My husband and I love being generous to our friends and to our children’s friends; however, relatives and friends have warned us that too much generosity can be dangerous. Financially, we have found that to be true. But, there are just some aspects of being generous that I don’t think my husband and I will ever change.
When our youngest daughter was two, we started hosting an Easter egg hunt for our friends and their children. I hosted about five hunts, but as our children grew and started joining pre-school, school, church, clubs, sports, and activities, the invite list grew as well. I loved hosting the egg hunts; I even purchased a real Easter Bunny costume online. I rented the local fire hall, filled plastic eggs with goodies, made tons of food, and bought a gazillion prizes. Toward the end of my hosting, our invite list included about 60 children; that number did not include families. So, with the treats to fill the eggs, the food to fill the stomachs, and the prizes to fill everyone’s baskets, I was spending between $1500.00-$1800.00 per egg hunt, per year. That did not include the cost to rent the facility, which was about an extra $150.00. Most of my shopping was done on two days: the day after Christmas and the day after Easter. I purchased as much as I could at 50%-75% off, but even with the discounts, my costs were high due to the volume of children who attended the events. I planned everything out precisely. I made sure each child received the same amount of colored plastic eggs and prizes. I made a color-coded card for each child, explaining how many eggs of each color he/she could add to his/her Easter basket. Each child received a handmade name tag, $6 worth of Bunny Bucks to purchase prizes, a color photo of the child and the Easter Bunny, and a handmade crafted frame to hold the Bunny photo. So, yes, I did go all out for these events. BUT, I loved every minute of it. However, when my husband and I sat down to figure out the cost involved, we had to discontinue the event. Plus, our children were growing older. Everyone was sad to see the event fade away but understood what it took to make the event so successful.
Then came birthday parties. The same problem perplexed us–how do you cut friends from the list? When our oldest daughter was five– and this is extreme–she had two parties. We had to separate the friend party from the family party. The friend party was held at an in-door playground facility, but I spared no expense with the party bags, the pinata, the cake, and decorations. The family party was held at an indoor pool. Some neighbor friends and others who were not on the indoor playground list were also invited to this party. The indoor playground could only hold so many children safely.
For her kindergarten party, she wanted a sleepover. Because we did not want anyone to feel excluded, we invited every girl in her kindergarten class, figuring maybe half would show up. All 19 girls showed up; we had to put our living room furniture in the garage! The night was filled with foot massages, nail paintings, and craft items. To host that many children for an extended amount of time required a lot of snacks, drinks, and breakfast items.
Her seventh birthday was her last huge event. I rented the fire hall and divided the party into two parts. At the time, my daughter was into magic and Build-A-Bear. So, after Christmas, I went to the craft store and bought every Build-Your-Own Bear craft set I could find. The whole party had a Build-It-Yourself theme. We had the bear station, a build a S’mores station, with one of those light-bulb lit Smore’s volcanoes, build a Lego station–I just scattered tons of lego sets on tables, a build a snack table, and build your own jewelry station. Since I was teaching at the local high school, I hired several of my students to run the stations. Then, to top it all off, for the second hour of the party, the kids were mystified by a magician that I had hired. The party was a HUGE success, but I was tired and broke. So, that ended the elaborate parties for my oldest. Starting with her eighth birthday, she was allowed to choose one or two friends to accompany her on some sort of birthday adventure.
Now, I still have another child. For the first few years, her parties were pretty simple. She is a July baby, and we have a fairly large above ground pool in our back yard. So, her parties were a no-brainer–use the backyard and the pool. But, they were just as much when it came to buying goody bag supplies and crafts to occupy about 40-50 children. One year we had a Nemo theme, and I created a scavenger hunt that led kids all over our yard. Somewhere hidden in the yard was a treasure chest filled with a treat bag for each child. Another year I purchased T-shirts for everyone, and every child tie-dyed his/her own tee. We also had a sand art station, which meant I had to purchase bottles and lots of colored sand. Again, the parties were major hits in many ways.
Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed planning the parties and hosting them, but it just became too much. If I had a wealth of money, I would still be doing it to this day. I love to give to others, and I love planning events. All of my friends used to tell me that I should have been an event planner, but they didn’t realize the kind of dollars that went into each event. I probably would not have made much of a living. They also told me I was crazy!
Now both girls are on a choose a friend or two type of birthday celebration, but that is even expensive. Last year my oldest took four friends to Sweet and Sassy Salon, which is a kids’ beauty salon. They had their nails done, their hair done, and their make-up done. They then were given a ride in a pink limo with eyelashes. We stopped for dinner on the way home, and the girls spent the night.
My youngest chose two friends to accompany her to the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., for the day. We also toured D.C. and fed the four girls lunch and dinner. Whenever one girl has a party, the other also participates. So, even with smaller numbers, the price tag is still expensive, and my husband and I do not believe in asking for money from friends when we do the inviting. Yes, I know we struggle with finances, but we enjoy this sort of thing. That’s what makes it so difficult. In addition, if we buy our girls a souvenir, we also buy for their friends. We would never purchase something for our own kids in front of their friends without allowing the friends to also select an item.
This year our oldest wants just one friend and has asked for a geocaching journey to be plotted by my husband. She then wants the friend to sleep over. So, that is quite scaled back in comparison to other years. My youngest has asked to take a friend to the beach for her birthday. In the past, using tax refund money, we would spend a week at the beach. Due to her request, which we would like to honor, we are now looking at just a night or two at the beach.
My husband and I love to give our girls opportunities and experiences, but we also realize that in the past we approached it all wrong. We never set boundaries or limits. This year is different. We are now trying to make them more aware of what constitutes a smart purchase as opposed to what they are buying just for the sake of spending money. For the overnight beach trip, we plan to give each girl so much money a day to spend, and that includes the friend. Now, we will cover meals, but the extras, such as rides, arcades, and souvenirs, will have to be part of something they plan together. We will see how it goes.
We know that our unorthodox methods have led us into some financial difficulties, but we love being generous with others, especially our friends and the friends of our children. We have learned that we must scale it back more, and with our newly established budget ideas in place, we are hoping to 1. have more money saved by the summer trip and 2. teach our girls to plan activities before heading out. Our goal as adults is to put as little as possible, if anything, on plastic.
We still want to give our girls moments to remember, but we know we can no longer allow them to spend without limits and buy things that will end up tossed in a matter of months. My husband and I are learning together from our mistakes of the past and are trying really hard to still provide trips without going to the extreme. Hopefully we will find the right balance eventually.