Rate my birthday party spending: Mom bloggers weigh in

I didn't start out with a budget number in mind for my daughter's 3rd birthday party, but in my head, spending any more than $300 seemed too much. In reality, that's hardly a drop in the bucket for what a party could cost, especially in New York. When I had a surprise 40th for my husband a few years ago at a local fencing center, it was $350 just for the activity for 20 people -- we had to bring our own pizza, drinks and cake. A party for 15 kids at our neighborhood Little Gym would have run $475 for 90 minutes, no food included.

To do a budget party, I had to do it at home, since an outdoor location wouldn't be good for our older relatives or our frequent potty-going little ones. Luckily, we live in Brooklyn and have a backyard and fairly spacious apartment. Our only complicating condition was that my husband's side of the family keeps kosher (and we don't, so I had to buy all prepared items), and to further make things difficult, my brother-in-law has a gluten allergy. So while I wanted to try to hit $300, I needed some wiggle room to achieve a Glatt kosher party (meaning, no Hebrew National cocktail franks because they aren't kosher enough).

How did I do? Not quite $300, but not too bad overall. My total: $409 for 50 people -- 16 children under 12 and 34 adults(detailed budget below).
Here's the general breakdown:

Food: $242
Beverages: $15
Supplies: $39
Activities: $41
Goodie bags (x20): $43
Cake (homemade): $24

I shopped mostly at Costco, with a trip to Pathmark for cake supplies (the cake wasn't kosher) and Fairway for the special Glatt cocktail franks and chicken fingers. I got most of my party supplies from PartyCheap.com, but had to buy a few extra things from a Manhattan party store. The bandanas for the craft and as the goodie bag holders (gold ones for pirate booty) were from Tan's Club on super discount.

Extras we didn't pay for: blow-up pirate boat for backyard that was Sadie's present from her grandma ($44); princess dress that was a present from Bubbe ($7), extra sodas and ice from aunt Alisa ($15). We had some leftovers because the oven wasn't heating up things fast enough, but mostly everything was gone!

What do you have to say about how I could have spent less?

DealSeekingMom (@dealseekingmom) says, "You could have shaved a lot more off your total if you had shopped at the grocery store with coupons. Costco is great for staples, but convenience foods are not competitively priced."

Andamom (@andamom) says, "Paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic "silverware" all get trashed. I feel terribly guilty though when I see the mound of trash at the end of a party because I know that it will end up in a land-fill. My suggestion is buying plain stuff in large quantities (ie, not the small cute patterns sets of 8), and keeping leftovers from previous parties cuts down on costs."

This is the detailed budget:

Food: $242.13
48 Juice boxes
Costco 100-count mixed hors d'oeuvres (x2)
baba ganoush6.59
Costco veggie tray11.99
Costco fruit tray11.99
mini cupcakes6.79
b&w cookies6.79
pretzel chips
Tostito scoops4.59
pita crackers6.69
kosher chicken fingers25
kosher tater tots18
cocktail franks (160)
Olga's gluten-free sides

CouponCravings (@eringifford) says, "Ditch the juice boxes. Get half-gallon bottles of juice, pour into a pitcher in a 2/3 juice to 1/3 water ratio." She also says that I did a bit of overkill having both salsa and guacamole, and hummos and baba ganoush. "Pick one!" And she thinks I could have done a lot better on the mustard and ketchup using coupons.

Stretching a Buck (@stretchingabuck) adds that I could have saved a lot more cooking from scratch -- which is a great suggestion I would have followed except for the kosher rule. But she also adds, "
Keep your menu as simple as possible. Save even more money and have a mid afternoon party where you can serve cake, drinks and a few light snacks." And I could have saved by sticking to that advice!

Supplies: $38.90
Foil Pans3
Table cloths4
pirate cake plates11.20
pirate napkins8.40
pink napkins5.30
pink plates7

Was I a sucker for the theme party plates? Probably. Bargain Briana (@bargainbriana) chides: "Use small dixie plates/napkins instead of designer plates for the cake plates! Save half or more!"

Beverages: $15
10 sodas, 1 gallon iced tea

Mommy Snacks (@mommysnacks) tells me: "Beverages are rarely on sale. Purchasing drinks using a drugstore loyalty program, like CVS, could have saved you a few dollars. You could have purchased 60 sodas for around $10."

Activities: $40.81
48 blank bandanas16
Fabric markers16.81
Pin the tail on the map

Frugal in Virginia (@frugalinva) lauds me for the home party and the homemade cake, but says I could have done a lot better on my goodie bag at the dollar store and also chimes in, "The cost of the activity supplies, such as fabric markers, could have been lowered by buying at a craft supply store in conjunction with a coupon. Craft stores will often offer 40% off coupons in Sunday newspapers and email newsletters. Look out for these coupons in the weeks leading up to the party."

Goodie bags: $42.87
Chocolate coins7.75
24 gold bandanas7.92
treasure loot4.50
boy bracelets2.40

They may want them, but FreeBirthdayTreats (@JulieFBT) asks, "Are goodie bags essential? If the kids work on an activity craft to take home, I think you could completely eliminate them. $43 savings!"

Cake: $24.29
unsalted butter6
mini M&Ms2.79
chocolate chips
cocoa powder4

While I might get mom points for making my own cake, on a budget, Heather Gosman notes: "Go to Costco for the cake. You can get half a sheet cake for around $15 - $16. They'll personalize, but the designs are limited. What they lack in creativity, they certainly make up for in taste."
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