places like gymnastics schools, museums, bowling alleys, and pizza restaurants offer birthday packages that are worth considering. Be sure to ask what their price includes. Most don't include decorations or party favors, so you'll have to add that when figuring your cost. Other ideas include: a fire station tour, visiting a pet store or animal shelter, or a simple visit to the park.

Don't Do Go Overboard on Themed Merchandise
Barbie or Spiderman may be your theme, but that doesn't mean you have to buy the plates, napkins, and invitations to match. Buying all the stuff on the party aisle can kill your budget. Instead, look for a few choice items with your child's theme, and fill in the rest with matching colors. For my son's recent Thomas the Tank engine party, we bought one simple mylar balloon (these are often available at your Dollar Store) and filled in with coordinating plain red and blue napkins, balloons, cups, etc.

Make it a Cake-Only Party
Planning your party before or after mealtime serves two purposes; kids aren't going to be hungry (translation: cranky), and you won't have to incur the cost of a meal. Instead, focus on the cake and ice cream. Making your own cake will save even more. There are some great web sites with instructions on simple cake-making for every theme imaginable. If you're not all that creative, a simple sheet cake can be make to look "professional" with some sugar sprinkles (great for covering up a bad frosting job) and some small toys or inexpensive objects (matchbox cars, silk flowers, dollar store trinkets) that serve as cake toppers.

Invitations
Homemade invitations add a personal touch and can be a special keepsake for your child. For themed parties, look for coloring pages on the internet that can be scaled to fit an invitation, cut them out and have your child color them. A simple photo of the birthday child dressed to fit your theme or holding a sign that says "Come to My Party" can be a fun way to get the word out.

Make-and-Take Party Favors
Simple craft activities can keep your guests entertained, and provide them with a nice keepsake to take home at the end of the party. For loot bags, buy plain lunch sacks and have guests decorate them with stickers and markers while waiting for others to arrive. Piñatas can be easily made with balloons and paper maché, or a simple brown paper bag and filled with inexpensive candy to use to fill the goodie bags. Other activities such as decorating a terra cotta pot, a craft foam picture frame, beading a bracelet, etc.

About the Author:
Kimberly Danger is the owner/publisher of Mommysavers.com, an online resource for parents interested in saving time and money. She is the author of 1000 Best Baby Bargains. Ms. Danger lives in Southern Minnesota with her husband and two kids.

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