Planning: From the Heart and on a Budget
-----More is NOT always
With 3 sons, that's more Bar Mitzvahs to plan than the
average family. How to make each one unique? How to afford 3? We found that
identifying what's right for our family combined with the adherence of a
conservative, yet doable budget has made all the difference-and made for some of
the best family events!
As background, our oldest son, Sam, had his Bar
Mitzvah in 2004, our first and the first of 13 grandchildren. We
felt certain obligations, such as accommodating relatives who are
observant Jews and therefore don't drive on Friday night or Saturday
and who need kosher meals. While we were pleased to do this,
it dictated many of the details of the event. However, it was a
lovely event and we were so proud of Sam.
Only a few months later it was time to start
planning for son number 2, Harry. The date was set for March 26,
2005 (Purim). With all "obligations" having been met at Sam's Bar
Mitzvah, we declared that Harry's was going to be OURS-we would do
what was comfortable for our family and of course, Harry.
Additionally, we budgeted exactly half the amount we'd spent on
Sam's. Our budget was $10,000, and we live in Westport, CT where
it's common to see events like this at three times that amount! We
did it our way, and it was the BEST! Here's how we did it:
First, we thought about Harry's personality. He
has long curly hair, a cherub face, beautiful blue eyes and is an
avid skateboarder. He pretty much marches to his own drum. This gave
us "permission" to create an original Bar Mitzvah
Next, we thought about the type of party we
wanted. It was a no-brainer-warm, loving, no frills, and completely
from the heart. We wanted to celebrate the purity of Harry's
accomplishment without excess, like my Bat Mitzvah and my husband
Josh's Bar Mitzvah, with simple, delicious Jewish kosher foods, like
and lox. We were determined to turn back the clock!
Being entrepreneurs, we knew that there was
plenty that we could do ourselves. We vowed to question every
current Bar/Bat Mitzvah planning mode:
-Need a party planner? "No"--we felt we could
tackle this on our own.
-A DJ was a given, but other entertainment as
well? "NO"--again, not necessary. If the DJ did a good enough job
with the music and games, then everyone would be involved.
-Need party favors? Nice, but not necessary.
(We assigned some of the younger guests to pass out bags of
hamentashen as people left the sanctuary.).
-Expensive invitations? With help from a
website, we made them ourselves. Harry's school picture happened to
be perfect, showing off his smile, eyes and curls and conveying his
sweet nature. I searched online for "Bar Mitzvah invitations" and
found plenty of choices for simple Bar Mitzvah invitations and
appropriate text. In Microsoft Publisher, I set up the invitation,
added the scanned photo, and placed the text. Josh printed them on
our color printer with card stock and envelopes we bought from an
online stationary website.
At our house, following the morning service, we
had a buffet lunch for the adults. We served lox (from Costco),
bagels (H&H), cream cheese and white fish. Again, just like the old
days, I asked my mother and various friends to do some cooking and
baking. We brought out our
Jewish recipes and between us we made
noodle pudding, quiche, salad,
rugelach. My company,
Challah Connection also supplied rugelach, hamentashen and black
and white cookies. The food was delicious and so appreciated for
what is was-home cooked, traditional food! We had a wonderful
Klezmer band that filled the house with sounds from our Jewish
heritage and from a different era. (It was especially meaningful to
us since Josh and I had a Klezmer band at our wedding.) We
accommodated everyone by clearing out all of the furniture in the
entire downstairs (this was a big job) and renting tables and
chairs. A very worthwhile expense was a hiring parking valet.
That night, we
had a kids-only party at a very cool and funky place called The
Acoustic Café, just 20 minutes from Westport. Its intimate size and our fabulous DJ kept all 50 kids on
the floor dancing and having a great time. (What really helped was
that the Cafe was very small, which forced everyone to be together
having fun and made it impossible for any wandering off.) We served
pizza, which was hardly touched, and kids ordered soda at the bar.
Dress was jeans-and that was a huge hit!
It's now two years later and Harry's friends
still talk about his Bar Mitzvah. Not only did they love it, but we
all did. It was down to earth and meaningful. It was another
lesson illustrating that more is not always better.
Here are some helpful hints in planning your child's Bar or Bat
Jane's 10 Tips
What kind of celebration is right for YOU?
