Cheap vs. frugal: Planning a summer birthday party in Chicago

 
 

By Jackie Berger

Member of the Chicago Parent Blog Network
 

My son's fourth birthday is about a month and a half away, and I've been stressing about his party for about three times that long. I was going to throw a party for him and his friends last year, but my laziness got the best of me and I decided that turning three was simply not a party-worthy event. This year, though, I've given myself a pep talk and have committed to powering through all of that thick, delicious laziness. Andy's been to countless children's birthday parties these past couple years, and I know my little man is patiently waiting for the day that his friends sing to him, the day the candle is his and his alone to blow out, and the day that he gets to be on the “thank you” side of “happy birthday.”

 

The thing is, I did some research for kid's party venues, and the cost of some of these places makes my stomach churn. Really? Over two hundred bucks for a party at a jumpy bouncey place for a handful of four year olds? Is that before or after the cost of the pizza, cake and goodie bags?

 

I'm a pretty cheap mom. Scratch that. I'm frugal. Cheap is when you don't spend money to the point where it negatively affects your life. Frugal is when you cut costs and the quality of your life doesn't change and/or is enhanced. Cheap is when you sacrifice and it hurts. Frugal is when you substitute and barely notice. As a stay-at-home mom, I'm very aware of how much we spend just to run our house. I save money whenever I can. I menu plan and grocery shop at Aldi. My boys are outfitted from sale racks, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything in their closet that I spent more than $5 on. We find free or cheap entertainment wherever we can, having explored every playground, library, and various park district amenity within a twenty mile radius.

 

This brings me back to the children's birthday party. Since Andy has a summer birthday, and since I'm frugal, it has started to make sense that I simply invite all of his friends to the splash pad ($2 per kid, which I'm pretty sure I can swing, although there is also a FREE splash pad nearby as well) for a morning of fun and sun. The moms can pack their kids' favorite lunches, and I'll provide the cupcakes, juice, and a goodie or two. The more I thought about this idea, the more I really started to like it. Until I mentioned it to my husband, who replied semi-unfavorably by calling the whole thing chintzy.

 

“Well, it IS chintzy,” I replied. “But seriously. He's going to be FOUR. It's an entirely appropriate party, don't you think? And the kids would love it.”

 

“I guess just do it if you don't think it'll look too cheap,” my husband replied, shrugging.

 

“I'm hoping that it just looks FRUGAL.”

 

In the last couple of weeks, I've cautiously run the idea past a few other moms. What do they think of the spray park birthday playdate idea? Am I a terrible mommy for not picking the overly stimulating, pricey play zone instead or by making it official with, say, rented space and a hostess? Thankfully, I was happily reassured, seemingly genuinely, by the moms, and one of the other moms had had the same exact idea for her daughter's summer birthday. It was with mutual relief that we exchanged our plans, and I started to feel better. Everybody's on a budget these days. But everybody wants their kid to have the same fancy birthday party as everybody else. Seriously, what's a stay-at-home mom to do?

 

Luckily, these preschoolers have yet to start comparing who has what. Whose party is fanciest, whose house is biggest and whose family takes the most extravagant vacations. They are oblivious to all of the materialistic comparisons, and I cringe for the day when it all begins. One day, my sons will ask why some kids have more or less than us. Or why a friend gets a certain birthday gift - let's just say a pony - and my kids get a different, less appreciated gift. Such as a much slower, cross-eyed pony.

 

But I know I still have time with this. And so I will proudly throw my son a super fun party with everything he wants: his friends, cupcakes and being sung to. And if it just so happens that this party only costs me $20 - then so be it. I will pocket the savings for a future pony that isn't quite so inadequate.

 

 
 







 
 
 
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