Paying for the Party

“Arrrgh,” shouted 14 young pirates as they chased me down the side of my home. We were on a treasure hunt. The cake had been eaten. The sword fights had been won. And now the real adventure had begun. Through Alligator Alley, past the Tunnel of Stinkiness and the Forgotten Grasslands, and through the Forbiden Gate… and over a dozen pirates were all of a sudden charging from my back yard and down to our mailbox (the Tiny Cave of Hope) in search of the prize. Then back through the house they stormed in a mad chaotic quest. There was treasure to be had, and when they finally discovered the chest buried in the Hidden Forest, the squeals of joy and triumph were amazing. I laughed and cheered and exulted in my pirate son’s joy.

Was it worth all the effort? Oh, yeah baby (as Noah likes to say). It was so worth it and such a fun evening. Our friend’s little boy told his Mom and Dad on the way home that it was the best birthday party ever! I felt like he had just presented me with flowers and a medal. I love it when the kids have fun, and I love the memories that we made as a family last night. But honestly, I also love when it is over 🙂 Parties are a lot of work, and they are also a lot of money. Is it worth it? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to throw a party.

Today, fresh from the land of pirates, I want to give you some ideas of how to successfully budget for an event, and also some ideas for what to do if you exceed your budget. And I have a confession to make. Unfortunately, I did not come in on budget for Noah’s party… yep, you can gasp. I did when the lady at the grocery store told me my total for the food. How in the world did it cost that much? I am honestly still puzzled. Now I do have a lot of leftovers sitting in my freezer, so maybe I can subtract that from the party cost. However, I think I really have to attribute a large part to the rising prices of food here. It really “sucker-punched” me for this party. But hopefully we can all learn from it, so that it won’t be you next time 😉

Generally, I have found that the best way to stay on budget for an event is to first of all, save towards that event as part of your monthly budget. This way, the money is ready for you when you get there and you can enjoy the event rather than resenting the cost. We did this for Matt’s conference he attended last weekend. We saved for about a year for that conference and included everything that he would need: hotel, airfare, conference fees, food and spending money. So when he got ready to leave for the conference there were no surprise hits to our budget. We had planned it, we had the money, and it was a joy for him to get to go.

The great thing about birthday parties that you are in charge of giving is that you typically know about the party in advance. As a result, it is easy to plan ahead and have the money in advance for the party. For me, the best option from there is to draw the money that you have budgeted in cash before you begin to purchase things for the party. Party expenses can just go on and on and if you don’t have a firm boundary like running out of cash, you will easily spend and extra $50 or even $100 and not even know where it went to. Using cash makes you think in advance about how much money you have to work with and how to make your money go as far as possible.

So start with what is really important to you. Do you want food to be the focal point of the party? Then allot more of your budget to the food. If food is not it, then choose a cheaper food and put your money into where you want the focus of your party to be. I love decorating for parties, but I have also learned that some $0.99 streamers and a package of balloons can go a long way. For most of the theme of the party I just try to be as resourceful as I can with what I already have on hand. Now this would be different if I were throwing an adult party. But still, I want to throw a great party, not throw my money away. And if decorations are your priority, it is so critical that you determine your budget because decorations can easily get out of hand in expense.

So what do you do if your expenses do get out of hand, like mine did this week? I think in my head I was budgeting for pizza and never adequately compensated when I decided to serve real food instead. Regardless, I spent more than I had planned. I am not sorry for it because I fed my sweet family and friends a yummy meal and have great leftovers, but I am sorry for the consequences… which is, I have to take money out of savings.

Now some of you may be thinking, “So what?” Well, for me, taking money out of savings is like punishment. I am fiercely protective of our savings. I love to spend the money if we have set a certain amount aside for a project or trip. That is a joy to me because that is what the money is there for. However, when I have to take from our savings for something unplanned (and not an emergency) I just despise it. And I don’t recommend doing it either. If you use your savings lightly… you won’t have any. We have a goal with our general savings account, and I feel like these types of unplanned expenses are fighting against that money’s purpose. I will actually try to pull money from everywhere else before I will resort to drawing money from savings. However, I am also so thankful that we are saving aggressively so that unexpected costs don’t go on a credit card and dig us into debt. I am thankful that we have that money there if we need it. Most of the time, I try to figure out a way to pay the money back into our saving’s account (just like taking a loan from yourself). But sometimes, you just have to use it, and then praise God that you are using your own money rather than the credit card company’s money.

The point is that it is critical to have a saving’s account. I have written about it here in a blog about why you should start now and begin to save even if you are in debt. As you can see from my birthday party illustration, without a savings account we would have been in trouble this week. If you are in debt and don’t have a savings account, you are just going to end up in more debt should any surprise cost come along. And that is a very precarious place to live, because life is full of surprises.

But for now the party is over. I have reconciled my financial world and paid for the party and even modified my plan for Ava’s birthday (which is in 2 weeks) so that this doesn’t happen again. But even if it does happen again on some piratey or princess adventure down the road, I have a plan for after the party which includes taking responsibility for what I have spent. Although I’ll be honest with you, I can’t help wishing a little that the chest had been filled with real treasure that would pay for the whole party instead of “goody bags” filled with chocolate coins. But then again, if I think of it as filled with my money from savings, it actually was a chest of treasure… I just gave it to my children and all of my children’s friends. Come to think of it, that’s actually a pretty wonderful place to invest some treasure 🙂