Last weekend, on a beautiful California day, the BITA backyard was overrun by a mob of toddlers. We hosted Toddler BITA’s birthday party. Forty guests were invited, fourteen of whom were children.
Today I am going to cover how we went about planning this party and, of course, given our mad love for numbers around these parts, I’ll also reveal how much it cost us.
What Did We Want and Why Did We Want It?
When I sat down to plan the birthday celebration, I couldn’t help but think of some of the birthday parties we have been invited to.
- At a neighbourhood park, and the parents hired a teacher from Music Together to entertain the children.
- In a backyard, and the parents hired a magician to regale the children.
- At a party hall, and the parents had hired not one, but two Disney Princesses to amuse the children.
- At a restaurant, and there was a balloon lady who made custom balloon creations for the children. Toddler BITA asked for and received a balloon dog on a balloon leash.
- The parents hired out a rock climbing gym, along with the instructors to teach the kids how to climb.
- Tickets to a Giants ballgame, including snacks and drinks. The kids were invited to run the bases at the end of the game. Also included were tickets to the Family Fun Zone at the arena which features an inflatable slide, a t-ball game, a jump house, and two different pitching games.
We live in Silicon Valley, and most of our social circle take home healthy salaries. Some have been involved in successful startups. And they choose to spend some of their hard-earned wages on the birthday parties they throw. The question I had to answer was: should we attempt to keep up with the Joneses?
It is easy not to worry about the Joneses, when the Joneses aren’t up to much. That is like the overweight couch surfer with more pimples than there are craters on the moon who prides himself on his faithfulness and steadfast monogamy. It is easy not to give in to temptation if no temptation ever comes your way. Here in Silicon Valley though, we have an infestation of Joneses strutting their stuff.
The other factor was: we could certainly afford to spend $500-$1000 on the birthday party. It wouldn’t make a perceptible difference to our financial independence plans.
No, we decided. We did not want to keep up with the Joneses. Just because we could spend the money, doesn’t mean that we want to, or that we choose to. The decision was as much a philosophical one as a financial one.
We don’t want Toddler BITA growing up equating fun with money spent.
We don’t want her absorbing the lesson that in order to create fantastic memories dollars must be sacrificed at the altar of consumerism.
We don’t want Toddler BITA to equate frugality with lack of fun. We don’t want her to spend her childhood lusting after what her friends have, and wishing that she had more. It is important to us that she grows up with a mindset of abundance, not of deprivation. We just don’t want that feeling of abundance to come from Mom and Dad throwing cash around.
The How of the Matter
We knew what we wanted, and we knew why we wanted it.
We needed to figure out the how. How do we plan a party that met all the criteria we had set for ourselves?
My parents made a big deal of my birthday when I was growing up. They didn’t have much money – so ‘a big deal’ did not translate to fancy parties or expensive presents. What they did was make it clear to me that they were super excited about my approaching birthday and make the day something to look forward to. Birthdays were days on which rules were bent, and gluttony was not frowned upon. They made me feel special. They made me feel special not because they hired jugglers, clowns or magicians, but because they put in the effort to give me experiences worth remembering.
I wanted to give Toddler BITA the same experience. How? By following the example of my parents.
I would substitute effort and creativity for money.
And so I spent some time thinking about the answer to the question: What would make a three year old ecstatic?
The answer that presented itself: Making a godawful mess.
And thus was born the idea of our “Come make a mess with us!” party.
We started the party off nice and slow. We had sidewalk chalk and an area to draw.
We had giant bubble wands ($1 each from the Dollar Store). We bought some face paint and broke out Toddler BITA’s stamp kit to create a face-painting and tattoo station manned by Toddler BITA’s aunt.
Then we took a break for lunch.
Bean and cream cheese dip: made by our friends
Peeled oranges from our tree: free
Watermelon and strawberries: $12.96
Iced tea for the adults: $7.50
Apple juice boxes for the kids: $9
After lunch, we kicked things up a notch.
We brought out squirt bottles ($1 each from the Dollar Store) filled with water and colored with food color.
Then we filled kiddie pool with shaving cream ($1 per can from the Dollar Store. We used 5 cans) and placed the pool at the base of Toddler BITA’s slide.
To say that the slide was a huge success is an understatement. Never before or since have so many children adored me quite so much. As you can see, the carnage that resulted was pretty extreme.
We filled her water play table and set that up next to the slide for the kids to rinse off and to splash in.
Next we gave each of the kids a wooden letter (the starting letter of their names, $16.23 for the lot from Michaels. I used two coupons) and sat them down on the ground around a plastic table cloth ($1 from the Dollar Store). We gave them glitter pens, brushes, stickers, paint and markers and let them loose.
As the grand finale of messy fun we took the kids out to our pre-dirtied car (shaving cream again, and washable paint), gave them all rags and set them to work. Mr. BITA was armed with a garden hose and ‘helped’ them wash the car while accidentally on purpose spraying the kids.
Messy and happy, we regrouped in the backyard to sing Happy Birthday and cut the cake (chocolate, with a layer of ganache in the center and a cream cheese frosting).
Cost of cake: free (made by a friend of mine as her birthday gift to Toddler BITA).
All’s Well That Ends Well
We hid a bunch of tiny plastic dinosaurs in the sand box and had the kids search for them. We sent the kids home wet, dirty and happy, with candy, the letters they had decorated and the dinosaurs they had dug up from the sandbox.
The damage to our wallets? $234.27
This party was certainly more work than it would have been to hire some sort of professional children’s entertainment, or if we had just outsourced the whole thing to the staff at a party venue. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was incredibly satisfying to come up with fun things to do and because the whole thing was DIY we got to interact with all the children a whole lot. There are few things as satisfying as watching a kid’s face light up, as hearing the uncontrollable giggles of children, and knowing that you are the cause. A week later Toddler BITA still suddenly pipes up with “Remember the…..” and wants to discuss some memorable detail from her birthday party.
Most satisfying of all? We used effort and creativity to achieve all our party goals.
I didn’t keep up with Joneses. I gave the Joneses something to keep up with instead.