What fun it is to celebrate special occasions with friends and family! However, birthday parties, dinner parties, holiday celebrations and other types of entertainment can quickly become budget-busters designed more for show than for celebrating or visiting with loved ones. Staying focused on the purpose of the gathering will help keep things simple, reduce the cost, decrease the stress and increase everyone’s enjoyment—especially the host's!
Here are a few tips to help save both time and money when planning your next soiree:
- Plan ahead. Perhaps the best way to limit your spending is to increase your planning time. Giving yourself a few weeks to prepare reduces the potential to rush around last minute, buying whatever you can grab and overspending on unplanned purchases.
- Set a budget. Like anything else, determine how much you can afford to spend and stick with it. If you decide to spend a large part of the budget on a special designer cake, then decrease Spending on decorations, balloons and party favors to offset that cost.
- Limit the guest list. Don’t feel guilty about having smaller parties and don’t feel compelled to invite more than you are comfortable with. Most experts recommend the guest list match your child’s age (so invite five friends for her fifth birthday party). Having just a few friends makes the party more personal and more manageable.
- Give the gift of time. Nothing makes a friend or loved one feel more special than giving them your undivided attention. Spending a day with your child, spouse or your best friend doing the things they like to do is one of the best gifts you can give, even on a limited budget.
- Limit food and refreshments. Serve the basics rather than large, elaborate meals. Children love hot dogs, sandwiches, spaghetti and other easy-to-prepare, less expensive food choices. If planning for adults, have a potluck dinner or choose dishes that require limited preparation.And remember, you can choose to serve only cake and ice cream—after all, that’s What most people come to eat. It all comes down to how good the food tastes and how much time you can spend together— not how much time or money you spent preparing it. If you want more than cake and ice cream, consider having guests “make your own pizza” or “build your own banana split”—which makes preparing dinner a part of the entertainment and reduces the prep time.
- Include children in the process. Encourage the honoree to make suggestions about refreshments, decorations, games and other activities. Give them a budget and have them prepare a line-item expense sheet to identify the specific cost of each selection. Then, allow them to make suggestions about what to trim down if they exceed the budget.
- Involve others. If your house is too small, ask a friend or family member if you can use their home in return for some form of compensation, such as babysitting for a special date night, a home cooked meal, or other meaningful payment. Whatever you decide to trade is certainly cheaper than renting a facility. Just be sure you clean up your mess before leaving.
- Choose a theme. Having a theme such as superheroes or movie characters will help keep you focused. However, it does not mean you have to buy the plates, napkins, balloons, cake, invitations and everything else to match. Instead, look for a few items that emphasize the theme and fill in the rest with matching colors. If you choose a movie theme, buy or rent the movie to show during the party as part of the entertainment. You may even want to ask everyone to come in a costume related to your theme.
- Shop thrift stores, discount stores and dollar stores. It certainly is not necessary to buy everything at special party stores where prices can be much higher.
- Use arts and crafts for entertainment. Instead of buying expensive party favors, have children to make their own. Some simple, inexpensive options include painting clay pots, making jewelry from string and beads and decorating t-shirts or Canvas bags.
- Keep entertainment simple. You might consider having relay races, hula hoop contests or an obstacle course instead of buying or renting an inflatable. Even planning a party in the local park offers a variety of playground equipment free of charge. Adult or teen parties might include board games, card games, volleyball or other similar games. A karaoke machine or CD player is a great substitute for a deejay if you decide to have a dance-athon.
- Make your own cake. So what if you aren’t a professional decorator? You can use canned frosting and toys such as matchbox cars, silk flowers, sprinkles and other trinkets as cake toppers.
When planning your next party, remember you are only limited by your imagination. Staying focused on the purpose of your event will help you and your guests make special memories that are priceless. So, relax and have fun. And put the money saved into your Child’s college fund or into your savings account for next year’s family vacation. You’ll be glad you did.
Sue Lynn Sasser, PhD, is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma.