I am one of those people who believes that it is not always necessary to spend an exorbitant amount of money to have a fun, memorable event. I made sure to keep this in mind when it came time to plan my daughter’s fourth birthday bash – a Barbie themed party, complete with the cake, decorations, and balloons.  Normally, this type of event, a simple, at-home party, would have run me anywhere from $100 to $150 for a handful of family members and maybe a couple of friends.  This figure includes serving dinner but does not include gifts.

Planning is Key

The first thing I did in regards to the party was plan.  How hard is it to plan a small party for a four year-old?  Not very, but if you forget tiny details they begin to add up to big expenses.  Crafting your budget will enable you to know how many people you can invite, what you can spend on necessities including cake, ice cream, and supplies, and will keep you from making impulse purchases as you near the party date.  My budget was $30.

Aidyn decided a while ago that she wanted to have a Barbie-themed party.  When I first sat down to determine the supplies I needed to accomplish this, I came up with the following and noted the cost if I were to take a more non-DIY approach:

  • Spaghetti dinner for 18 – $20 (includes salad with fixings, spaghetti, homemade sauce, and garlic bread)
  • A Barbie cake – $15-$30 for a round or sheet cake from the local bakery
  • Themed plates – $2.99 for 8 (I would need two packages)
  • Themed cups – $3.39 for 8 (Again, would need two packages)
  • Themed napkins  – $3.39 for 16 (At last, something I don’t need to purchase two of)
  • Pink cutlery – $2.49 for 24 (8 of each, forks, knives, and spoons… would need two)
  • Balloons – $2.49 each for mylar balloons at Giant Eagle or Wal-Mart (would most likely need two)
  • Ice Cream – $2.50 on sale for each container (need two, Chocolate and Vanilla)
  • Potato Chips – Anywhere from $1.50 per package to $3.00 per package (would need two)
  • Pop – Anywhere from $1.25 each 2 liter (would need three) to $6.98 for a case of Pepsi.
  • Coffee – Already have that at home
  • Children’s beverages – Already have a variety of sugar-free Kool-Aid like drinks in the house
That adds up to around $70 for the least expensive party to around $95 for the most expensive.  That’s already pretty frugal, no?  But remember, my budget was only $30.  I needed to be able to meet this budget in order to host the party as well as purchase the gifts I wanted to give to Aidyn.  When all was said and done I only went $0.25 over budget.

How I did it

The first thing I decided to do was to nix the dinner idea.  Just because my child has a party does not require me to feed dinner to every person who walks through the door.  Would dinner be fun?  Of course, but it is a lot of extra preparation, expense, and clean-up to deal with, especially for a party honoring a four year-old child.  We decided to have the party at 4 p.m. and only serve cake and ice cream.

Next, onto the cake.  I detest store-bought cakes because, not only are they expensive, they are impersonal, sometimes sloppy, and you never truly get what you want unless it is made from a template they have made hundreds of times before (back to impersonal).  At first, I thought I would buy a pre-molded cake pan from JoAnn Fabrics (anywhere from $9 to $14 depending if a 40% off coupon was used), buy cake mix, make my own icing, color it myself and decorate the cake, but when I searched the internet for Barbie Cake ideas, I saw a wealth of possibility.  Barbie cakes that featured dolls with cake skirts were everywhere and seemed very nice and very doable and although I knew I would put more time into this type of cake, I knew it would be worth it.  Total cost of cake was $11: $2 for the doll, $2 for the cake mix, $5 for homemade fondant and icing, and an additional $2 for eggs and oil.

Decorations are always very costly.  Because party plates and cups are generally used and then thrown away, I decided to forego the Barbie plates and purchase a package of 20 pink plates for $1 at the dollar store.  I also picked up a package of pink napkins for the same price.  I already had plastic cutlery and cups at my house, so we used those, but even if we didn’t have these things, we would have purchased cups and used regular silverware.  As far as balloons go, we purchased two Barbie mylar balloons from the dollar store for $1 each and had six balloons, that we already had on hand, inflated with helium at Wal-Mart for $0.25 each.  My sister had the excellent idea of creating big poofy decorations from pastel tissue paper which cost $2 for two packages.  The poofs turned out beautiful and matched the girly Barbie theme perfectly.  Total cost for decorations: $7.50.

I didn’t have much leeway on the ice cream and potato chips.  I purchased two half-gallons of ice cream on sale for $2.50 each and purchased two bags of potato chips (one plain and one barbeque) for $1.50 each, also on sale.  I went the 2 liter route with pop and purchased three two liters (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Orange) for $1.25 each.  I also made coffee and Kool-Aid that I had on hand.  Food and beverage total: $11.75.

Grand total for party: $30.25.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things that Mean the Most

Beautiful cakes ultimately get cut into and eaten, plates are covered with frosting and tossed in the trash, and even the most beautiful decorations get taken down.  It’s the memories that last.  What my daughter will remember is helping me bake her birthday cake, crafting decorations, spending time with her closest family and friends, and of course, receiving lots of little girl gifts.  She told me it was the best birthday party she ever had, not that she’s had many to compare with, but it really meant a lot to me that she had a nice time.

Also important to me is that as she grows, I’m teaching her a valuable lesson – that there is benefit in being creative with how money is spent and how memories are created.  For Aidyn, doing much of the work for the party together was fun and it undoubtedly made for some great memories.  Working together with the help of family and the fact that we are willing to put in extra effort to provide her with a wonderful party shows her exactly how important she is to all of us.  That’s something she will cherish for a lifetime.

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