Let’s face it: the first birthday is really more for the parents than the kids. They don’t quite know what’s going on, that the day is special to them. They just know they can make as much of a mess as they want to and everyone will think it is cute (except for my dear sweetheart whose OCD almost caused a panic attack from the massacre of our son’s red velvet cupcake). I fully admit that my son’s first birthday was all because I wanted to celebrate, not just his birth, but survival of the struggles we endured through pregnancy and post partum complications. I honestly thought it all deserved a weekend at a four-star resort with lots of pampering. But that was only a fleeting thought; I am, after all, the Thrift Store Mommy, so we would celebrate in style but within our budget.
1. Location, Location, Location. Just as important in real estate is where you host your birthday celebration. Cost is always a factor. Indoor spaces like Chuck E Cheese will usually run higher than a picnic pavilion at a public park. You can also check into using gathering spaces at local churches and schools. For our birthday celebration, we sought some nepotism from the grandparents by way of their dolphin tour boat. (A word of caution: If you are doing an outdoor party, have a back-up plan in case of uncooperative weather.)
2. Entertainment. How do you keep a group of kids at any age entertained for a couple of hours? There are plenty of ideas available for free online, and you can even download and print out “pin the tail” on games of almost any variety. Again, I cheated; taking kids and their parents out on my parents’ dolphin tours provided the entertainment in itself.
3. Food. As my mother raised me in her Southern ways, feeding people at a gathering has always been a top priority, and as my sweetheart pointed out more than once this past weekend, we usually have too much food. I find that scheduling a party in mid-afternoon between lunch and dinner times helps to offset food expectations (and cost). Of course you will want to have the standard cake (or cupcakes as we did) and drinks for your guests. If adults are attending, slice some cheese with saltines or veggies and some dip. You do not have to provide a four-course meal, but be considerate of the guests, especially any parents that are hanging around that can be used as your backup in event of a mutiny.
4. Goody Bags. Again, this is something that can be kept very simple. I purchased treat bags at my local dollar store that I filled with two little bottles of bubbles and a stuffed dolphin I purchased from an online retailer that sells in bulk. You can usually find lots of filler items cheaply at those dollar stores or wholesale lots available online. (The same are great for purchasing decorations as well.)
5. Invitations. Although our Southern Proper blogger may disagree with me on this, I do not believe there is any set standard for a child’s birthday party invitations. The dollar store has several varieties to choose from, or you can make your own on the computer. As my handwriting can’t even be read by doctors, I chose to custom make mine through an online service that printed them on thick cardstock for mailing. It also makes a nice piece for the baby book.
6. Gifts. Our son was turning one and still hadn’t played with most of the things he received from the baby showers before his birth. So we asked our guests instead to make a $1 donation to the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. Our guests were very generous with their donations, and we didn’t have to worry about the waste from wrapping paper.
7. Thank You Notes. While it is still in the finishing process from our party, it is very important that you send thank you notes to your guests. Although my little one can’t write, I am working on using a creative font to type out his thank yous and have his handprint on the cards. It is important to teach the little ones to be appreciative at an early age so it becomes a habit when they are old enough to do it themselves.
A birthday party should be a great celebration of your child, but it should not be an event that you feel you have to compete with each year. It really does not take much to make a child happy. Just show them that they are special to you and the birthday will be much more memorable than the gifts.