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! 

Blessings,
Mariah

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An OCD Planner’s Dream…And Also Nightmare

Over the next year, our family has several ‘big’ things happening. Things that need to be well thought-out and planned in advance. This August, our daughter turns 16 and we’re planning a “Sweet 16” party for her. In November we have 2 non-milestone birthdays that we’ll need to plan parties for. December is our big all-out holiday trip to Disney World. And then next June we are planning a destination vow renewal in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.                          

For a somewhat OCD, planning-obsessed person like me, the next year is both exhilarating and terrifying. This may well be the most stressful, expensive year my husband and I have ever experienced. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Well, birthdays come around every year, and there was no getting around the 16th birthday this year whether we are ready for it or not. The Disney trip…well if we want to have one final Disney trip that includes our whole family, there isn’t really much putting it off since we only have a few years left before kids start sprouting wings and planning their own adventures. We took a vote last year, and everyone unanimously decided they wanted to go back to Disney again one more time before that happens.

Our vow renewal is the one thing that really puts everything in the ‘too much’ category. We planned to renew our vows on our 10th anniversary, but then we moved that year and changed jobs and it was a whole thing, so we pushed it to 15 years (which would have been last year). So we planned a trip to Hawaii…but then only my parents were able to go (we wanted it to be all of our parents). We thought about going ahead with it – after all we were going to be in Hawaii! What better place for us, it was our dream destination. But the more we thought about it…well…we really wanted our kids involved too – and we just couldn’t see spending what it would have cost to take them to Hawaii with us. The plane tickets alone would have cost us almost as much as we spent on our entire trip for the 2 of us. So we decided to push it back, but with my dad’s cancer diagnosis we didn’t want to push it back to our 20th anniversary. We want him there and with the kind of ‘life expectancy’ MCL has…we just knew it had to be sooner. So we decided – why not make it our 17th anniversary? 17 has always been ‘our’ number. Among many other smaller things – the 17th is the date I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, it was her due-date and ultimately her birth date also, it was the day we were married and it was the day our 3 youngest moved in with us. It’s our number…so what more perfect anniversary to renew our vows anyway? And now our renewal which originally included just 8 people (our parents, step-parents and ourselves) has grown to about 23 people to include our children, siblings and their children and a few of our absolute closest friends. 

I will probably be making lots of posts regarding party planning, vacation planning and vow renewal planning in the coming months. I hope to share some tips I learn along the way, some DIY projects and maybe – hopefully – some very budget friendly ideas since I will be trying to cut costs as much as I possibly can so I can fit everything we really want to do into all of our plans.

As of right now, my brain is consumed with different ideas about our 3 “big events” just bouncing back and forth, smacking into each other. I’m quite afraid at this point that I might end up inviting Disney Princesses to my daughters Sweet 16, reserving a beach house for our Disney trip and wearing a hot pink & zebra striped wedding dress to my vow renewal…

Stay tuned!

Blessings,
Mariah

May 2, 2005

Reflections

Wow! I have been on this earth for 28 years. Born in 1977. That seems so long ago. When I think of the year I was born I think of bell bottoms and the colors orange and yellow. I don’t know why.

Jeff baked me this *ahem* lovely cake. Actually, it was delicious. And it was beautiful because he made it, and he even put exactly 28 candles on the cake. I blew them out all at once…do you think my wish will come true?

When I think of my early childhood, I think of shaggy red carpeting and velvety red curtains, Winnie the Pooh, and my Grandpa, who died when I was only 4, but I remember him as though he was right beside me now. I have an old wooden bench that he made for me, that folded into a table (that somehow I actually used to fit my legs under).

Speaking of nostalgia…I was cleaning out my recipe cupboard today, throwing away cookbooks I haven’t used in ages or ever. I came across several handwritten recipe cards from various people…and one from one very special person. Not that they aren’t all special – but this one recipe, for hard rock candy, was handwritten by my Grandma Gale. I can remember the day I asked her for that recipe. She made the best hard candy. I know I could have figured it out on my own, but I am so glad I asked her for it. It is the only handwritten item I have from her. And it was written specifically for ME.

She died of Ovarian cancer when I was 17. Seeing the changes that happened to her in a very small amount of time still haunts me to this day. I held that recipe card in my hand and cried.

*I included this past post, as my Grandma Gale dying when I was 17 was my first time really dealing with a family member having “the big C” in my life…Cancer. Sadly, almost exactly 17 years later little did I know I’d be dealing with it again…and seeing what my Grandma went through definitely had a hand in how I have handled that.

Blessings,
Mariah