Happy to you! Budget birthday party-going for kids

With two kids in grade school and a third in part-time preschool, the number of birthday party invitations we receive is staggering. Over the next 72 hours, I will make two trips to Chuck E. Cheese. Which twice exceeds the quota established by the Council for Not Losing Your Freaking Mind.

The mileage alone is exorbitant. The home birthday party seems to be extinct in my children's' social circle, with celebrations held at whatever newest inflatables / bowling / gymnastics facility has opened, usually in an industrial park on the outskirts of town. I am sure if I added up the fuel cost times three kids at 14 years each, I would do just as well to buy a trailer and make our weekend home the parking lot of whatever party spot is this season's must-rent.

On top of the time and gas money spent, one is not expected to show up empty-handed to these soirees. I have a strict limit of ten dollars per gift, which is on the cheap thrifty side, relative to the other offerings on the gift table. Let's do the math again: three children X 15-20 classmates each X $10.00=a nice annual deposit on an Education IRA.

Birthday parties and presents are part of childhood, however, and my boys love them. With a little advance planning, they don't have to break the bank, and can even (if a monetary value can be placed on good times) be a bargain, considering that entertainment, a snack or meal, and party favors are provided.