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Throw a Bash on a Budget

Remember the MTV reality TV series “My Super Sweet 16,” about parents throwing super-extravagant coming-of-age parties for their kids? The show was a hit. But, for the majority of viewers, it hardly represented reality. But you don’t need to go over the top and take a hit in the wallet to throw an incredibly fun party. For kids, it’s all about the fun.

Doug Sandler, known locally as DJ Doug, has been involved in the Maryland party scene since getting his start as a DJ at the University of Maryland in 1984. Having entertained at thousands of birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and local events, Sandler share a number of suggestions he offers when somebody calls him and does not have a large budget.

“First of all, technology has made it so much easier to be a DJ,” he says. “You don’t need 20 years of experience to make a party go. Something as simple as an iPhone and external speakers is fine. There are a number of playlists on Pandora and Spotify that you can choose from.” In other words, reasonably tech-savvy parents may want to forego a DJ altogether and play music straight from their own phones.

Finding a venue is often the largest single expense for a party. Community centers and restaurants with party rooms are often inexpensive prospects, according to Sandler, but he warns to be careful of minimum food charges, which can increase a bill exponentially. Additionally, he suggests that venues will charge more during prime hours and that planning an event at an unusual, or “off” time such as Sunday afternoon will help to keep the price down.

Faith Harrison, a local parent whose children attend high school at Beth Tfiloh, explains that you can save a lot of money by working with a venue to provide everything in-house as opposed to using outside catering or entertainment.

“The internet is a wealth of information. You can look at different vendors and compare prices. Make sure to shop early so that you’re not desperate,” she says. “For my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I did as much myself as I possibly could myself. For things like catering, we worked with the caterer to have the linens as part of our cost, and a reasonably priced meal. We did the same thing with decorations; we worked with a local decorations company. A lot of balloons is much cheaper than fresh flowers, for instance.”

Sandler also points out that you can purchase photo booth packages very inexpensively online. You can even make them yourself with a colorful sheet as a backdrop and a camera. Cheap props are available at any dollar store. There are also a number of games that you can play without props.

“Most of the games I play, you don’t need props,” explains Sandler. “It is really easy stuff. You can do a rock-paper-scissors championship. Human pyramid building competitions are always popular. You can buy hula hoops at a dollar store and play games with those. I always emphasize that the most important thing is this: Don’t focus on the money; focus on the people. No matter what you do, it is about the people you bring to the party.”

Harrison also points out that keeping the guest list smaller will always save you money on food or party favors.

“The key though,” she says, “is to prioritize. Decide what you want and put the money there, rather than spreading it everywhere. Picking and choosing what is important to you is the most important part to meeting a budget.” BC

Strategies for Saving on Party Costs

  • Plan early to compare costs and avoid last-minute price gouging.
  • Consider using a community center as a venue.
  • Book at a non-peak time or day.
  • Keep the guest list reasonably small.
  • Focus entertainment on games that require few resources.
  • Do it yourself wherever possible.


Visit our Party Directory for great resources!

About Daniel Nozick

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