I’m working with a few clients right now on custom party plans and a party kit. I’m also planning my own daughters’ 9th birthday party. So party budgeting is top of mind for me right now. And one of the decisions I had to make for myself today was, “Do I really want to make this myself?” Not “am I capable” of making it. Not “can I make a final product I’ll be proud of.” (Because there’s a distinction between “can I do it” and “will it look good.” You should see the DIY crafts I’ve tried to make for the blog but trashed instead.)

I’m helping my clients make similar decisions. What should they buy? What should they try making? What should they rent?

Ultimately, the question is:
“WHEN is it worth it to spend my money?”

I think that’s a different question from “WHAT should I spend my party budget on?” Only you can answer that.

Sorry to toss it back to you, but I’m not here to tell you that ITEM X is a must-have for any party. My experience is that you can flex around almost any missing element. Take my Pink Pig Party. It came as no surprise to me that no one makes printables designed for that theme because it’s so specific. I worked around it using the design feature on PicMonkey.

The bottom line is that what is important to one hostess may not be to another. There are no wrong answers in deciding what elements are must-haves for your party.

Today, I was thinking about microphone cupcakes for my girls’ party. My idea was to bake cupcakes in an ice cream cone — not a new idea. But I figured if I could cover the top of the cupcake in sprinkles, it would look like a microphone. It was a bit of a bummer to realize this has already been done. (“Thank you, Pinterest,” she says with a snark.) It all turned out OK though, because reading about other moms’ adventures with ice cream cone cupcakes helped me decide if I had to have them for our party.

Darn those clever Anders Ruff girls. Not really. Just wish they hadn't done it first. Turns out these are cakepops by Got What It Cakes.

Microphone cakepops from Anders Ruff and Got What It Cakes.

So how do you decide when to spend? Here are the questions I asked myself today.

1 – Do I have time to experiment?

I do have time to experiment because our party is not for another 6 weeks. I could give this a try and see if the process is more of a pain that it’s worth. I could test how long it takes to make 24 microphone cupcakes. I could see if my finished products are nice and neat and consistent. Knowing all that would make a difference in my decision. I could even turn the experiment into a tutorial for you and have the girls take the finished product to school for Valentine’s. Killing three birds with one stone actually sounds pretty good. At this point, the idea of making the cupcakes myself is still alive.

2 – Can I make this ahead of the party?

This one might be a deal breaker for me. I know that on the day of the party, I’ll be getting the girls ready and setting up our away-from-home party space. I definitely don’t have time to do any baking the morning of the party. And the Pinterest consensus seems to be that the ice cream cones can get soggy the day after baking. That means even if I have a successful experiment, I can’t make these a day ahead. So I’m out. Now I have to wonder if the whole idea is still worth it.

3 – What would it cost for someone else to make?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I’ve reached out to my cupcake lady. I’m hoping she’s available on my party date and can make the cupcakes on the morning of the party. It might be too much to ask.

4 – Will my budget allow me to hire help?

Got to know the answer to Question 3 to answer Question 4. I’m hoping the answer is “yes.”

5 – Is there a substitute that would satisfy me?

I like to include a dessert table at my daughters’ party, especially since one is a chocolate lover and the other is not. Having more than just cake allows me to satisfy their different taste buds. And I always invite parents picking up kids to dig in, so I need to have a decent spread. Do you need anything more than cake and ice cream? No. I just like to have more. So I’m sure the answer to this question is “yes.” I could probably do something with push-up pops to make them look like microphones. Hmmm. Maybe that’s the way to go.

6 – How special is this item?

I think it’s unique. It’s a great fit for our theme. To me, this is different from, say, the table settings. I have several different table setting concepts brewing, and I would be happy with any of them. So, I have to say this is special. Even though a substitute might do, the microphone cupcakes are special, and I’d really like to have them. Plus, my serving trays would much more easily accommodate the microphone cupcakes than a push pop option. I think it’s worth looking for a solution.

7 – Is this item essential to the party?

This question is helpful if you are trying to decide if more is just more. In this case, the microphone cupcakes are just more. They are not essential, and the party would easily go on without them. Here’s another example. In my party plans, I always include a party budget and ways to spend less. For instance, in my Flower Fairy Party, I think pixie wings are essential. Tutus, for me, are not essential. They are adorable, but not essential. However, this leads us to question 8.

8 – Can this item do double duty?

Let’s go back to the Flower Fairy Party example. What if the non-essential-but-really-cute tutus are also a decorative element? You could string a ribbon across the front of a dress up table (like a dessert table but full of accessories) and clothespin the tutus to the ribbon like a garland. Then your $2 tutus are doing double duty. Make the tutus your party favor, and suddenly they are doing triple duty. Call it justification if you like, but the tutus now sound like a budget-worthy item to me.

Give my eight questions a try. Do they make it easier for you to cope with party lust?

The cupcakes are not the only item I’m putting through this test. Some items are bigger ticket, so the impact on my budget is higher, and my standards for meeting the criteria of “special and essential” are higher. You’ll see how it all turns out in March! I’ve love to know if you give this a try and it works for you. Let me know your decision in comments.

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