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Give your kid a bash within a reasonable budget

Wildly elaborate parties have become the norm in some neighborhoods, and parents can find themselves feeling intense pressure to match or exceed the trappings of the last party. Stop the insanity and simply enjoy some quality time with your child and his or her closest friends. By Laura T. Coffey.

You love your kids, you’re happy they were born, you want to blow their minds — and for all these reasons, it’s easy to see why it can be so tempting to go all out for their birthday parties.

In fact, wildly elaborate parties have become the norm in some neighborhoods, and parents can find themselves feeling intense pressure to match or exceed the trappings of the last party.

Be careful, though: You could be paying off debt from your party for months to come if you opt for the petting zoo in the backyard, the pizza party for 50 kids or the Sweet 16 party with limousines, belly dancers and high-dollar gift bags for each guest.

Want to stop the insanity and simply enjoy some quality time with your child and his or her closest friends? These tips can help you plan fun children’s parties that are reasonably priced.

1. Decide up front how much you can afford. Setting a budget – and sharing the details of that budget with your child – can help you avoid spending too much and also help your child have realistic expectations for the big day.

2. Don’t invite too many people. Bearing in mind that kids – especially young children – can connect with only so many people at a time, you can decide with a clear conscience to keep the guest list small. If your child is turning 6, you can have him or her invite six friends; at 7, he or she could invite seven friends.

3. Brainstorm with your kid. Find out what your child really wants the party to include, and let him or her do much of the organizing and coordinating. You might be thrilled to see how simple your child would like the party to be. He or she may even take great pride in coming in under budget – and then using the leftover money for something else.

4. Keep the food simple. Do you really need to provide full meals for everyone, or would cake, punch and maybe some chips and dip suffice? What’s more, you and your child could have fun making the cake together and decorating it.

5. Keep decorations simple too. You may be the only person in the room who truly cares about those massive balloon arrangements you ordered and/or struggled to build. If kids are having fun, the decorations around them are likely to be one of the last things on their minds. A simple “Happy Birthday” sign and some streamers may do the trick.

6. Plan around an activity. During that brainstorming session you have, dream up a low-cost party activity that’s right up your kid’s alley. The party could center around baking and decorating cookies, putting on a talent show or play, playing dress-up, hosting a dance party, doing a scavenger or treasure hunt or building a massive sandcastle.

7. Stay home. You’re bound to spend much less money if you invite kids over to your home than if you take them out to a restaurant or an amusement park that charges per head for birthday parties.

8. Buddy up. If you do want to throw a more extravagant party one year, you could consider teaming up with other parents whose children were born around the same time and sharing the costs.

9. Plan ahead. You can squirrel away presents for your kids – and for other inevitable gift recipients – throughout the year in order to avoid getting whammied with too much of an expense all at once.

10. Be open to alternatives. Instead of traditional birthday gifts, think about giving your child a new experience or privilege – perhaps a later bedtime hour or curfew. You also could take the day off work so you can spend time together, and you can start a tradition – say, always making sure the birthday boy or girl gets breakfast in bed or the choice of that night’s special dinner menu.

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