I make no bones about the fact that I am completely against loot bags filled with crap but I'm also against how birthday parties have become a competitive sport. I got caught up in the birthday party mayhem when my boys were younger—movie parties, parties at indoor playgrounds, face painters—all for little kids who could easily be entertained with a box.
After three years of spending more money on my children's birthday parties than my parents spent on all of my childhood birthdays combined, I put an end to it and started hosting birthday parties at home. We filled the two hours with simple games, crafts, food and opening presents.
But this still wasn't ideal. The cost of the parties was still adding up and because the parents of the kids from school didn't really know my boys, they ended up with a bunch of toys they never played with. So three years ago we gave our boys a choice—a birthday party at home or an adventure day with the family. They could choose what we would do for the day and we would stay overnight in a hotel of their choice.
My older son was the first to hop on the bandwagon. We took the Go-Train downtown, spent the day at the ROM and the night at a hotel where we swam and played. The following year we went to Casa Loma. This past year I got a great deal for Great Wolf Lodge and we had two fun-filled, waterlogged days.
Our younger son was still little and preferred the birthday party with his friends so that's what we did for him. But after Great Wolf Lodge he wanted in on the family adventure experience so this past birthday that's where he chose to go.
After adding up the cost of food, craft items, birthday party decorations and miscellaneous items, the cost of doing our family adventure is quite comparable to having a two-hour birthday party at home.
If this is something you want to do with your own family, here are a few hints to keep the costs down:
You can get great deals on hotels if you put in a little time and effort (weekdays are typically cheaper than weekends). Helpful Hint: Get your kids to make their choice a few months in advance so you can get the best deal possible.
When our older son requested a stay at a more expensive hotel we told him we could but he would have to forgo a day adventure because of the room price (he stuck with having an adventure day).
The cost of eating out can add up. We bring breakfast/lunch/snacks and eat dinner out.
We have now had six birthdays where instead of spending money on a party that's over in the blink of an eye we've spent time together as a family. This past Christmas, instead of exchannging gifts we all went indoor sky-diving.
And the memories we've made? Well....those are priceless.