Welcome to The Kid Ate My Wallet (KAMW) Parenting Guide, a place where I talk about some of the financial challenges of being a parent and trying to navigate them without feeling like you should be watching your child’s bowel movements to see if any loose change is making its way out.
This is not a guide for raising your kids. Trust me, if I could create an owner’s manual for kids, I’d be so rich I wouldn’t need to worry about my kid eating my wallet. Instead, these are things I am discovering, as a new parent, that I think might be able to help other parents out there.
Remember, I am NOT an expert. I have been a parent for just over 19 weeks. And I am not starting from the same place most parents are. Seventeen weeks into being a parent, my child celebrated her 10th birthday. So we did not get to this place via the usual route. We don’t have the history, experience, or baggage that most parents have at this point. Maybe it will give me some useful insight that can help others; maybe it will cause me to fall into traps others would easily avoid. Who knows? I just want to enjoy the ride.
Location, Scheduling, Location
C and I both grew up with the home birthday parties- playing pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs, etc. But we “knew” that’s not how things were done now, so we started looking in to places to have her party. The first thing that hit me was how few kids we could invite for the money the places we looked at were charging. My daughter is a social butterfly with lots of friends. We hit eight kids just counting her, her sister, and the kids from the two former foster families she is really close with. That was the cap for some places. Others capped at ten, which left room for two other friends, but that was it. To get more kids than that in your party, the prices seemed exorbitant.
What we did wrong. We started talking about location in late May/early June, but we did not make a decision or even start putting money away for the expense. We left the location and scheduling to chance. Once we found a place, we did not go check it out in advance- not in advance of booking it, not in advance of the party. We showed up for the first time ever about 10 minutes before the party started.
In addition, our daughter’s birthday will almost always fall the week before Labor Day weekend. Because of other plans (made months before we even had our foster care license), we could not have her party the weekend before, so we were left to schedule it Labor Day weekend, when a lot of her friends were out of town.
What we did right. We ended up taking advantage of a Groupon for a local kids’ gymnastics spot that let us bring in 18 kids for less than the trampoline place (which had been the front runner until then) charged for 10 kids. Our daughter loves gymnastics, and while the place was small, it was really perfect sized for the number of kids we had. The staff was great in doing directed activities and letting them have free time on some of the apparatus.
We had a mixed group, age wise, from 4 to 14. The different activities at the gym – from a rock climbing wall to a trampoline gave enough variety that all the kids were able to find fun things to do. And the parents even got to join in some as well. (I took a couple of jumps on the trampoline and proved to myself that I could still walk a balance beam.)
What we will know for next time. We need to be on the ball about scheduling. We need to schedule the party for the weekend before her birthday, not after, so we don’t run into the issue with her friends being out of town for Labor Day. We also need to get invitations to her friends more than a week in advance.
We need to consider location as part of birthday costs and understand that it is likely going to cost us a few hundred dollars just for the location, at least until she’s at the point of wanting to have sleep overs, where the main activity is gossiping late into the night.
We chose a place that did not provide any food. We brought our own in. This meant we got exactly what we wanted, but there was an added cost.
What we did wrong. We did not plan our day well. I missed the first 20 minutes of the party because I needed to run to the grocery store to get drinks, cups, plates, forks, etc. The location had water, but we did not make water a really visible drink option. And C has no idea how to cut a piece of cake that’s really appropriately sized for a kid, especially not when it’s a CostCo cake.
What we did right. CostCo cakes are always winners. (We had one for our wedding cake, too.) SP got to pick the flavor and design and what it said. We could drop off the order request 24 hours before we needed it. Basically, we walked into CostCo, got our cake and left. There was plenty of cake for kids and adults, and we still took a lot home.
None of the drinks we got had caffeine. Now, that’s a personal preference of mine, but if we’re loading kids up on sugar, they don’t need caffeine as well. They did all have sugar though, because I don’t like giving kids diet drinks. I also got all two liters on sale from the local grocery store, costing less than $1/bottle. We still have 4 half bottles at home.
What we will know for next time. Make water a prominent option, and while it’s nice to give kids choices, we probably don’t need 4 different drink options. After C cuts a piece of cake, he should then cut it in half before serving it to a kid. And don’t plan to pick up anything, except maybe the cake, the day of the party. Be prepared in advance.
Also, and this might just be a me thing, have a non-sugar option for kids and adults to snack on. I think I would have been very happy with a vegetable tray.
Gifts for the Guests
I don’t want to say kids did not get gifts for going to birthday parties when I was a kid, because we did. They were just given out as prizes for winning pin the tail on the donkey, or musical chairs, or being the one to break the piñata open. And every parent I knew made sure the same kid did not walk away with all the prizes. Every kid left with something.
That said, C and I both hate the current trend of giving your guests plastic bags full of candy and cheap plastic toys. We have friends with a pre-schooler and know they do it. We had attended a birthday party for one of SP’s friends and she got the baggie, and we had broken Chinese finger cuffs on the floor of our car, and plastic whistles that kept needing to be picked up so the dogs didn’t eat them in the house.
We talked a lot about what we wanted to do instead and came up with a pretty solid plan- a small stuffed animal for each guest. It was something they could take home that would last, but also would not take up a lot of space. It wasn’t a sack of sugar parents would have to monitor for the next week, and if they wanted to throw it away, then it was only one thing.
What we did wrong. Lack of planning remains a theme. I did not pick up the bags of toys until the day of the party. I then had to get home and go through them to make sure they were clean and age appropriate. (I didn’t want toddler toys.) We scattered the toys on the table right before cake, so in the middle of the party, there was a grabfest for who wanted what, and also time for “buyers’ remorse”.
What we did right. We got the small stuffed animals from Goodwill. We spent a total of $10 on roughly 20 items.
What we will know for next time. We should get the toys a day or two ahead of time. That will give us time to go through and make sure they are clean, in good shape, and age appropriate without feeling rushed. But I think we should wait to give them out until the end. That way, we’re not trying to keep the toys out of the cake, or remember who chose what when they go back to playing. There’s also not kids trying to bully other kids into trading or wanting to switch out multiple times.
But we’re definitely doing that again. It was a winner with both parents and kids.
When I was a kid, parents of other kids didn’t stick around for the birthday party, unless they were specifically helping out. Now, it probably helped that I lived in a small town, so there was not traffic to consider when dropping the kid off and picking them up, and distances traveled were nothing like some of the families drove to come to SP’s party.
What we did wrong. We did not let parents know, clearly, that they did not have to stay for the party if they did not want to. Most of the other parents there had met before, but we had one mom who did not know the rest of the group. We did not actively work to make sure she felt included.
What we did right. We had a place where parents could participate in some of the fun activities if they wanted, but also a there was room for them to sit on the sidelines and watch. Because we were the only people there, it was never hard for them to spot their kids. And we finally had the chance to meet some of the people who had cared for SP when she first came into state custody. These were people who care very much about her and to whom she is pretty bonded. It was a great way to get to know them while the kids had plenty to do to keep themselves occupied.
What we will know for next time. I’ll be better at making sure parents know they can go if they want to. They don’t have to stick around. For those that want to stick around, I’ll do my best to make sure everyone feels included, just like with the kids.