It’s just over 2 months from our eldest daughter’s 16th birthday…just under 6 months from our Disney vacation – and along with living within our normally tight budget, I’ve had to come up with ways to cut costs from her big party, while trying not to make it seem like we are partying on a seriously limited budget. I thought I’d share a few of the tips I’ve learned so far while trying to plan a budget-friendly Sweet 16 party.
First – location, location, location! If your house is not a viable option (ours is a good space for some of the parties we’ve had, but just isn’t workable for this one)…then you’ll have to rent. A place for your party is a must -breaking the bank to rent that place is not. We were very lucky, in that a friend of my mother’s manages a community building that you can rent out for just $50 for the entire day. It’s not in our town, but in a small town nearby…good enough for me! Really research this one, you may be able to find a hidden gem like we did – and don’t just check the usual suspects! There may be buildings for rent you’d never think about – for instance in our small town you can rent out the Senior Center for the day (we’ve done that quite a few times). Ask around, there may be something out there that you aren’t aware of that is available to rent, and a lot of times it’s just a matter of asking the right person who might know of a place. So put out the word that you are looking for a place! Another option for us would have been a local park, if her birthday were in a weather-friendly month. There is a local park overlooking a lake that has cabin-type buildings for rent for just $35 a day, including electricity (but no air, just large shuttered windows that open). Unfortunately August around here is a bit warm and muggy for an outdoor party with no air-conditioned refuge!
As for music, I would say it’s almost a requirement for a Sweet 16. However, for those on a budget, a DJ is not a necessity – there are other options! Borrow or rent a Karaoke machine…or see if you know anyone that has a music sound bar which you can hook up an MP3 player to. That will give you a better sound for recorded music, and in fact I’ve read that some sound bars made for TVs can be utilized with MP3 players, so you may already have one with this capability. But if you must have a DJ (my daughter really wanted a DJ…luckily for us she has grandparents who felt that hiring a DJ would be a good birthday gift!), look around for someone just starting out in the business – or someone, like we found, who has a very simple set-up – who may very well charge less than a DJ who is already established in the area or one with all the bells & whistles. Do your homework – a Sweet 16 is not a wedding (that’s our mantra around this household!). For a wedding, you might want a DJ with all the bells & whistles…but if you are just looking for someone to play good music, keep the party moving and keep people entertained, you may be able to still have that and save a bit of money in this area. We (I should say, her grandparents!) were able to save over $100 by hiring someone with only start-up equipment.
Another area where it can be so easy to blow your budget to pieces is food. If your party involves teenagers – and, well, if you’re throwing a Sweet 16 party without teens, that’s more than a little odd – you are going to have to feed them. I don’t care what time of day you plan the party…teens want food. If you are on a budget, although it might be more stressful, you are going to want to handle this area yourself. If you aren’t on a budget – first, I’m jealous – second, hire a caterer! However, if you’re like me, that’s not realistic at all, so creative menu planning is key. Have you ever heard the phrase “Keep it simple, stupid!”? That applies here. Most teens aren’t complicated eaters…so keep your quiches and prosciutto-wrapped-whatevers for your Bunko parties and book club nights! Our plan is to make a large quantity of my mom’s recipe for sloppy joes, and to set the food table up with hamburger buns, hot dogs & hot dog buns and tortilla chips – along with some toppings and a few sides like potato salad, etc. This way, party-goers have their choice of regular sloppy joes, “coney” style hot dogs, regular hot dogs or even sloppy joe ‘nachos’ with all the toppings. Of course we’ll also have cake and/or cupcakes – but since we are the Cupcake Couple, that will not break our bank either, as we’ll be doing the baking. If you aren’t a baker – maybe someone in your family is? In fact, family members might be able to help out with all the food by ‘donating’ a dish for the party. If you don’t know anyone who is a great baker – that is one area you will probably want to splurge a bit. The cake is an important part of any birthday, and that’s definitely true of a Sweet 16 as well!
In a few days, I’ll share some of the ways I’m saving money on other aspects of the party like party décor, favors and activities. Stay tuned!