Ask Miriam | Are Expensive Birthday Parties for Little Kids a Must?

Dear Miriam,

My son’s friends had birthday parties at gyms and museums that cost more than $500. It seems steep for a 2- to 3-year-old’s birthday. Is that the norm in the city? Do I get on the bandwagon or just do something simple?


Too Much for a Toddler

Dear Too Much,

Most 2- and 3-year-olds are massively overstimulated by big parties in their honor. However, if the norm in your preschool, neighborhood or social group is to invite 10-20 kids (or more) for such a celebration with a substantial price tag, it can be tricky to take a step back and ask yourself if this is what is best for you, your child and your bank account.

Whether it’s the norm (often it is) or a typical cost (often yes to this, too) doesn’t mean you have to conform. Even if you can afford something doesn’t mean you have to and, if something like this isn’t in your budget, there’s no need to feel guilty or self-conscious about going in a different direction.

If you’re dealing with a non-winter birthday, inviting any number of kids to a public park or playground is a fantastic option. It’s low key and probably free other than food and favors, but you will need a backup in case of rain. For bad weather and winter birthdays, if your house can take it, there can be plenty of ways to throw a party on your turf, but assuming you’re in a rowhouse, your number of guests will be limited and the stress of hosting a bunch of toddlers plus their parents is often significant and not to be ignored.

And then there’s the rental options: gyms, bounce houses, dance studios, music classes, museums and play spaces of all manner and size and scope. All told, any of these will run you at least $300, and, as you’ve heard, potentially much more. Typically, there’s a base rate for a rental fee and/or entertainment, then additional fees for food, cake, paper goods, party favors and other add-ons. If you only rent a space, it could cost as little as $150-200, but then you still need to figure out what the kids will do during the party, so you save some money in exchange for your time.

The best way to avoid having your children want to have parties like this is to avoid attending parties like this. Realistically, though, the older your kids get, the harder these are to avoid. Toddler birthdays are actually a great time to do something as easy as possible because the pressures coming from your kid is likely to be minimal before kindergarten.

This is also a good time to start conversations with your children about how your family makes spending decisions so that when they are older, they’re used to hearing you discuss money in responsible ways.

Finally, though you are under no obligation to have a party that matches these $500 fetes, you’re probably going to have a birthday party for your kid, and you’re going to spend something on it. Your time is not free, having a toddler is exhausting and hosting a party is too, so finding ways to minimize the difficulty of both is worth a lot. Of course, you need to be financially realistic and responsible absolutely regardless of what anyone else is doing.

Whatever you do to celebrate your little one, do it proudly and without apology, whether it conforms to your friends’ norms or not.

Be well,



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here