The soiree held at a DC-area country club had everything: Finger foods served on silver platters, a three-tiered cake, live entertainment and elaborate goody bags.
But what reads as a wedding reception was actually a child’s 5th birthday party.
“My son and I showed up in t-shirts and shorts and my jaw hit the floor. I was horrified. We were so underdressed,” Mount Vernon, Virginia mom Amanda Ponzar, 40, told Moneyish.
But the invitation hadn’t hinted that the 50 preschoolers and parents would be hosted in a mansion where chicken nuggets were dished by uniformed waitstaff holding serving trays, or that there would be a make-your-own taco bar (and an adult beverages bar) for moms and dads, while their little ones were entertained by a $400 live reptile show.
“That child’s birthday party probably cost more than my wedding,” Ponzar added. Granted, her nuptials and reception were held in her church, with family and friends catering. But still.
“A couple of us parents were huddled in the corner like, ‘Oh my gosh – is this the new normal?’” she added.
It’s getting that way. As celebrities such as Jessica Simpson throw “Moana”-inspired birthday bashes with demigod Maui impersonators, or “30 Rock” star Tracy Morgan books a floor of Dylan’s Candy Bar – complete with “Despicable Me” Minions – for his 4-year-old daughter, the pressure is on to turn every birthday into a milestone event.
About 26 percent of parents told BabyCenter.com that they spent more than $500 for their little one’s first birthday, and a poll by UK firm Vouchercloud found the average kid’s party runs about $400 – before presents. And it just snowballs from there. A survey by supermarket retailer Asda reported that the average British parent drops a whopping $28,000 on their kid’s birthdays through age 21 – enough to pay for a year at an out-of-state public university. It’s almost enough to buy a new car.
Dylan’s Candy Bar president Tushar Adya told Moneyish that booking an entire floor for a party like Morgan did can cost up to $7,000. But even their more modest packages run between $500 and $1,000 – and they’re booking 25 parties a week in New York and another 20 to 25 in Chicago. “People are looking for differentiation and something that is truly unique,” he said.
And still, other parents are going even bigger on baby’s big day, like Tasha Holland, who dropped $5,400 on her son’s 1st birthday in December. The tab included a $1,000 party planner, $2,000 for the country club venue and food, a giant penguin made of balloons that ran $1,200, and more.
Holland told Moneyish they went all-out because she’s 44, her husband is 46, and they knew that this would be their last baby. Plus, she didn’t have a baby shower, so she rolled over the funds from the prenatal party to her son’s first.
“We really wanted to create memories,” she said. “Plus, you look at Pinterest, and you see all of these awesome parties and people on social media sharing and competing, and it’s like – I would like to do that one day.”
Marni Konner, owner of Little Maestros, which provides music classes for kids and live entertainment for their parties in New York City (packages start at $495,) told Moneyish she splurged on her daughter’s 5th birthday a decade ago by renting a $900 pink limo bus for 25 kids for three hours.
“I threw a cupcake crawl, and bedazzled the kids’ clipboards with their names in Swarovski crystals – that was their party favor – and we tasted cupcakes all over the city and rated them,” she said. “After working with so many other parents, I was so inspired by how much care and time goes into birthday party planning, that I wanted to go all-out.”
And as more families jump on the birthday blowout bandwagon, vendors are giving them even pricier options. Upscale bakery Cakes Jagla crafts $400 to $600 edible works of art, such as a three-layer cake with pictures of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David printed on it that the owner whipped up for Lyss Stern’s comedian-obsessed son’s 10th birthday. “I always wanted a fabulous birthday cake growing up. It’s a statement piece. It’s fun. And my kids love it, too,” Stern, the CEO of Divamoms.com, told Moneyish.
Event planner Keri Levitt, who charges $5,000 to $20,000 for milestone events that have occasionally included upscale birthday parties for children, noted that social media is making this worse.
“We’re living in a very stylistic world, where there is incredible inspiration and content online that is visual eye candy,” she told Moneyish. “You can find a whale party, a pop star party, whatever your child is into. Everything is about the next level of detail.”
And ever since that 5-year-old’s country club party, Ponzar has seen local kids’ birthdays get increasingly bougie. “Every single parent felt inadequate after that,” she said. “There was one held at a golf club with an arcade for the kids. And we just went to one where this three-layer cake for the child looked like a wedding cake. It’s like, I can’t afford a country club, so we’ll just get a really expensive birthday cake.”
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