Monday, January 22, 2007

Birthdays gone wild

In Time today there is an article on extravagant children's birthday parties. Kids getting picked up in limos, $600 birthday cakes and $38,000 venue fees. The article makes all that seem like the norm. Of course, it is not. But I like most parents are pretty sure parties have become more extravagant than they ever were in our day. At Birthday Party Ideas you can see the lengths some people go to. But I suspect that is more for the challenge of it.

A website, Birthdays without Pressure, has been launched to put a lid on all that. As we all know, parents need restraints and boundaries and so it will draw a sympathetic ear. Here are some suggestions of my own as to how to contain birthday parties to sensible levels.
  1. Party favours: shop for party favours sensibly. What I did was going to one of the bargaining toy outlets and find a bunch of $5 educational toys or small lego sets that were remaindered. One year I got a heap of scientific experiments. They parents loved it. They all put it down to my role in the community being an educator. The truth was it was from my role in the community of being cheap.
  2. Activities: no more than one activity per party. Parties are ridiculous if they take place at an exciting place (like the zoo) but then also have a magic show and what have you. The marginal value of an extra activity is probably negative. Don't do it.
  3. Combinations: my belief is that the biggest cost of increasing class sizes in school has been party proliferation. When school begins, everyone from the class is invited. So for a class of 24 kids, that means that you are attending a party every second weekend. Add another child in your family and that is one a week. It creates a strain. The better solution is the amalgamate parties in the class. My preferred outcome would be to nominate one day per quarter as birthday day and then combine all of the kids parties from that quarter. I could only ever get one or two parents to go along with this and so it never happened. However, we have been able to successfully combine at least one other birthday with ours from nearby dates. It literally halves the cost of an equivalent party and parents love it too.
  4. Have more children: now I don't mean invite more children. Instead, as you have more children the average extravagance of your party will decline. This is because by the time the second and third child come around, you are done with all the party planning. They just get less extravagant.
  5. Cost saving: the final suggestion is to look for profit opportunities in parties. As regular readers know, we did this just last year without awarding winning tupperware party. It takes some entrepreneurship and some luck but there is nothing like complete offsets.
I just took the Birthday Party Pressure test at Birthdays without Pressure. Here is the result:

The scale is from 1 to 20, so this isn't too bad. What seems to have earned us extra bonus points was my submitting the party suggestion for the Birthday Parties Ideas contest. Too much pressure apparently.