20 unusual ways to save money: Double birthdays/double weddings

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The thought of a double wedding or double birthday party won't work for everyone, but I'm surprised more people don't do it.

It's something that crossed my mind recently because of what seems to be a trend of parents throwing massive birthday parties for their young kids. Of course, it's not a new trend. Chuck E. Cheese has been organizing children's birthday parties presumably since it began in 1977, and maybe in the 1980s and 1990s when raising kids was the last thing on my mind, perhaps big birthday bashes were the norm.

But all I know is that my young daughters are being invited to some really amazing birthday adventures, which is wonderful for them, and I'm very glad for them, but they're both wondering when it's their turn to be the center of attention at one of these parties. Suddenly, the birthday parties my wife and I have had at our house, where we invite some family members and friends, are looking like amateur hour.

My first experience with these lavish birthday affairs was at the franchise Pump It Up, which first opened in 2000. It's an amazing place with these giant inflatable slides, inflatable castles and for lack of a better phrase, bouncy things. Anyway, my daughters were invited to a party, and they had a wonderful time. If you're comfortable spending $259, the average price for a two-hour party on a weekend from what I gathered at the web site, it's a deal. That doesn't include the cost for the food, though, so if you're really going to do it right, you're going to spend over $300.

And it's not just inflatable playgrounds. My daughters have gone to our city zoo for a classmate's birthday party, to the YMCA to eat cake and play on the gymnastics equipment, and they've attended several at dance academies, where the girls get to play ballerina and act like little princesses. I've looked into all of them, and the only one that seems semi-friendly to a writer's budget is the YMCA semi-near our house, where you can rent some space and throw a party for $145; $185 if you're not a member.

Granted, these lavish parties generally offer the opportunity to invite 20 or so children, and that's 20 or so presents your child will probably get. It's not like you need to buy your child another gift, if you feel like you're tapped out. You could rationalize the cost by making the party the gift from the parents.

But I've been thinking that I could try to find another child in my daughters' classes who has a birthday about the same time as my girls, and then ask the parents if they want to join forces and throw a co-party at one of these hot spots for birthday parties.

After all, they'd share the same classmate friends, and so if you had a guest list of 20 children, each child could invite five family member kids to their party, and then 10 from their school. I'm sure there would be some kinks, but the point is, you could split a lot of the overhead, and each child would still get the benefits of a really cool party and having a special day. So they share their special day with someone else. If they're friends, they might think that's kind of cool.

And speaking of special days, I started thinking of how you could also extend this to weddings. In an age where people are putting on do-it-yourself weddings and even buying fake wedding cakes for the photographer's benefit and then hauling out a servicable cake that cost $10.50 at the local bakery, why not get married on the same day and at the same place with another couple? Or you could even have a triple wedding and really cut into the cost of the banquet hall for the rehearsal, the catering and so on. The more, the merrier, if you're all friends or members of the same family. And before you think I've lost my mind, I'd like to point out that the double wedding ceremony worked out beautifully for Marcia and Jan when they starred in The Brady Brides.

Living with each other and turning it into a situation comedy, not so good, since the 1981 series was cancelled after only 10 episodes. But the wedding was charming and most importantly for one of America's favorite families: cost-effective.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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