The cost of a perfect birthday party? Priceless

“Just throw an at-home party,” they said.

“It will be cheap,” they said.

What’s the base price of a birthday party? I’m not talking about a fancy one at Pump it Up, or an intensely energetic Chuck E. Cheese’s bash, but a traditional at-home birthday party.

When my daughter turned seven this summer, I decided to find out. Her wish-list was simple. She wanted a piñata, cupcakes, strawberry ice cream and balloons. My first priority was to throw a party she would love. My second priority was to stick to my budget of $125.

Now, some people might look at that figure and think $125 is way too much money to begin with, but for me, birthday parties usually involve cruising past the $200 mark pretty fast, so I figured it was a realistic goal. But first, I had to give myself permission to be a rule breaker. Instead of being a good mom who provided guests with a balanced diet devoid of preservatives or high fructose corn syrup, I would say “Fudge it!” and serve junk food because uneaten vegetables are expensive.

My initial challenge was estimating the guest list. Summer birthday parties are tough because so many families are on vacation that you never know how many people will come. We invited 22 children and ended up with a total of 10 guests. Phew! [Wiped sweat off brow.] If all 22 kids had come that would have wreaked havoc on my budget.

The night before the party my daughter and I drove all over town. At The Party Store we picked up the piñata, ordered 15 helium balloons, and bought a plastic tablecloth and plates on clearance. Total cost $45.

Next we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts where we spent $17 on ink pads and ribbon. When party guests arrived they would use rubber stamps I already owned and construction paper to make bookmarks.

At The Dollar Store we bought My Little Pony tissue packs, glitter pencils and colorful duct tape for the goodie bags. This cost another $17.

By the time we reached WinCo it was 8 o’clock at night and we were both exhausted. We used $24 to buy cake mix, frosting, ice cream and candy for the piñata.

That night my daughter went to sleep way past her bedtime, and my husband and I stayed up until midnight baking, cleaning, and creating a giant spider web of yarn in the living room. One of the activities would be for the girls to untangle the web and discover their hidden goodie bags.

The next morning I raced to The Party Store to pick up the balloons and then spent the last $22 of my budget on take-and-bake pizzas.

My daughter and all her friends partied hard and everyone had a marvelous time. After it was over I collapsed on the couch in exhaustion. Six stores, six hours of prep, and now at least four hours to clean up.

Add in the cost-factor of time, and my budget was blown.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two, and author of the book “Genesis Girl.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, Twitter @jennbardsley or at

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