Sunday, March 6, 2011

Having a Child's Birthday Party and Eating the Cake Too.

 My baby girl, my one and only daughter, my second youngest child, turned 4 Friday.  I can't believe it!  Another thing I can't believe:  the average child's birthday party costs between $200-400!!!  I quoted that figure (which I googled up) to my friend Michelle, and this is what she said
Over my dead body! We did that one year for B's bday when we had a carnival theme, and invited tons of kids and adults. I actually spent more I think. I haven't done it since. It was a one time fun thing. Maybe I'll do something for his 16th or something. We do like you did, family and maybe a couple of friends. For me, those are the best parties... Fun and pretty much stress free! 
I suppose $200-400 isn't entirely unreasonable since if you rent a place to have the party or rent an entertainer or something, that could be more than $100 right there.  If you buy a cake, that could easily be upwards of another $20.  Plus you have any food, party favors, plates, and on and on.  But it really doesn't have to be that way.

I feel like I really splurged on my daughter's birthday party yesterday and it still only cost about $79, and that includes things I didn't actually buy, like the cake.  It wasn't a fancy party, just some friends and family (total 7 adults and 5 kids) hanging out at our house, but, seriously, the birthday kid is 4.  Why would she need a full-on circus for her party?  So how did this money get spent?

She said it looked just like her

My mom is very talented at making and decorating cakes, so she frequently is generous enough to make them for my kids.  I figured $19 for the cost of the cake she made, because she said she spent $14 on the cake pan (which I presume she can use again, so including that cost is iffy) and I know from when I make the cake myself it costs less than $5 to make and frost a cake made from scratch.  Even if I wanted to, buying a cake is pretty much out of the question, since my children are sensitive to artificial colors and turn into demons if they ingest them, so, amazingly enough, the cake pictured above has no artificial colors!  I am in awe of my mom's powers on this one, so I asked how she accomplished it.  This is what she had to say (reposted with her permission):
I'm "a little of this and a dash of that" kind of cook, and this was a one-time project, a special order for my granddaughter's birthday, but this is what I did:
Buttercream Icing: Cream 1/2 Cup solid vegetable shortening,
1/2 Cup butter and 1 tsp vanilla
Beat in 4 Cups confectioners' sugar, one cup at
a time.
Divide the icing for white, skin tone, and pink.
White: beat in enough milk to get the consistency you desire. (The full recipe calls for 2 tablespoons. I usually use more.) Beat until frosting is fluffy.
Pink: Melt (homemade, preferably) raspberry jelly, being careful not to scorch it. Substitute this for milk to get desired consistency.
Flesh tone from confectioners chocolate: preheat oven to lowest setting (170), put small amount of chocolate in oven in oven-safe dish. Turn oven off. Warm a little milk, but do not boil it. (How much milk depends on how much chocolate you plan to use. Think small, like a tablespoon or two of each. On the other hand, the leftover mixture is great over ice cream.) Mix hot chocolate with milk. Cool. Dribble a small amount into the icing until desired color and consistency are reached.
Add more chocolate for darker coloring for other detail work if desired.
So subtracting the $19 for the cake that I didn't actually spend, I actually only spent about $60.  Of that, about $11 was for favor bags that included the Disney Princess bags (like I said, I splurged), "party sized" Play-Doh, pencils, and some Silly Bandz.  Actually though, I just had the pencils and the Silly Bandz lying around because I bought them for something else and we didn't need them, so I don't know if you want to include them in how much I actually spent on the party or not, but if you don't, that takes the total down to $56.

I also splurged on party supplies.  Not on invitations: I googled "printable girl's birthday party invitations" and printed some out for free (except the tiny cost of the ink and paper) or invited people on Facebook.  I did buy some Disney Princess plates and napkins though, and some pink cups and balloons for a total cost of about $8.50.  I only got one package of the fancy plates and napkins though and supplemented with plain white ones for the adults, since, really, how many grown men want to eat off Princess plates and how many grown women would care what the plate looks like in this situation?  I actually have a lot of the plates, napkins, and cups left, so you could say the final cost was only about $3.50, taking our total I actually spent on this party down to about $53.  If I was really pinching pennies on this party, I could have used our regular plates, but as busy as I've been lately, I decided to spend the few dollars and save sanity.  We did use plastic flatware leftover from my picnic wedding 8 years ago that I wash and reuse for such purposes, so there was no cost there.

