Whatever happened to birthday parties at home with some cake, cone hats and cheap plastic party favors? These have been replaced by the $5000 birthday parties. Yup, countless people I know, myself included, spend thousands of dollars on our kids’ birthday parties. I’ve started the planning process for my second child’s first birthday party and I’m probably going to spend about $5000 or a little more. We’re on track to exceed how much we spent on my first child’s birthday party. But you know inflation. ?
I know what some of you must think, $5k on a birthday party for a one year old who won’t even remember it? Sounds crazy right? Crazy fun! A phenomenon that is sure to perplex some non-Koreans (and Koreans too) is a birthday celebration extravaganza, known as “dohl” or “doljanchi.” Dohl is the celebration of a Korean kid becoming 1 years old. It was obviously a big deal in the olden days when infant mortality rate was high, but now a days it’s mostly an excuse for us Koreans to throw an extravagant party. We joke it’s like planning another wedding, albeit a mini-one and some families spend upwards of $10,000+ on their kid’s dohl with high-end venues like the Ritz Carlton and Maestro’s Steakhouse and themed party decor, magicians, photobooths and dessert bars that rival Parisian bakeries. This Reuters article sums up what dohl means to the newer generation nicely I think.
For no real reason except that it makes me happy, dohl is one of those things I personally decided that I didn’t want to cheap out on or skip entirely for some subdued at home birthday celebration with just family (which is of course what my husband voted for) even though that would save us a good chunk of money. He constantly likes to point out, “they won’t even remember this.”
On a spectrum where one end is Miss Spender who has nothing saved and tons of credit card debt and on the other end is Miss Miserly who only lives to save and counts all her pennies and nickels to make sure she hasn’t been shorted in any way, I see myself somewhere in the middle with a bent towards saving and frugality. Still, I found over my limited life experiences that as I’ve gotten older I’m actually happier when I spend a little more even if it’s on something that seems frivolous and conversely have experienced considerable regret and unhappiness when I’ve been too frugal. Not sure I have a good explanation for why I feel this way, since I do also get immense pleasure from saving and investing and feeling financial secure and responsible, but I think it just says that sometimes you gotta loosen the purse strings a little. After all, saving and being responsible is definitely important and should be a high priority, but life is short and money should be for more than just accumulating. I think striking that right balance between saving and spending, even splurging (within reason) is what makes spending money and life more enjoyable. I personally feel there is no one right answer for how much a person should spend on something that fits for everyone. What brings happiness for each person is likely to be different. But I can tell you what I think is the wrong answer. If you are spending gleefully, but have little to no savings for retirement and/or have any credit card debt, that’s the wrong answer. Also, if all you do is save and accumulate but never spend on anyone, including yourself or your family, well that’s just sad. Also, I’ve seen people who spend a lot on themselves, but on no one else, not even their parents. That’s just cheap.
So here’s the breakdown of how the birthday party expenses are shaping up:
Paper Invitations: Around $82. I know who uses paper invites anymore? Why not just use evite for FREE, but there’s something about paper invites that speaks to the old-school in me. Also everything old is cool again. And getting snail mail is cool.
Venue: No fee, but food & beverage minimum which we easily exceed. The buffet costs $25.99 per person + $11 per person for a hosted soft bar x ~70 adult guests X 20% service charge and sales tax. Cost: $3400
Photographer: Someone has to capture all this money being spent. Some people try to cut costs here and rely on a friend, but I prefer to use a dedicated photographer. Cost: $500
Party Planner: What’s a party planner do that you can’t do with some pinterest posts and elbow grease? Decorate and set-up the entire venue in a simple theme of your choice. No stress and worries for me. Just gotta show up with my hair and make-up done. Cost: $650
Candy/Dessert Bar: No party’s complete without a candy and/or dessert bar to feast your eyes on and your sweet tooth. But it’s not cheap. Cost: $350
Entertainment: Gotta have entertainment for your guests and kiddies alike. Balloon twister and photobooth. Maybe a bubble show? Cost: $500
Misc: Slide show, mic and screen rental, dress and hanbok (traditional Korean outfit) for baby, goody bags for kids, favors for guests, prizes. Cost: $350
Grand total: $5532
I’ve grappled with the thought that instead of spending the $5532 on a birthday party if I invested it into a 529 account and assumed a 6% rate of return over the next 16 years before my child starts college, it would grow to roughly $14,000. If I assumed a 7% rate of return, it would grow to over $16,000. Since college is projected to cost my kids around $200,000 each, while $16,000 isn’t enough to even pay for a year of college expenses, it’s no chump change and still puts a significant dent in their cost burden. But like I said, for me I feel sometimes you have to pause just accumulating and live in the moment. So far, I’ve never regretted any of my occasional splurges. I know I still enjoy the happy memories from my first child’s birthday celebrating with friends and family and while she may not remember it directly, she enjoys looking through her birthday photo album over and over again and knowing she was a princess for that day. In the Reuters’ article I cited above, a dohl party planner told the reporter she regretted having only a humble dohl for her own daughter. She stated “I did not even hire a photographer back then. It hurt me when [my daughter] saw me sifting through the pictures I took of other babies and asked me why she has no photos.” For some reason that resonates with me. So what’s the splurge you think is worth loosening the purse strings a bit for? Or should there be no such word as splurge in a financially responsible family’s vocabulary?