Consider your child's personality and the kind of event that will be
meaningful, fun and make lasting memories. Of course you will have
to consider some factors such as: What time of day is the service
and party? How many guests need be invited? What is the adult/child
ratio? Will it be a kids' only party or will it be kids and adults at
one party? Will you have a luncheon after the service for adults and
a separate party of the kids later? How many might come from out of
Most important: Remember to take into account
what is best for you and your family. Don't compete with others in
your town or try to match what others have done. Don't spend money
that you don't want to spend or don't have. Think about what's
right for you and hold on to that vision as you go through the
The Budget-Make One and Stick To It. Use
a Microsoft Excel worksheet to help you keep track of every single
expense. Be prepared to say "no" if your budget can't accommodate
it. If your child asks for things that you don't want or can't
afford, don't be afraid to say "NO!" Question every single expense
and ask yourself if that is a reasonable amount. If it seems high,
it probably is. Go back and brainstorm a more cost effective way to
achieve the same result.
Stay Organized. I can't stress this one
enough! Make detailed lists and keep a good calendar of deadlines.
Don't hesitate to make reminder/check-in calls to those you've
Capturing the Day. Will you hire a
photographer? If you want to save money but don't want to impose on
someone you know, try your local newspaper photographers,
Craigslist, or call your
local high school that may offer photography classes. The teacher
(who may be interested in earning some extra $) may be happy to let
the class know that there is a potential job. Hiring a videographer
is popular now. Only hire one if you really think you will watch the
video now and in the future.
Party Venue. Anybody can rent out the
most popular (and expensive) party place. My recommendation is to
think CREATIVELY about where to have the party. If you split the
celebration into 2 parties you will have more flexibility as to
where they are held since you'll have 2 smaller groups. Please also
know that most kids don't like dressing up, so the notion of a fancy
party is somewhat wasted on them. Most important is that the kids
are in a safe and fun environment. It's not about the place, but
rather the feeling in the place.
Themes and pricey party favors are not
mandatory, so don't get caught up in those details. (Think: Did I
have a theme for my Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Probably not.) And if your
son or daughter does not love to dance, your DJ can include more fun
games and contests and group dancing and focus a little less on free
Decorations. A party planner is a
luxury, not a necessity. If you do hire one, just be sure you think
she'll be a pleasure to work with, that his/her taste is similar to
yours and that she'll stay within your budget-graciously. And,
decorations can be simple, inexpensive and homemade, and still make
the statement you're looking for. Search the web to find tons of
Flowers are beautiful, but costly. Sometimes
just one arrangement situated strategically can do the job.
Centerpieces don't have to be flowers. They can be fun, colorful
items arranged on the table, balloons, items to be donated later or
Guest list and invitations. Your list
will certainly impact your budget. You may have to adjust your list,
or adjust the celebration to keep within your budget. Your guest
list is yours, and unfortunately you can't always include everyone.
Be prepared to have some delicate chats with parents, in-laws,
family members and your child.
Invitations can be mailed six to eight weeks in
advance. There are many computer-ready invitations available online
that help keep costs down. They can be beautiful, printed right from
your home printer. Or, of course, many people are now emailing
invitations. If that's easier for you, why not?
Clothing. I've seen many a mom get crazy
over clothing, but it's not necessary! You want to look beautiful,
and you will because you'll be glowing with pride. A $1,000 dress is
not going to be the reason. Find something you love in your closet,
or get something new, but you'll only feel better staying within
Question, question, question. Throughout
the planning process keep in touch with your original vision for the
event. Make sure that you're staying the course. When you get an
estimate from a vendor, question whether you definitely need that
service as well as the price being quoted. Vendors don't mind
revising estimates. They are here to please you. You're the boss--so
ask for what you need and nothing more or less!
Don't Sweat It. In the end, be confident
knowing that your party will be a smashing success! Once the service
begins take a deep breath and relax. Even the best planned events
have last minute "surprises." Deal with anything unexpected with
grace, and chances are you will be the only one who knows.
Jane Moritz is mother of 3 sons, living in
Westport, CT. She is also owner of
Challah Connection, an online retailer of kosher gift baskets
and kosher baked goods for all Jewish events including B'nai
Mitzvah, Weddings, Bris, Baby Naming and Shiva.