How A Sweet 16 Party Can Be As Painful As A Root Canal (Or Not)…

Sweet 16 Cupcake

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! 



Houston, We Have Lift-off!

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The last week or so around these parts has been pretty busy. I mentioned previously that my husband and I were trying to start a cupcake business. Well, I had promised back in October/November to my friends, family and some other cupcake-crazed people that we were going to be ready to take orders in January. Well unless you’ve been hibernating, you know that January is quickly coming to a close, so we knew that if we were going to keep our promise we needed to get a few things done.

First, we needed to talk to the health department. In Indiana, they have a “Home Based Vendor” law which allows home bakers to sell their products, however you can only sell them at two locations – a farmer’s market or a ‘roadside stand’. You can take online orders for pickup at either of those locations, but you cannot have a customer come inside your home to make a purchase and also cannot deliver to the customer. Well, I had seen mentioned that a few people were using their porch as a ‘roadside stand’, but I wasn’t sure if that was legit and since we wanted to do everything legally, I needed answers from our local health department on their interpretation of the term ‘roadside stand’. I finally got in touch with them and – hooray! – our front porch does fall under our county’s interpretation (our state leaves it up to the individual county’s to determine specifics like that, so it can vary from town to town). Our house is on the corner of a busy 4-way stop, and our large porch faces the road so there is fairly easy access also.

Next, we needed to finalize all of the little details of starting a cupcake business…things like a menu, pricing and a website. Check, check and check! Then it was just a matter of putting the word out that we were open for business, which we did this Monday. Since then, we have gotten 2 orders (for a total of 5 dozen cupcakes) and an inquiry for a birthday party in February! My husband and I spent last night whipping up fillings and buttercreams, and I couldn’t help but feel pride and love standing in that kitchen with him. The baking business was mostly my dream…but he has always wanted us to start our own business, so both of our dreams are kind of coming true at the same time, together…and that fills me with all kinds of emotions I can’t even put into words.

I know this business can either fail or succeed…but whatever happens with it, we tried. We took the leap, took a chance and in doing so are showing our children that you really can follow your dreams – you can at least try and be anything you want to be. And although I hope that it is successful – I hope that one day we can take the dream a step further and open our own little shop – if we do fail I hope that we can do so with grace and joy knowing we were able to live our dream for even a short period of time – so that we can also show our children that even if you end up not succeeding that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it, and even if you fail at something it doesn’t make you a failure. Right now, though, I am giving it to God. He has blessed us with the opportunity and I will do my best to follow his lead and take it where he wants us to go with it.



The Business of a Business

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So I mentioned in my first post that my husband and I were thinking about starting a business. This business idea has actually been in bloom for a while now…over 5 years actually, but it has morphed and changed over time. It started simply as my love of baking. I decided I wanted to attempt to learn to decorate cakes – because as much as I loved to bake, cake decorating had always kind of scared me. But I thought if I could master some simple things, I could start making our family’s special occasion cakes instead of buying them from someone else. I had discovered a site called Cake Central and it opened my eyes to the wonder of possibilities in gourmet cake flavors, fillings and beautiful decorating. There are some seriously talented people out there, and I set out to learn some things from them. Several years and a lot of frustration and crying that I will never touch a cake again…I have made some good, some bad – and some downright ugly. I don’t have pictures of the ugly – but here are a few of the good and not-so-good:

IMG_5394Definitely not so pretty…but it did taste good. I hadn’t mastered the technique of straightening the sides…IMG_5641Getting better…I love the rose technique from I Am BakerIMG_5453My first “3-D” cake, and first time using fondant, for my son’s birthday party. If you don’t know, it’s a minion from the movie “Despicable Me”. It turned out cute, I was proud of it – but it definitely was not professional, smooth or perfect by any means, and I felt my blood boiling a few times during the creating of this one.June2012 056This one I am probably the most proud of – also the most recent. Made for my best friend’s daughter’s graduation. It was HUGE…much larger than necessary – but I think it turned out extremely well, and really I did not have much of a problem with this one (I also made the graduation hat cookies you see to the side).

Now, I definitely still have a love of baking and decorating cakes – but I need a LOT more practice at it (and a few classes would be nice) before I would ever dream of creating something for a special occasion of someone I didn’t know. So the plans were put on the backburner until I could refine my skills. Then one day I happened across a little Food Network show called Cupcake Wars, and a light bulb went off for me. So, I started thinking a little smaller. Cute little yummy cupcakes…cupcakes I could do. I could still use all my ideas for gourmet flavors and fillings and icing, and even decorate them – but without taking on a huge task like a multi-layer cake. And cupcakes are fun – who doesn’t love them? So my husband and I started really discussing it…we kicked around recipe ideas and started baking. We made them for a party we were having, and then as a birthday gift for a friend, and then for a treat for the parent group I’m involved in…and then we started getting feedback – and requests. In addition to the one at the top of this post (Aloha Cupcakes), here are a few photos of some of the yummy little cupcakes we’ve made:

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Margarita Cupcakes


Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes


Hot Cocoa Cupcakes

We have had nothing but good feedback, and many people telling us they are interested in ordering. We figured we really had something. My husband even came up with a name for our little business-that-wasn’t-quite-a-business…The Cupcake Couple. We registered a domain and created an e-mail address and a Facebook page…and then Christmas came and I could not handle Christmas and Cupcakes together, so we took a break and told everyone we were taking some time to figure out things, and would be back at it in January.

So here we are in January. We decided we’re going to try it…and so we are. We still need to figure out all the legalities, make a business plan and figure out how/where/when we are going to sell our cupcakes. We have too much debt right now to buy a storefront, and even if we could we aren’t sure our town could handle that. Neither of us can give up our income to do it full-time either, so it’s definitely a part-time, on-the-side venture. So we’ll start out selling with no storefront. We’ll have a website, and Facebook, and word-of-mouth. In Indiana, where we live, you can legally bake cupcakes in an unlicensed home (our home can’t be licensed as our kitchen can not be closed off from the rest of the house) – but can ONLY sell them at a farmer’s market or roadside stand. So we need to contact our county and find out exactly what constitutes a roadside stand in our county (they all have different interpretations of the law). For instance, can we sell them from our front porch, which faces a major road which goes through our town? We are on a corner with a stoplight, so it’s easily accessible…but I don’t know if that would fly. What I do know is we can’t deliver, and a customer cannot come into our home to pick up an order, unless we bake out of a commercial kitchen. So we need to see what our options are. I would love to find a commercial kitchen to use so that we can deliver or have home pickups, consultations, etc. But that is where we are right now, we have set our pricing and our base menu…we just need to figure out the legalities and get all of the ‘business’ stuff set so that we feel more comfortable going forward with this venture. But we are making a go of it! We’ll just have to wait and see how it works out. I’m sure I’ll be making a few mentions on the struggles and triumphs over the next year…so stay tuned!