For the food, it was in between lunch and dinner time, so I just served snacks.  I like to have a nice spread when I throw parties though, so there was a lot.  We had cheese and crackers, a veggie tray, fruit salad, chips and salsa, pretzels, and of course cake and ice cream.  For drinks, we had a selection of 2-liters of pop and juice available.  I figure we actually ate about $4 worth of cheese (I buy cheese in bulk usually, so it keeps the cost down) and about $5 worth of crackers, since I had to get some crackers that weren't on sale for a joke, but, for the most part, these are things we usually have on hand and weren't strictly party food, so I only included the approximate cost (probably figured high) of what we ate.  The chips and salsa were also something I had on hand, but we probably ate about $3 worth of that.  We also used pretzels and ice cream that were already on hand, probably worth another $3 total.  The drinks came to about $5.  I did splurge big time on the fruit salad and veggie trays, partially as another sanity saver and partially as a special treat for my kids, because they love those things.  The veggie tray was $7.99 and the fruit was $12.09, but we actually only ate about half of each, so if you only include what we ate in our party cost total, since the rest will be eaten as regular food over the next few days, that would take our total party cost down to $43.

So even going nuts on spending (for me), I only spent a tiny fraction of what most people spend on a kid's birthday party.  Yet, as my friend Michelle (who was at the party) said: "Good food, fun conversation, and lots of laughing. As far as I'm concerned, that equals success!"  My daughter's birthday was celebrated joyously, and that's all that really matters. 


  1. I love that cake!!

  2. that cake was sooooo yummmmmmy!!!!

  3. That cake only has about a piece left to it, and I suspect it will be gone by morning!

  4. I only threw two *major* birthday parties while I was raising my kids. Both times it was because I was hugely pregnant with the birthday child's younger sibling at the time. I rented a skating rink for my oldest's 6th birthday. Lots of fun and really not expensive (of course that child is now 35!). I think they charged 25 bucks for a two hour rental plus 2 bucks per person--with skate rental! Made the cake and decorations--circus theme with lots of elephants! My oldest loved elephants---and a great time was had by all! The other party I paid for was at a local steak house...we rented a t.v. and played cartoons for my sons 5th birthday (he is 31 now!) No charge for taking over the back room...just had to pay 3 dollars per child and 5 dollars per adult for the salad/food bar. Had his brother 2 days the expense was worth it to me at the time!

  5. Happy Birthday to your little miss!

  6. You can also do the pink coloring with strawberry! I planned to use different fruits to get the natural different colors for the frostings! I always make the cakes...too expensive to buy one. I don't think the cost for our cake for my daughter's 4th bday was even $5! My mom (and other relatives when they're in town) end up usually offering to help supply food/snacks for the parties that helps with moneys! Good post though on saving money for parties!

  7. Lamb, just out of curiosity, I just looked at how much it would cost to rent a skating rink at today's prices. The closest rink I know of would be $125 for up to ten guests, plus an additional $12 per person after that. It does include skate rental though. That's not even having an exclusive party. That's just having a party there with other people being there. If you want exclusive use of the rink it is $600, but that covers up to 50 people...and doesn't even include the cake.

  8. Elizabeth, that's true that cakes rarely cost as much as $5 to make, but I was trying to figure high to give people a realistic estimation and if you use a lot of premium ingredients (like chocolate and real butter), it COULD get that high.

  9. That cake is awesome! I like to keep party costs to a minimum too and I've certainly picked up some tips from you today, so thank you!
    For my eldest daughter's 16th, she shared it with another friend who was turning 16 also, as they had many of the same friends. We hired a hall and split all the costs with the other family and saved heaps!