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Eileen Wacker

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Birthday Parties Go Back to Basics

Posted: 09/21/11 03:43 PM ET

I have four children and two of them have summer birthdays. They seem to get the short end of the birthday-party stick with very small parties or just celebrating with family. But now we are back to school and the birthday parties are starting up again. So I started thinking about birthday parties and the economy and what are some modern day considerations.

In these times of tighter budgets, large lavish birthday parties are a thing of the past. In the last decade, birthday parties had started to make a statement about the family throwing them, and, less and less about a simple childhood celebration. Now it's back to the birthday child and back to basics. Here are some adjustments we are making:

Keep it simple and age appropriate. My eight-year-old had four friends meet us at the movie theatre to see Spy Kids 4D. I bought them all snacks and let them sit by themselves. Then they came back to our house for some cake and ice cream and played basketball in the driveway. We skipped the decorations, elaborate goody bags, over the top food and bloated invitation list.

Let them have a say in the planning. For my daughter's twelfth birthday, she wanted to go to the mall and shop with her friends. We agreed she could invite 3 friends and I would give them each $20 to spend and then take them to an early dinner at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. I was in the mall but let them go to the stores on their own. They roamed around Claire's, Forever21 and the Apple store and had a great time.

I try to remember, it's not about me. Too many times, I used to insist my child invite a friend's child because I feared it would be awkward if the child was not invited. Now, we've adjusted the size down and I just explain, when I feel I need to, that we are skipping the fanfare of a party and just having a few kids over. And I let my child choose.

The younger the kids, the less they care about food. So we no longer spend a lot of money on food. One Costco or Walmart run is enough to get the snacks and other food we need. Bake the cake if you can; otherwise a supermarket cake is plenty. Only get a sheet cake if you plan to eat the majority of it yourself.

Kids love getting birthday party invitations. We use the on-line evite system to create and send the invitation. Your child can help type in the information. It's fun and very inexpensive and they can check the status and comments daily. And, the invited kids enjoy getting the email and reminder.

Sleepover parties are a labor of love and a timeless tradition. I do not know one parent who enjoys hosting a sleepover party and kids often come back tired and cranky. But, kids live for these. Set some ground rules with your child beforehand and give the night a theme. We ask every parent to pick up their child at 10 or before so we know there is an ending.

Keep your causes to yourself. Somewhere along the way, presents became politically INCORRECT and more and more invitations started to state "no gifts please" or bring a book and we will donate it. This is fine for adult birthdays but I say, let the kids get presents. They love them. My favorite birthday gift of the moment is an Apple gift card. Every child I know has an iPod, iTouch, iPhone or other device and they use their cards every time.

Some kids want a party at home and others want to go somewhere special... do your best to make it what the child wants, but ensure they understand the budget and adjust the size based on expense.

Bottom line: cake, presents, four friends or less at home or an outing. So maybe the small summer birthdays were fine after all. But I have to admit my kids said jumpy castles are the bomb. I'll leave that for parents with an only child.

Eileen Wacker lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and four children. She is the author of the new children's book, Pink Hamster and the Birthday Surprise, the fourth installment of the award winning Fujimini Adventure Series. For additional information on the series, please visit www.oncekids.com.