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When did birthday parties get so competitive?

Featured Image
A young woman holding a birthday cake.

When my kids were little, birthday parties were a lot of fun. Invite family over, a few friends, maybe a couple of kids from daycare, and enjoy a nice afternoon together.

But after about age 6, birthday parties seem to become a competitive sport. Both parents and kids try to outdo one another with themes and destinations. In the past several years, my girls have attended birthday parties at bowling alleys, skating rinks, playrooms, go-cart tracks, pools, museums, movies, trampoline parks and escape rooms. They had a fantastic time and it was a great day spent with friends, but each party seems to be bigger or more elaborate than the last.

Of course when my kids’ birthdays roll around, they also want to have their party at a really cool place. Until just a few years ago, I had no idea just how much it cost to have a party at these places. Prices start around $10 per child and only go up from there. It’s easy to spend well over $250 for a few hours in noisy, hot room with 10 of your child’s best friends.

So why am I willing to spend so much money on a child’s birthday party? Is it really worth it?
Yes. I do it for my own sanity.  I don’t have to de-clutter my house before the party, prep food and snacks for all the guests, or clean up afterwards. I am definitely more relaxed paying someone else to take care of the details, food and cleanup.

We do have limits. My husband and I establish a clear budget on how much we are willing to pay for the birthday party, including the cake and goodie bags. We work out options and we let the birthday child pick something within the price range.

We explain to our kids that if they choose to have a big birthday party, the party is their present from us. We don’t agree to a large party and a big present. It’s one or the other. As they have gotten older and their gifts have gotten more expensive, they sometimes choose a present and pass on the party.

Last month my oldest daughter turned 15. As her birthday approached, we talked about her birthday plans. All she wanted for her birthday was to get together with her friends and hang out for a few hours. No movies. No activities. Just hang out, talk and laugh. I baked brownies from a box mix, scooped out pre-made cookie dough and offered up lemonade. She said afterwards that it was her best birthday ever. #BirthdayWin