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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The House of The Mouse

When we started planning our Disney trip, my husband and I both knew what we wanted it to be. We wanted to make it the trip of a lifetime for our kids – since it’s probably the last time we’ll all be able to go to Disney World together. We had only been 2 other times, once in 2002 when our oldest daughter was 5 and then again in 2010 when we were able to take our 3 youngest. In 2002 we stayed with family and drove from Lakeland, Florida to Orlando for 2 days out of our weeks’ vacation to take our daughter to Disney World. In 2010, we planned for the whole week at Disney, but stayed off-site to save money.                                                                                                                           

I think I’ve mentioned before that we use our tax refund to pay for our annual vacation. Typically we use only a portion of our refund (because of our family size we usually get a decent amount) and the rest goes to other things – but this year almost all of it was allotted to our trip, as even a basic Disney vacation is an expensive trip in itself. However – we still want to save wherever we possibly can, so that maybe we can afford some of the little things we wanted to do but that weren’t necessities like hotel, tickets, travel and food expenses. We told ourselves that if ALL we could do was afford to get there, go to the parks and eat every day – that was enough. But the more we save on those necessities, the more we have left for special things like flying instead of drive, attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and purchase the Candlelight Processional dinner package (so that we’re guaranteed a seat). 

This time we definitely knew we wanted to stay in a Disney resort – that was a must, and of course more expensive than staying off-site so it was also the reason we had to allot most of our refund towards our vacation. 

Our dream was also to fly instead of drive – although we normally love road trips, our youngest 3 have never been on an airplane, so that would make the trip that much more special for them. But flying a family of 6 is usually a budget-buster, even if you can find super-discounted fares. Luckily, we heard about a deal through Southwest that if you got a Southwest Visa, you’d earn 50,000 Southwest Rewards points if you met their qualifications*. The qualifications weren’t hard for us to meet, and once we’d done some quick calculations we realized we’d be able to get at least 3 round-trip tickets to Orlando out of those 50,000 points which cut our out-of-pocket expense for airfare in half! When Southwest opened up their December schedule, I booked and actually ended up being able to book 3 full round trip tickets with our points, and another one-way ticket also. So out-of-pocket we only had to purchase 2 round trip and 1 one-way ticket – even better! What we ended up spending on airfare ended up being only a small amount more than we would have spent driving – and the savings of time spent traveling vs. on vacation more than makes up for the cost! I was so excited that everything ended up working out this way for our travel. Another bonus to flying in with Disney is that you get to take part in their “Magical Express” free of charge – they not only pick you up at the airport, but also pick up your bags and transport them to your hotel room without you having to lift a finger! Definite bonus, and while the kids could not care less about that particular aspect, it really ups the magic content of our vacation for the grown-ups! 

So, so far we’ve not really ‘saved’ any money in the aspect of real dollars spent – but for basically the same amount of money we are able to fly instead of drive, not only increasing our vacation time and lessening our weariness from driving 16+ hours but also making this a milestone for our 3 youngest children by taking their first plane ride. For this mama, that equals a savings that can’t be measured in dollars! 

I’ll keep you updated with our plans as they come about – Disney has just released the hours for December, and we’re almost at the 180-day mark so that we can make any dining reservations we are planning – and I’m crossing my fingers that Disney releases a free dining offer in July – so hopefully there will most definitely be more plans coming together in the near future! 

Blessings,

Mariah

*The current qualifications for this offer are that you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of activating your card. I want to stress that I would only recommend doing this if you can use that $2,000 to purchase/pay regular monthly expenses and then use your budgeted money for those expenses to pay the bill when it comes. If you can’t do that – then racking up $2,000 in debt to earn a couple of flights is NOT worth it!

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

December 28, 2009

Relax, Refresh and Renew

I sit here at my computer, thinking about my blog and realizing it was almost this exact same time last year that I thought starting a blog back up was a great idea. Now here it is…a year later…and I’ve made a seriously pathetic number of posts so far. I started this blog as a way to remind myself to be motivated, be creative, be inspired…maybe even to help keep my goals. I still want this blog to represent that…and everything about life that I love so much – God, family, home, writing, crafting – living my life to the fullest. Enjoying every moment and hoping that I make the people in my circle feel as blessed as they make me feel. There are reasons…or excuses…as to why I have neglected to post – we really have had a very busy and very productive (!) year. We went from a family of 3 to a family of 6 almost overnight. That all started about mid-year…right after we were licensed to be foster parents. We started on the fostering journey thinking eventually we might adopt a child, maybe even two that came into our care along the way. That all changed pretty suddenly when 3 little blessings came our way, and the only way I can describe how it all happened is that it was meant to be…pre-destined, pre-determined…God’s plan for our life. Everything that happend was simply too unbelievable, too coincidental to have happened by some happy accident. These 3 kids were meant to become a part of our family, from the very beginning…all roads have led us here. I know this. So…now our happy little family of 3 is a happier, larger (and of course, busier) family of 6. The 4 kids we always dreamed of but knew we could never have…well now we have them. Life is good, God is amazing. So now, here I am…seemingly back to where I started. Right after Christmas, vowing next Christmas I will be more prepared, ready ahead of time and have made most of our family gifts. That didn’t happen for this Christmas – but I am even more determined than ever to make that happen next Christmas. I realized this Christmas just how hectic it is and how fast it goes with 4 kids…so much faster than it went with just our daughter. I think I took for granted her first 11 Christmases, the calm, the time we were able to spend together just enjoying the season. Things sure went differently between work, therapy appointments, doctor appointments, shopping for more gifts than I’ve ever imagined buying for one occassion. And although next year we will also be busy, decidedly so, at Christmas…that is pushing me even more to vow that I will be 95% ready for Christmas by December 1st (5% reserved for baking which can’t really be done that far in advance, haha). The reason we need to be ready so early? Because over the week of Christmas, to celebrate the first Christmas after finalizing the adoptions, we will be on a family vacation to Disney World! I am so excited about that…and want everything to go smoothly. The first 5 days of vacation will be spent at the parks, and the last 2 relaxing and enjoying each other. We plan to drive to the coast and spend Christmas Eve watching the sun set over the Gulf. So you see…I really do need to be more organized, more productive and more prepared for 2010. I have set several goals and I am hoping that I can see most of them to fruition. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. For me, although hectic and crazy, and except for a few not-so-great moments, it was one of the most wonderful Christmases yet.

