Birthday Parties: When Is It Too Much?


Two Columbus Moms Blog contributors, Helen Bosacki and Aaron Taylor, discussed their take on the all-important birthday party. At home or rent a place? Just family, just friends, or both? Goodie bags or not? The answers to these questions and more are in the following portion of their discussion:

What are your initial thoughts on why you choose big or small parties?

Helen: I feel like growing up my birthday was always a big deal. With a spring birthday, I always got to go shopping for my spring/summer clothes and we always had, and still have, a family party. Not that it was anything outrageous or extravagant but it was a consistent tradition that still lasts to this day. (Minus the shopping) Although the parties for my children are a bit bigger and usually have a theme, the guests are still comprised mainly of family members and close friends. That will probably change as they age but since we don’t see our family often, a big party 3 times a year is a great way to get everyone together. Due to the sizes of our family, a get together is automatically big. This year, for example, ½ of the party guests at my sons 5th birthday were cousins alone since each sibling has 3 children so far. (Soon to be more)

Aaron: We choose smaller parties mainly because we can’t justify an extravagant cost. Food, cake, family, friends, presents, what else do you need? While our kids are still a little young for parties at a trampoline warehouse or a waterpark or whatever, we’ll still never do that just to keep costs low. We’ve attended birthday parties that cost $500, $600, maybe even up to $1,000, and we just think, “Why?! How can we justify that expense?” We’d rather spend that money on a family trip or whatever else we need or desire as a family. Of course, maybe I’m jealous that we don’t have that kind of money to spend on a party. Who knows, maybe we’d spend differently if we had a little more discretionary income. I’d like to think we’d spend similarly, but you never know.

Helen: I do agree that there are always better ways to spend your money. I should say that my intention is always to keep costs low but I admit to letting things get out of hand. I blame Pinterest. But I’ve actually been able to keep costs down by taking the party out of our home and finding companies or businesses that aren’t typically in the Birthday market so they are willing to give cheaper rates to rent the space. Example: We had a super reasonably priced birthday party at a Tae Kwon Do gym the other week. We brought in our own food and cake and the kids got to have a blast learning a martial art.

Aaron: What a great idea to find places that aren’t typically reserved for birthday parties! Not only do you keep costs low, but you also keep the mess out of your home. Though my wife and I do enjoy playing host. All of this location talk leads us to our next question.

Should you host the birthday party at home or reserve an outside location?

Helen: location, location, location! I have ended spending far more time and energy on trying to decorate and clean my house than when we held it somewhere else. I love leaving the clean up to someone else! Plus I get to enjoy the party and watch my children celebrate instead of play hostess.

Aaron: We’ve hosted every birthday party for our kids, ages four and two, at home. We enjoy having people see our home, the pictures on our wall, the rooms where we spend time with each other. We also enjoy cooking for everyone, picking out new recipes to join the family favorites. Plus, at the end, the gifts are already where they need to be. The cleaning though? Helen has a point… thankfully, visiting relatives are usually happy to join in the cleaning.

Goodie bags or not?

Helen: I’m terrible at remembering to write thank you notes so I love handing out goodie bags as a thank you to the kids for coming and help celebrate. I admit to possibly going a little overboard in this department.

Aaron: We’ve never hosted a birthday party for a big group of our kids’ friends, only family. So we’ve never done goodie bags. We’re also not big fans of goodie bags. It’s all usually stuff that’s tiny, plastic, or sugary, and it all usually ends up on the floor of my car. I’d rather spend the money on something else; however, I do understand why kids like them. Goodie bags feel special, so I get that. I’d be open to new, unique goodie bag ideas.

When it comes to thank you notes, I learned about an ingenious way to do them. My son was invited to a classmates party, and the invitation had us RSVP by text. Fast-forward to after the party, and I received a text from the host. The text included a thank you message and a photo of the classmate holding the present we got her. What an easy way to do a thank you! No card writing, address collecting, etc. You can do the text-and-photo thank you while opening presents after the party. So easy!

What’s the best part about throwing a big/small (choose yours) birthday party?

Helen: while my children are young I like creating the theme around whatever their favorite thing is that year. For the younger ages at least, everything seems magical and they believe characters are real. For example, my daughter still tells people how “Elsa” came to her birthday party for her 2nd birthday. It’s one day where they feel extra special and when the attention is all on them for once. Since we have three kids it’s nice for them to have special times where it’s just about themselves throughout the year. And one of those times is their birthday. We also aren’t the type of family to host dinners or even have anyone over for holidays. So the birthday party is like a combination of a family reunion and birthday all in one. We live far away from family so this type of event is some of the only times we can get together. We just happen to have a huge family.

Aaron: The best thing about a smaller party is being able to talk with and catch up with all of the family and friends who attend. A small scale also lets my kids be the center of attention rather than the extravagance of the occasion. I want birthday parties to focus on people talking and enjoying each other’s company, not the party itself. Plus, with a smaller party, my wife and I love to put together a menu and do all of the food homemade. We have favorite dips, entrees, and snacks that we tend to make. If the party was big or at another location, those special foods wouldn’t be part of the equation.

What’s the worst part about throwing a big/small (choose yours) birthday party?

Helen: I’ve learned not to hold them in our home anymore. I actually end up spending more trying to decorate, make food, etc. not to mention trying to clean the house before and after and I feel like I never get to enjoy the party. Now that we’ve been picking fun locations to hold the parties I have a much bigger sense of relief and I can actually watch my children enjoy their day.

Aaron: The cleanup is definitely a downside. We spend a day or two prior making sure the house is spotless. Then we have to clean the mess afterward. We always tend to have relatives in town, so the cleaning (before and after) isn’t terrible–my wife’s mother and sisters are usually a big help. But I can definitely see the benefit of holding the party somewhere else that’ll do the setup and cleaning for you.

What general advice do you have for parents about throwing birthday parties?

Helen: There are definitely ways to throw big parties for cheaper than you might think. Try picking locations that aren’t common birthday spots. We got an amazing deal having my daughter’s birthday at a ballet studio after hours last year and this year having my sons at a martial arts studio. We can have a big party, with a fun theme, without breaking the bank and without destroying our house! It’s a win, win!

Aaron: My advice would be for parents to ask themselves who they’re making each decision for. Are you doing things in the interest of your kid, or are you trying to impress other people? Is the day about you and your party planning skills, or is the day about your kid? We like to find ways to make the party uniquely our own–whether it’s through homemade food, the perfect theme, the right group of guests, or sharing our home with others, we want to keep the party about the people, not the spectacle.

Helen: Since my children are still young their ideal birthday party might change as they age. Once they are older we might not do the big party and they might just have a sleepover with friends, etc. I am completely open to however they want to spend their day (within reason!).

Aaron: I totally agree. Each age comes with different ways to celebrate. I love thinking back on my early birthday parties with family visiting, and I also love those smaller birthday parties as a teenager where we just went to a movie or went to play laser tag. As long as my kids are happy and feel special, then the day was a success.

Readers, what do you think? What kinds of birthday parties do you typically have for your kids? How have your views about birthday parties changed and expanded over time? Comment and keep the discussion going!