Tag Archives: entertaining

How to throw a toddler birthday party for cheap

I grew up with three sisters, and I was third born, so birthday parties weren’t a yearly deal for us. We each had a party or two to celebrate big milestones, but my mom didn’t throw a huge party for each of us every year — and I don’t blame her. I probably won’t either.

For Judah’s first birthday, we had a small party with cake and food for family only. This year, I’ve made friends with some families near us who have children around Judah’s age, so I wanted to have a fun kid party to celebrate what we’re hoping will be Judah’s last birthday as an only child. When I started researching party ideas, I was shocked at how expensive most party venues are. I would love to have a backyard barbecue, but that’s not really an option for November in Indiana, and I was afraid to let loose 10+ kids under 4 in my living room. By making a few compromises, we were able to celebrate Judah’s second birthday with all his friends without spending a fortune.

Throw a joint party.

I’m lucky to have a friend whose son is just 5 days older than Judah. It was her idea to combine their parties this year, and I’m so glad we did it that way. We share a lot of friends, so our guest lists would have had a lot of overlap anyway, and we were able to split the cost of the venue, food, and decorations between two families. At 2 years old, the boys didn’t mind sharing their parties a bit, and since we were both pretty laid back about the party, my friend and I didn’t have any trouble planning it together.

Plan ahead.

I was particularly proud of the goody bags, which included a 24-pack of crayons, a full-sized Play Doh, some Play Doh molds, fruit snacks, and a print out coloring sheet. The Sesame Street “Thank You” sign is an Internet printable that my friend found on Pinterest, and we used Zip lock bags to hold everything. I bought the crayons in bulk during the back-to-school sales for 50 cents a box, and my friend got the Play Doh in a Black Friday sale for under 50 cents each, so each bag cost us under $2. And of course splitting the costs between the two of us made them even less expensive. I was happy to hand out fun toys that the kids would actually use instead of cheap things that would be thrown away or lost before they even made it home.

For toddlers, all you really need is a lot of space.

We called the zoo, inflatable play places, museums — all of them wanted $300+ for a 2-3 hour party, not including food. Even though we were splitting the cost, that was just too much for a toddler party. Finally we found a fun play place that’s really just a giant open space with lots of toys where the kids can run around. It cost $100 for 15 kids and 2 hours of play.

Other cheap (or free) options we considered:

  • Many local libraries have conference rooms that can be rented out for cheap or even free.
  • Your home if you have the space for it and the energy/desire to clean before and after the party.
  • A park or your own backyard if weather permits.

As long as the kids have room to run around, you won’t need to plan activities or games. It’s hard to wrangle kids and keep their attention anyway, and you’ll kill yourself trying to plan things. Since we only had two hours, and our boys are too young to have any expectations for gifts, we also asked our guests not to worry about presents. This gave the kids more time to play and saved us the trouble of coordinating gift opening for two active toddlers.

Always buy less food than you think you’ll need.

RSVPs are notoriously inaccurate for kid parties. Kids get sick, they miss their naptimes, things happen. We ended up with about half as many kids and parents as we expected. Add to that the fact that the kids were too busy playing to eat much (Judah ate a single bite of pizza and threw a mega tantrum when we got home because we was starving, pfft). We ended up with about 8 whole pizzas to get rid of at the end of the party (we ordered 15). Keep all of this in mind when ordering, and try not to overdo it. In fact, for very young children, you’re probably better off serving just finger foods and cake and having the party between meal times (2-4 pm, for instance). Trying to get the kids to sit still and eat is almost impossible, and without a big meal there will be more time for play.

Make a cake.

Since the boys were sharing the party, I wanted them each to have a cake. I am hopeless when it comes to decorating, and anything I made would likely end up looking like those failed Cookie Monster cupcakes we’ve all seen on Pinterest. So I ordered a small cake from the grocery store for $15. My friend’s mom is a talented cake decorator who made this adorable Elmo cake for the price of the cake pan and ingredients. Surprisingly, most of the cake did get eaten, so I don’t regret our decision to serve two small cakes. I probably could have saved a ton by baking a simple cake and decorating it with toys he already has (the baker at the grocery store suggested cars or dinosaur figures).

What are your tips for frugal kid parties? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

How I planned an elegant wedding for under $5,000

Since Tony and I just celebrated our first anniversary, and my sister-in-law is in the process of planning her own wedding, I’ve been thinking about wedding planning a lot lately. Before I started planning my own wedding, I believed that it had to be all or nothing: either an all out, extravagant affair or a quick run to the court house followed by a backyard barbecue. That isn’t the case, though. If you prioritize and plan carefully, it’s possible to get everything you want out of your wedding on a very limited budget.

I never thought I was the type of girl who wanted a big fuss on my wedding day. Looking back, though, I’m so glad we had a traditional wedding. It really was the most special day of my life.

Last year I wrote a series of posts on how I planned my wedding on a budget. If you’re in the middle of planning a wedding for you or someone you love, I hope you’ll get some useful information from my experience.

Getting your priorities straight.

Make a plan and set a wedding budget.

Planning a beautiful wedding ceremony on a budget.

Hosting an elegant reception without spending a fortune.

Dressing your wedding on a dime.

Minimize your wedding flower budget.

Do it yourself wedding ideas to save money.

It’s okay to spend more on what’s important to you.

How to buy wedding bands online without getting ripped off.

Planning a budget honeymoon.

As I planned my wedding, I also found a lot of great tips from one of my favorite frugal bloggers, Kacie at Sense to Save. She recently rounded up all of her frugal wedding planning ideas and reposted them. Check it out for some more tips!

Honestly, though, my advice for planning the wedding of your dreams on a budget comes down to this: Set your priorities, use the bulk of your budget on what’s really important to you, and don’t spend money on something just because wedding etiquette rules say you should. It drives me crazy when I hear people paining over how much they’re spending on things they don’t really care about just because they don’t want to be “tacky.” The wedding industry makes millions of dollars a year off these so-called etiquette rules. It’s no wonder they keep them alive.

This is your wedding. It should be a celebration of you, your relationship, and the people who love you most. Saving money on your wedding is the same as saving money on anything else — you have to do what’s right for you, and you can’t worry about what people will think of you. The most important people in your lives won’t care a bit how you choose to celebrate your wedding, and they’ll never ever think you’re tacky for saving money. They’ll just be happy to be there with you no matter how you choose to celebrate.

Entertaining guests for the weekend (again)

We’re expecting visitors again this weekend. Our friends from back home are staying with us Saturday and Sunday nights.

When it comes to entertaining visitors, I tend to have a pretty relaxed attitude. After all, they’re coming to see us, not for a nonstop agenda of activities. But it does help to have some fun activities planned to make sure that we all have a good time together.

Here are some budget activities I’ve come up with:

Give them a tour.

Now is the perfect time to view your city through the eyes of a tourist. Normally mundane things (like your city’s downtown area or landmarks) may be interesting to your guests. Check out museums and historic sites in your area. If you live in a small town, consider a day trip to the nearest metropolitan area.

Take the scenic route.

If you live in a small town, you probably live near some beautiful countryside. Take a mini-road trip through the country and stop for a picnic.

Have a dinner party.

Since your guests have traveled to see you, chances are they don’t live close enough to pop in for a traditional dinner party. Now is your chance to have one. Plan a special meal, break out your best dishes, and have a fancy dinner party.

Play a game.

When all else fails, board games are a good way to keep everyone entertained while continued to socialize. If you run out of ideas, maybe it’s time for Scrabble.

How do you entertain your visitors?

Feeding house guests on a budget

My in-laws Tony’s parents arrived yesterday, and they’re staying with us until Wednesday morning. (I hate the term “in-laws,” don’t you? It just sounds so cold.)

I don’t know about you, but whenever people come to visit I struggle to avoid falling back into my old spendthrift habits. For some reason, I still feel like the only way to be a good hostess is to spend a ton of money on food to keep my guests happy. Of course, I know that’s not the case (for the most part). But when you’re entertaining, you have extra people in the house to feed and care for. Inevitably, it’s going to cost a little extra money. The important thing is to avoid going overboard.

As always, I like to find a balance. We’re feeding twice as many people, so our grocery costs will automatically be a little higher for the week. We’re also making some special meals that we probably wouldn’t make if it was just us (like blueberry pancakes for breakfast). The trick is to balance it out.

Here are some tips I’m using to keep costs down while being good hosts:

Plan ahead.

Weeks ago we saw a great deal on steaks at the grocery store. Since we knew Tony’s parents were coming to visit this month, we picked them up and threw them into the freezer. This week we just had to pick up some potatoes and greens to go on the side. Now we have an extra special steak dinner for four, and it cost a fraction of the normal price. We would have paid twice as much for those steaks if we picked them up this week. Whenever we’re expecting company, I always keep an extra close watch on fancy foods to find a deal.

Cook in bulk.

We don’t like to make meals that serve more than four. We don’t usually enjoy leftovers more than once, and we don’t want to waste. When visitors come, we pull out our recipes that serve 6 or 8. We’re making a lasagna for Tony’s parents. It’s one of our favorite recipes, but we rarely make it because it’s just too much food for two people. Now that we’ll be cooking for four, it’ll be just right.

Don’t be afraid to cook frugal meals.

We planned special meals for three of the four nights they’re here. For lunch we just picked up some deli meat for sandwiches, and one of the nights we’re making a homemade pizza. We think they’ll enjoy trying our homemade pizza, and it’s the most economical thing we make. Why not share it with our guests?

Keep dessert simple.

Dessert can become a meal on its own — and double your meal costs if you let it. So keep it simple. We love to make fresh baked cookies and serve them with a scoop of ice cream. We’ve also made milkshakes or homemade ice cream with our KitchenAid stand mixer ice cream attachment. It’s tempting to make an elaborate cake or specialty dessert, but it only adds to your costs and stress to prepare it. Why make things harder when simple desserts are just as delicious?

Remember: it’s not about what you spend.

I don’t know why I still feel the urge to take our guests out for fancy restaurant meals. We rarely go out to dinner ourselves. For some reason, there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me that we need to treat them to extra luxury.

Since I started living frugally, I’ve been able to quiet the voice by reminding myself that we are treating our guests; we’re just doing it within our means. We’re making special meals, and putting in the extra effort to cook for them.

As long as you’re providing guests with plenty of good food to eat, being frugal doesn’t make you a bad hostess. After all, your guests are coming to see you. If you’re frugal every other day, you should continue to be yourself during their visit.