God Bless and have a happy and SAFE New Year!

Mariah

September 15, 2009

Change is in the Air

Big things are happening right now, but I don’t want to jinx myself by saying too much. Let’s just say that perhaps some day soon our house might be getting a whole lot noisier…

Stay Tuned!

Love,
Mariah

**I posted this when we were first contacted about the kids that we’ve since adopted…so obviously I didn’t jinx myself! 😉 I just wanted to include it for a basic timeline of when things happened for us!

Blessings,

Mariah

February 24, 2009

Tired

Man…I did not realize how hard it would be to get motivated to write again. I really want to write, I love to write…but when I had my last blog it was so much easier. Probably because I did not work, and now I have a stressful job (where I sit at a computer all day). I am tired when I get home…and the last thing I want to do is sit at a computer again. Maybe I need to not be so hard on myself and not expect to feel like writing more than once a week. I mean, it’s not like I have a Blogger Boss expecting a 3 paragraph post each day by 5 or I’m fired…right?

I do have a lot to talk about…a lot has been on my mind. We have finally started the foster-to-adopt process. Well, at least – I think we have. We received our background check paperwork in the mail, filled it all out, and returned it to the DCFS receptionist who assured me she would get it to our caseworker. That was Friday the 13th…hmmm…now that I say it maybe that was a bad omen. I haven’t heard a word since. Also I might mention that in the envelope with the background paperwork we had to fill out there were no instructions concerning what to do with it. So I just assumed we were to give it back to them. Maybe I was wrong. I might know the answer to that if our caseworker wold return any of the 3 messages I left, or answer the phone any of the hundred or so times I have tried to call and not left a message.

We are new at this, and have no idea how the process works really. I feel like there MUST be something we should be doing at this point…but nobody who knows what we should be doing knows what THEY should be doing (which is being a little more helpful with newbies to the foster world). Granted, I know they are busy. But, so am I. I am an accountant in the RV industry, which if you haven’t heard isn’t doing so hot…and we are on skeleton crew. I am now doing the job that at least 2 people used to do in a minimum of 80 hours a week…and I have to get it done in 40. So I do know a little about being busy. But I also know if I didn’t return calls of new dealers who wanted to do business with us, we would lose those new dealers as they become frustrated with not getting return calls. The same could probably also be said of Foster Care. I have only been officially in the process for about a week and a half, but already I can truly imagine that the frustration of never being able to talk to anyone or get any answers might drive people to just say “forget it”. I am not one of those people…I will soldier on. I will be patient. I just wish there could be an easier way. Maybe I should quit the RV industry and go to work for the Foster system…they seem to need the help.

Well…more later (I didn’t say *when* later…haha)…I have a phone call to make 🙂

Love,
Mariah

Disney Dreaming

Color me thrilled! This month, I scored a few Disney-themed items on Christmas clearance (mostly at Wal-mart and Walgreens), which I stashed away for our trip in December. Look what I found:
IMG_8498

I got the cookies, stickers and stockings all for about 50¢ each, the beanie Mickeys and Minnies for $1.50 each, and the little green and red balls are tree-shaped packages of gum I picked up for 25¢ each (not Disney themed, but they’ll love them!).

My plan, in trying to make this last Disney World trip extra memorable and special, is to have one small little item for each kid every day. Nothing big, nothing expensive – just a little treat to make them smile. I am not sure how I’m going to accomplish it, but I’d love to be able to have them waiting for them when they come home from the parks each day. Maybe I’ll just have to be the last one out the door every morning and try to secretly toss them on the counter…I really haven’t figured that part out yet! I thought about packaging them in little gift bags ahead of time and leaving them in our room with a note for “Mousekeeping” (I love that word!) to set them out? I am not sure if that would work. Anyway, I’ll figure it out!

Speaking of Mousekeeping…I am also thinking of leaving something special for them each day (in addition to tipping, not instead of!). Not something Disney themed necessarily because, well, they work there and that might be overkill. But maybe something along these lines (click pictures to go to the original site):

Cute little bags of M&Ms from Cricut Chick!

Hot Cocoa sets found on Kirtsy (made by Megan from Not Martha)

Apple Caramel gift set from Jo and Sue

Toasted Marshmallow Jelly Belly Tin from Sassy & Sweet Notes

Christmas Soaps with Printable Tags from Plum Adorable

My husband thinks I’m nuts but…it’s close to Christmas after all, and most of those things can be done up pretty inexpensively – and I just think if it was me working there and cleaning up after someone, I’d be completely excited about something like that – what do you think?

Blessings,
Mariah