Saturday, August 19, 2000

Set limits when planning youngster's birthday party

By Steve Rosen
Knight Ridder Newspapers

        Clowns. Ponies. A merry-go-round on the front lawn. Live goldfish and squirt guns for party treats.

        Sound like a birthday blowout? When it comes to throwing birthday parties for their kids, some parents can come pretty close to breaking the bank.

        Why not consider options that keep the spending in line and teach your child a lesson about planning and budgeting?

        Gwen Reichbach, executive director of the National Institute for Consumer Education at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, has advice on how parents can keep birthday party planning under control.

        To start out, she said, set a budget for cake, party favors, balloons, laser tag or anything else.

        Ms. Reichbach recommends including the child in the budgeting process.

        “This is a good lesson for them in money management,” she said. The child can help decide what to include and what to cut out of the party.

        Just as important as budgeting is the need to plan, Ms. Reichbach said. You are likely to spend less on a birthday party if you do comparison shopping early on, rather than wait until the last minute to get organized.

        You can solve many birthday planning problems by not inviting too many children. Don't feel pressured to invite the entire second grade, for example, just because other parents have done that. One rule of thumb is to invite the number of children that equals your child's new age.

        Some families put off having nonfamily birthday parties until their kids are kindergarten age.

        If you like having a big party, consider doing one every other year, Ms. Reichbach said. In the years you don't have a party, take cupcakes or other treats to your child's soccer game or dance class to recognize the special day, she said.

        Another way to keep the birthday budget in line is to be creative. Take a group of kids to the park for a game of Wiffle ball, kick ball or flag football. Or take a small group of kids to the zoo or to a hands-on museum. Pack a picnic lunch, and serve the ice cream and cake at home.

        For older kids, maybe a movie and a sleep-over will work. Suggest that instead of bringing gifts, your child's friends make a charitable donation.

        “Creativity can substitute for money,” Ms. Reichbach said. “Find some things that the children don't usually get to do. This can be fun.”


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