Comparing Birthday Parties for Kids: Gymnastics Centre vs. McDonald’s

Like many parents of school-aged children, our kids regularly attend or get invited to birthday parties for their friends and classmates. We’ve noticed more and more of these birthday parties for kids are being held at an all-in-one facility such as a gymnastics centre, trampoline park, or other play centre. The children play run around like crazy for an hour and then retreat to a private party room to open presents and eat cake.

Although we had attended several of these parties over the years, we had never considered renting a facility and hosting A Big Birthday Party for one of our own children. This spring, when our oldest daughter turned eight, we decided to give it a try.

We looked into the cost of renting such a facility and found prices ranged anywhere between $150 and $450(!), each with various rules around the number of children that could attend and whether or not we could bring in our own food.

Renting a Gymnastics Centre

Not thrilled with the price tag, but faced with the alternative of hosting 10 kids at our house, supervising an afternoon full of activities, not to mention the clean up afterwards, we caved and decided to book one of the gymnastics facilities nearby.

The cost was $185 for one-hour of activities – led and supervised by a gymnastics coach – plus one-hour in the party room for up to 10 children. We ended up with 12 children at the party and got charged $7 each for the two extra kids.

We spent an additional $70 on snacks, cake, decorations, and party favours. There was a fridge and microwave on-site, and the staff cleaned up after us. Total cost = $269.

Gymnastics Birthday Party

This birthday party experience was pretty good! We were able to come in early and get the party room set-up, and then, while the kids did their gymnastics thing, my wife and I just visited with a few other parents that stuck around. Two hours went by quickly, parents picked-up their kids, and we got out of there just as another party was about to start. Did I mention NO CLEAN UP?

The only downside was the cost. $269 is a lot of money to spend on a birthday party. Plus, we still had to get her a present!

McDonald’s Birthday Party

One month later our youngest daughter turned five and, with her sister’s gymnastics party fresh in her mind, this girl had designs on A Big Birthday Party of her own. Mom and Dad had other ideas.

A friend suggested we hold the party at McDonald’s. Kids love the Golden Arches and, best of all, there’s no cost to rent the space. Simply call ahead to let the restaurant know how many people are in your group and they’ll reserve tables and make sure you have priority at the play centre. We decided to go for it.

McDonald's Birthday PartyOn the day of the party we arrived early to claim the tables around the play centre before the lunch rush, but were disappointed to see that our tables were not reserved. Nevertheless, the manager on duty quickly rectified the situation.

12 invitations were sent, 15 kids showed up (older siblings). The kids played for 30 minutes or so while I used the automated kiosk to order their Happy Meals. It was a bit chaotic trying to get all the orders straight, but the food (mostly) came out correctly and the toys were a big hit.

Happy Meals each cost $3.99, plus tax, so we spent $62.84 to feed the children. We bought a birthday cake from Safeway for $25 and brought it in for dessert. Add another $10 for balloons and decorations and altogether we spent less than $98 on A Big Birthday Party at McDonald’s.

The Verdict on Big Birthday Parties for Kids

I’ll admit I was a little worried what other parents would think of our decision to host a birthday party at McDonald’s. When compared to these other high-end play centres I thought it might be perceived that we were ‘cheaping out’ by choosing the Golden Arches.

To my surprise, everyone loved the idea! Most parents even stuck around to visit and have lunch themselves. Those concerned about healthier options on the menu simply substituted hamburgers with chicken wraps, French fries with apple slices, and pop with milk.

Parents constantly feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s become a growing trend to throw Big Birthday Parties for your children and their friends. But as my experience has shown, you don’t need to break the bank to show these kids (and their parents) a good time.

Still, maybe next year we can just pin the tail on the donkey and call it a day.

Parents: What has been your experience with these big birthday parties for kids? Is this also a growing trend in your area?

The Credit Card Minimum Monthly Payment Trap

Somewhere on your credit card statement there is a note saying if you only make the minimum monthly payment each month, it will take you a certain number of years and months to pay off the balance – BUT ONLY IF YOU NEVER ADD ANY MORE CHARGES TO THAT CARD AGAIN!

Your credit card agreement will specify the minimum payment that is due every month. This amount is generally a certain percentage of the balance owed. This percentage can often be based on factors such as your credit score and the limit on your card.

Basing it on a percentage instead of a fixed amount (like a consumer loan for example) works in the credit card company’s favour because the minimum monthly payment reduces as your balance reduces. It will take decades to get out of debt and cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest.

At one time, minimum payments were 5% of your balance, but they have gradually reduced to an average of 2%. My personal Capital One MasterCard requires only 1.45%.

According to a recent TransUnion survey of Canadian credit card holders, 44% of respondents pay their credit card balance in full each month, and 9% just pay the minimum. Interestingly, it varies by province, with consumers from Ontario (27%) and British Columbia (20%) most likely to pay the minimum.

The Credit Card Minimum Monthly Payment Trap

Avoid this financial trap

Jacob moved into his first apartment. His first stop was the local furniture store to buy some living room furniture. He put $5,000 on his new credit card (18.9% interest). The first minimum payment was $200 (4%). If he maintains this payment, it will take him 11 years and 5 months to pay the entire balance and, by the time he has made his final payment he will have paid $8,109 for his furniture. That’s a lot of money for something that will drop in value year by year, assuming he will still own it in 11 years.

Even more disturbing, since many credit cards only require a payment of 2% of the monthly balance, it will take over 30 years to pay off the balance and Jacob will end up paying more than $19,000 in total payments.

Minimum payment = minimum progress

Many people think if they make at least the minimum payment, they do not have a debt problem. It’s true that their credit score may not be at risk, but it can be a gateway to a bigger credit problem. Making the minimum payment is tempting when money is tight and you may like the idea of smaller payment, but paying only the minimum is like treading water.

Getting stuck in a cycle of minimum payments can seriously affect your future plans, preventing you from meeting other goals, or building a reserve of funds. Some unpredictable and costly event is bound to come up and, with no emergency fund, there is no money available to pay for it. Then your only option is to rely on more credit to finance the emergency. This erases all the progress you have made, and so perpetuates the cycle.

The best strategies are:

  • Pay as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.
  • Pay off high interest credit cards before beginning to invest.
  • If you must carry a balance, seek out a credit card with a low interest rate.
  • If you are only able to pay the minimum right now, continue to pay the same fixed amount as your balance decreases.
  • If you have multiple cards, use the snowball or avalanche method to pay them down.

Use a credit card debt calculator (like this one) to see how long it will take you to pay your debt – and the total amount of interest you will pay.

The bottom line

Paying just the minimum monthly payment on your credit card might keep your credit score in decent shape, but it’s not going to do much to pay down the balance. Paying hundreds, or thousands, of dollars a year in interest is a financial disaster that should be remedied as quickly as possible.

Paying off high interest debt quickly is the best investment you can make.

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