Win a Winner!
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Berlitz Summer Camp
by Cris Beato
A new trend in kids’ birthday parties promises to make them easier for guests and parents, more affordable – and even more fun.
The dollar party concept is simple: instead of bringing a present, bring one dollar for each year of the birthday child’s age. That means that a 6-year-old gets $6 from each party guest and a 10-year-old gets $10. While asking for money would normally feel a bit tacky, asking for a modest sum linked to the birthday age tweaks things just enough to make this new party concept an instant classic.
Brainchild of L.A. native and education designer Dorian Peters, the dollar party is a winner on multiple counts.
Kids love it because they can get what they really want with the money they collect, even if it’s a DS or a doll house that costs much more than the average birthday gift. This also takes the pressure off Mom and Dad, who can’t always spring for high-cost gifts.
“It’s very empowering for the kids,” says Peters, who launched the dollar party concept when her son Francisco turned 6. “They don’t have to go into nagging mode about things they want, they just start planning for their party. It was a huge success with Francisco from start to finish. He was really excited as the day came closer, had a great party, and then couldn’t believe his luck when he saw all the dollars he’d received!”
For the parents attending, it’s an absolute dream. “I love the dollar party concept,” says Michelle Beard, mother of two, whose son Eli attended Francisco’s party. “No more agonizing over what to buy, no duplicate gifts, no rushing out to buy last-minute items that kids don’t need and parents don’t want. And I love the idea that a child can pool his or her birthday dollars and use them towards something that is both meaningful to them and no doubt better quality.” Eli is hooked on the idea, and already eagerly planning his own dollar party.
According to parents who have road-tested the dollar party, it educates kids about prices and the value of things, and even gives their math skills a workout. “It was amazing watching Francisco counting up all his coins,” says Francisco’s grandfather, elementary school teacher Larry Peters. “And then he had to carefully decide whether he wanted to spend it all on the big Lego set, or get four other toys for the same amount. It’s a terrific way to teach about things like spending money, trade-offs, and saving up.”
The planet may be the biggest winner in all of this. When you consider the staggering amount of paper and plastic in gift packaging (to say nothing of the pollution from toy production and the quickly-broken plastic toys that head for landfills) the savings are astonishing. Mother Earth is definitely voting for more dollar parties.
Good old-fashioned values
But it’s the question of values that’s a major sell with many parents. We all want our kids to be deeply grateful and to appreciate the effort and resources that go into their gifts. We also want their parties to be about the family and friends who have come to celebrate. Putting kids in a position where they get stormed with presents in a whirlwind of wrapper-ripping underscored by the sounds of “what’s next?” pretty much chucks all our values out the window.
“When I saw her tear open the sixth Barbie doll and toss it aside calling out for the next thing, I thought I was going to cry,” confesses Yudit Buitrago, mother of two, who will be hosting a dollar party this summer when her daughter Emma turns 7. “We’ve been looking for an alternative ever since that moment, but just asking people to bring money is awkward. Having the amount determined by the child’s age makes it work really well and it’s a modest amount, which respects the fact that different families have different budgets for these things. What Emma really wants is an iPod, which is more than anyone would spend individually for her birthday present. This is perfect because she can actually buy what she wants and since she’ll be using her own money to buy it, she’ll really appreciate it.”
Spoilers: Grandparents or close friends who are desperate to give more can still stick to the rules by giving separate dollar bundles from each adult, or even one from the dog and cat. In essence, they can still give as much as they want without breaking the theme.
Invitations: Print out a fun explanation of the concept and slip it into your invitations. A dollar party goes with any party theme. It can say something like “What is a Dollar Party? A new tradition in birthday parties! Instead of bringing a gift, please bring along 1 dollar for each year of the birthday age. The birthday boy/girl will then use the dollars to buy a favorite gift (or a few) at a fun shopping spree!”
Treasure: Have a chest or treasure basket set up on with some chocolate coins sprinkled at the bottom and a sign to indicate to guests where the birthday child’s loot is being collected. Watch your child’s eyes grow wider as the basket fills with heavy cards and lovingly crafted coin boxes.
Smart shopping: Once your child has counted the booty and is ready to spend it, make a day of it, but do it wisely. Kids are likely to spend everything on the first thing they see, so take them “browsing” first. Have them point out all the toys they might want to buy with their money. Make a list with prices, or even better, snap photos as you move along. After all the options are recorded, sit down for a break and help your child sort through the list. Then head back to the store and watch them proudly purchase their new prized possessions!
All in all, the dollar party seems a too-long awaited solution to many of the dilemmas we face as parents when birthday time rolls around. If your kids are asking for a best-friends-only slumber party or a trip to the zoo for their birthdays, then you’ve got it easy. But if you have a little one who wants to invite the entire class, it may be time to introduce the dollar party to your school and your neighborhood.
Cris Beato is a Southern California freelance writer and mom.
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