I am asked this question about budget all the time and the answer is a resounding YES!…but it takes some research, the assistance of family and friends and being very creative, however it is absolutely doable to have a gorgeous memorable celebration on a budget.
Before I even discuss the “how”, I want to say this first.. I have found that many families feel intimidated by this subject and don’t know how to approach the topic with vendors… they feel embarrassed about mentioning they have a budget and worry that their son or daughter might be judged by their friends. I would like to put your mind at ease first regarding the vendors; this is nothing new to them. A large percentage of their clients are on some sort of a budget and they really don’t even think about you and yours. They just want to provide you with great service. Regarding the friends judging your son or daughter…. It is really important to enjoy this once in a lifetime journey; the planning, getting creative together as a family and enjoying the experience. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’s – odds are they ended up in so much debt that it will haunt them for a very long time. While B’nai mitzvah celebrations are synonymous with overspending, yours doesn’t have to be and you can still have the event that will make your child and your family very happy.
I do suggest that you start the planning process several years before the celebration. Sit down with your family and decide how much you want to, or are able to spend on the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and start saving if you don’t have that amount of money available already. Remember that costs will have increased somewhat by the time your event rolls around. Next you should decide on your priorities. What are the non-negotiables such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons, do you have a theme or a special venue in mind… and decide how much you want to spend on each aspect of the celebration. I suggest an excel sheet with a projected and actual cost column so you can keep track. Don’t forget to use it!
Each family and level of observation is different of course and between you, your Rabbi and synagogue coordinator you should be able to figure out much of the costs of the religious and traditional aspect. One of the larger costs may be the kiddush. Will you be expected to pay for the kiddush for the entire congregation and if so how many people do they expect to attend. Does the synagogue have a preferred caterer that you have to use and how much will they charge. These are some of the non-negotables you will have to consider first as you set up your budget.
I strongly suggest creating a vision board. Pinterest is of course one of the great resources not just for research but also a way to keep all your research in one place. Decide on a theme, the outfit, a venue, activities, which day the party will be if you are going to have one, how many guests you can afford to invite, the type of food you want to serve and then start looking for inspiration! Regarding venues… Keep in mind Saturday nights are always more expensive than Sundays and the same goes for seasons. Out of season you will find great venues at a lower cost. The more time you have for planning the celebration the better your options. For instance you can order many of the decorative items you need online which often cost almost half compared to in the stores and since you have time, you can wait for sales from online or actual stores as well. Many will have newsletters to inform you when they have specials and sales. There are many sites that have inexpensive decor items and they often have sales also which, if you started early enough, will be helpful to your budget. Save-on-crafts.com is one of my favorites. Take a walk through craft stores such as Joannes, Michaels and Moskatels downtown (if you are in LA) and keep an eye out for their sales, which is usually seasonal and you will find some great items to decorate your venue with. Creativity takes time! You should ask your friends and family, as well as the coordinator at the synagogue if they have any ideas about the specific resources you need, or if they know of a planner who might recommend vendors and venues that fit with your budget and theme. Planners have a lot of resources and many won’t mind giving you some free advice and assistance.
Your next decision is what the celebration weekend will look like. You will probably have out-of-town guests and I suggest welcome bags or baskets with something local or that matches your theme. Certainly a personalized welcome card would be appropriate. The items you choose to go inside the welcome bags should all fit with the thought, how can I best take care of my guests who are out of town? Typical items include bottles of water, snacks, toiletries, and something local to the area or even touristy type souvenirs.
