It is amazing how many children in foster care do not have birthday parties. They are extremely important to children who have grown up in foster care. In fact, I would venture to say that they are more important to children who have grown up in foster care, than those who have not. Each of my children plans out what they would like to have at their birthday party. I am realistic with the older children and tell them I budget for $200-$400 (depending on current finances) to spend on each child’s birthday. Therefore, if they have a huge expensive party there will not be as much money for gifts as if there were a more reasonably-priced party. I let the child choose the type of party that they would like and the gifts they would like to receive. However, I do not purchase only one large gift — even if the child requests. I know that sometimes older children will ask for one expensive gift as opposed to a variety of more moderately priced gifts. I choose not to take this approach because I think that when children have many presents to open on their birthday, it makes the day a notably more memorable celebration. That said, this is what our typical birthday looks like and some of the money saving tips I have learned to make our budget go further.
In years past, we were members of a fitness club in town that has a beautiful indoor/outdoor swimming pool. If you book a birthday party through the club, the cost is several hundred dollars. However, if you bring a friend to swim, the price is only five dollars per friend. The only difference is that you must have the cake and presents at home — hardly worth the difference of $200. The kids could invite as many friends as they would like to come to our home. I would take them swimming and then come home and barbecue hot dogs. Then we open presents and have cake. The older kids really like a themed store-bought cake, but the younger kids think it’s fun to have a homemade cake and decorate it themselves. We purchase decorating supplies and the kids have fun decorating the cake with their friends. This is about one-third the price of a store-bought cake, even when you purchase four or five tubes of decorative icing. Water balloons only cost a few dollars and make for a really fun game to play at the party. The kids have also had potato sack races and three-legged races. Another fun activity for girls is to make personalized flip-flops. Get the flip-flops from the dollar store and cut strips of cloth material. Then the girls tie the material onto the flip-flops to personalize them. It’s really cute, rather time-consuming, and not terribly expensive or messy.
I try to purchase as many presents as possible with the remaining money. I have each child make a list and number the items in order of what they would like most to least. Then I choose from the list and do my best to find good sales so that I can purchase as much as possible while staying within the budget I have made. I also buy quite a few inexpensive items that are not on the list. I have found that many kids, especially younger ones, love to open presents regardless of whether they are expensive. Definitely get the main items on your child’s list; then supplement those with coloring books, puzzles, crayons, earrings, movies or CD’s that you can find on sale. If you are smart in your planning, it can be a really fun experience for you and your foster child to plan their perfect birthday party. More importantly, it makes them feel loved. I truly believe that feeling loved and cherished is the greatest need that children in foster care have. Yet I also believe it is the need least often met.