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Friday, May 05, 2006 | Parentally Incorrect

Rising gas prices aren’t the only thing I’ve had to worry about recently. I’m also dealing with the rising costs of birthday parties.

Because the birthdays of my son and daughter fall within three weeks of each other, I have resigned myself to being broke every spring for the next 18 years.

That’s because kid’s parties are now a big social event for adults. There are lots of friends who I only see at parties and lots of people who I can’t hang out with as much because I’ve got to go to a party.

I don’t mind, but I fear getting pulled into a financial black hole trying to top some soccer mom’s soiree for a one-year-old who is too young to appreciate it.

I’m serious about this.

My daughter’s birthday was last month and we held it at Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa. My wife sent me to the park at 6:30 a.m. to secure “the best table” and, amazingly, it was already taken when I got there (I shouldn’t have stopped for a burrito).

Not only that, but I was soon joined by other fathers who were setting up things like giant kites, face painting stands and a mini-stage for a guy who blows bubbles for a living. And, of course, some guy was busy getting his bounce house ready for the rug rats.

One father was even using his son’s birthday as an excuse to hand out religious literature (but, frankly, I don’t think that was the kid’s idea).

Because our daughter’s birthday party was much less elaborate – just a playground, some sandwiches and sodas, and maybe a Frisbee catching contest – I feared it wouldn’t be as successful as the others.

I needn’t have worried. Alex is still too young to appreciate the so-called finer things in life so she had a great time yelling and screaming, jumping and running, and all the other things kids do when they’re allowed to drink caffeine.

However, there will come a time (maybe even next year) when she will want a more elaborate party. But I am prepared.

No, I haven’t saved any money and based on my mortgage payment, I have no plans to either. But I have figured out ways to save a buck and I thought I’d pass them along to you.

First things first. If you’re planning a kids’ party, eventually, the subject of the “Bounce House” comes up for discussion.

Personally, I think they’re a waste of money. They don’t provide that much bounce to the ounce. In fact, you can get a better jump on the party just by stacking up eight or so inflatable pool mattresses inside a tent. It’s much cheaper since you don’t have to rent a generator.

Still, kids love the idea of them, even if the houses end up being ignored after 30 minutes (except for that one child who continues to bounce and bounce and bounce through the cake and present opening parts of the party).

If your child insists on that darned bounce house, get it for him but try and make the cash back by charging admissions to the poor slobs at the park who weren’t able to rent them for their own kids. You can always charge a bulk rate for parties.

Another way to save money on your kids’ birthday parties is to develop their social skills.

Some kids have a knack at meeting other kids and making friends in seconds. That’s a skill that can be learned and honed to help your bottom line.

If you throw a party at a popular park, take careful note of which kid is having the biggest, most elaborate shindig – and then send your own child in that direction. Teach your children to befriend the birthday boy or girl – or their siblings – and play with them.

After a while, the rich parents will call for the food, the cake or the ice cream to be served and your kid will join the others. If it’s a big party, there won’t be any problem because most kids look alike. If it’s smaller, your son or daughter may have to be extra polite in order to grab some cake or goody bags without getting caught.

You have to watch things closely in order to smooth things over with potentially peeved parents. If your child insists on singing “Happy Birthday” to herself, walk over and say, “Apple, what are you doing here? It’s not your birthday.”

Then, apologize to the parents and you might walk away with some cake or carne asada for yourself.

Another tip: Instead of hiring a kiddie entertainer, get a talented relative or friend to entertain the kids. For instance, I play Sesame Street songs on the ukulele and another friend of mine is great at juggling. Or you can simply have the kids hand out religious literature at the park.

But it’s best to always hire a professional face painter because nothing looks worse than having the kids put it on themselves.

David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer who turns every day into a party. He can be reached at

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