Friday night guests are usually served dinner. This need not be a large budget item if you are a good cook or have people in the family or friends who can help you cook. I suggest a delicious yet simple meal with lots of colorful salad and veggies and two proteins such as fish and chicken and fruit and/or cookies for dessert. If you love to bake this is your moment. Keep the guest count to close family and friends for this meal and it won’t be a huge expense. If your home is not large enough to have this dinner, often your Synagogue will have a room you can use for this purpose and won’t charge you much if anything at all. Saturday’s ceremony is traditionally held at the synagogue and that often means post ceremony kiddush and lunch, which is often expected to be sponsored by the family. As previously mentioned, if the synagogue has a preferred caterer that you have to use and a large congregation, it could turn out really expensive so get creative! Why not go for a limited dessert bar and in summer have an ice cream station with fun toppings. Or if there is no preferred caterer and the congregation is not too large, you could make a few nice salads and purchase some lox with cream cheese and bagels and you are good to go. If it is winter maybe make a substantial hot soup such as lentil and sweet potato with some garlic bread, and believe me the guests will be more than happy. Use disposables of course and these are also really inexpensive if you get them online. Most caterers will include these in the price.
Then the party itself. If you have an active teen who loves outdoor activities, you could find an outdoor space where the kids can have a lot of fun. There are many state parks that charge a nominal fee and many of the areas are quite beautiful. Some are even completely free! In LA your options are plentiful! If an indoor party is preferred many of these state parks have indoor options as well. From the beach to gorgeous inland state parks there are many to choose from. They often will have tables and chairs which are included in the cost and many have a full kitchen. Here you could probably retain a caterer if budget allows so you don’t have to worry about the food and can enjoy the day with your friends and family. You don’t have to order the most expensive food and depending on your venue can keep cost low with items such as hot dogs and burgers and maybe something a little more formal for the adults. Presentation is everything.
I have found that hot dog, slider or taco stations where the guests have to assemble their own is fun and social. In fact stations keep the guests moving and if you do small plates, they can walk around and sample a bit of everything. A pasta, salad or baked potato station and even a station with different types of fries is really popular and not expensive. Pop-corn stations are great too for the kids and I have found a s’more station for dessert is really popular.
You could purchase your linens online too and donate them after the event. Use a lot of color such as the linens, napkins and disposables and hang balloons everywhere. I have put paper lanterns in the grass for outdoor events to light the way to the party and hung different colored lanterns at each food station.
Many parties have music as their main entertainment and again if you find the right vendor who is willing to give you a great rate and is really talented you have hit the jackpot. I have to give a shoutout to Val Martinez as my go-to guy when I need a DJ/MC. I have referred him to many other planners as he is flexible and understanding and he has given my clients a wonderful rate and provided great entertainment. You can find Val at ValsMainstageproductions. DJ’S Val Martinez is one of the most unique and enjoyable entertainers in the industry. He started singing professionally at 3 years old and by 19 was a highly successful singer/dancer. Val has performed all over the world and is an expert at working with his clients and giving them exactly what they ask for. He also specializes in Jewish Mitzvahs and Weddings, being of Jewish/Mexican heritage himself. A great performer!
The clothing for the party will depend on the activities of course and if you are having a beach or pool party for instance this should not be the least of your concerns.
There are so many ideas for creating a fun event at an affordable cost and putting it all together as a family is so important for your teen and the key to a truly memorable family event. You could create a red carpet entrance with a fun backdrop for a boy or (fake) flower wall for a girl with your teen’s name on it so it appears in all the pictures and have a small table with fun items to pose with. These can also be purchased online and you can create your own photobooth. There are many start-up photographers and videographers who would love to work with you on pricing to get experience and exposure and you will be surprised how many amateur photographers are in your community. Just ask around. This person can also take care of the “photo booth” shots.
In summary – don’t forget to add taxes, fees and gratuities. Create your own invitations. There are many apps today to help you design a gorgeous invitation specific to your child’s personality and event theme. Keep the focus on your child as this of course is where most of your inspiration will come, from for their special day. Also don’t lose sight of what this celebration is all about and that while having a famous singer at your celebration would be a lot of fun, compassion and tikkun olam is really what life is all about.
Oh and so by the way… now would be a good time to start saving for the wedding!
If you have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah coming up, Mazal Tov! I hope you enjoy the journey as much as the day.
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