The Newest Birthday Party Idea: No Pressure, More Fun

The Newest Birthday Party Idea: No Pressure, More Fun

It was the goodie bag that threw Julie Printz over the edge. After hours of online shopping and driving all over Minneapolis, Printz settled on a mix of goodies that included puzzles, ring pops and plastic animals for her six-year-old daughter’s birthday party guests.

“All parties were judged on how good the gift bag was,” said the Saint Paul, Minn. mother of two. “I shudder to think what I spent.”

How Much are We Spending on Annual Parties?

From inflatable castles to high-priced party destinations, parents these days can easily spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours planning the theme, food and favors for a child’s birthday party. Then when your child is invited to a super-sized party, there’s the pricey gift you’re expected to buy, too. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on birthday gifts over the years.

New Website Relieves Birthday Stress

Printz suffered in silence for a while. But after discussing the issue in a parenting group, Printz helped to start Birthdays Without Pressure, a grassroots movement dedicated to bringing kid birthday parties back to earth, to the days when pin the tail on the donkey and homemade birthday cakes were the norm. The idea went viral online. Many parents were relieved to hear that others fretted about this issue too. An expensive lesson learned: Sometimes it pays to break the money taboo and talk personal finance with your peers.

Thrifty Can Be Trendy

While the penny-conscious economy has tamed the pressure to chuck the party budget, there's still pressure. Details about celebrity kid parties are all over the web; an entire industry is waiting to host your party or send in the clowns, llamas, or portable arcade.

Feeling the big birthday blues? Here’s how to shrink a super-sized party before the invites are even sent out:

1. Get Your Kids on Board

To successfully scale back birthday celebrations, explain your reasoning to your kids. Printz told her girls that parties had become too stuff-driven. Instead of looking at a party as a way to get presents, she asked them to think about a party as a celebration of their lives and a chance to gather with friends. “That’s enough,” she told them. “You are going to get stuff from family.”

2. Have a Transition Year

Printz gradually downsized, requesting gifts cost no more than $5 and ditching the party favors for a pinata. This helped her daughters to shift their expectations without major meltdowns.

3. Stick to Your Guns

At first, guests would ignore the dollar limit and request for no gifts. “Once in a while I'd feel like a cheapskate,” Printz said, especially when someone lingers, waiting for party favors. But since getting involved in Birthdays Without Pressure, families “sort of expect it from us.” Some parents have thanked her for making it acceptable to spend less on parties. “No one will disagree with you that their house is filled with junk that their kids have,” Printz said. The recession has helped too. “It’s a lot more acceptable now to be thrifty. Maybe that takes some of the pressure off.”

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