Do you have to spend a king's ransom to have a fabulous bar or bat mitzvah for your child? Absolutely not, but remember that not all money-saving tips are created equal. This one -- which I've read in several places -- wins my top prize as the silliest: Have your party on a Monday and you'll get a slightly better price from the caterer.
That's true. In fact you'll save a fortune, because no one will be able to come! How expensive could it be to feed six people?
In an effort to be Coco Chanel, I have coined an expression: If you have taste, you don't need a lot of money, and if you don't have taste, money isn't going to help. Good taste and style are timeless and transcend matters of price. The simplest table decoration -- if rendered with sincerity and a bit of aesthetic charm -- is as authentic an expression of chic as the most expensive Paris couture.
The biggest unavoidable costs of a large party are food and music. We're not even going to discuss music because the role of the music leader -- as the person who runs your party -- is so important that I wouldn't recommend economizing there.
The following, though, are some great ideas that will save you money -- even if you have more than six people:
1. Host a Joint Party
If your child has close friends who share the same social circle, organize the parents to throw one big party for all the bar/bat mitzvah kids. Then you can afford the best DJ, the best everything. On your child's actual bar/bat mitzvah day, have a modest party that includes your child's closest friends.
2. Pick a Hall That Doesn't Have an 'Approved Caterer'
Many synagogues require you to choose from a list of approved caterers if you want to use their hall for an event. If your budget is modest and the list doesn't include a vendor who will work within it, you'll be forced to spend more if you want to use that room. Some communities don't have a lot of options, but think creatively and look around -- you just need a big room somewhere. If you really want to have your party in your own synagogue and there's no budget-friendly option in caterers, organize like-minded congregants to talk to the administrators about adding a caterer who will enthusiastically work with modest budgets. Or perhaps even change the policy to let you bring in your own food.
3. Organize Your Own Food
The least expensive caterer I know in my area charges a minimum of about $35 a person for a sit-down meal. Imagine how much great take-out food you could buy each person for that. Order trays from all the local restaurants: sushi, Chinese dumplings, gourmet pizza. Hire some college kids and/or local moms to take care of heating and serving the food.
4. Keep It Simple and, Perhaps, Exotic
Keep the menu simple. Have meatless dishes -- you may save a little and you'll please all the vegetarians and people who observe religious restrictions. Have a different (less expensive but still quality) menu for the kids. Serve inexpensive and unusual ethnic foods. It will be a culinary adventure and no one will be able to determine if the food is cheap or not.
5. Let Them Eat Cake
Shop for a cake at your neighborhood bakery, not the local "bakers to the stars." They may have very nice designs but no budget to advertise them. If you're buying a cake, tell the caterer you don't want dessert -- it's often served before the cake and the cake then goes uneaten. Best idea of all: buy pretty individual cakes and use them as the centerpieces -- the culinary equivalent of "multitasking."
6. Buy Co-Op China
Every parent planning a bar or bat mitzvah knows several other parents who are doing the same, so this is easily arranged. If you're planning to cater your own party, you'll need china, utensils and glassware. These are usually supplied by the caterer and can be costly to rent. Far better: get a group of parents together to buy one big set of china from a restaurant supplier and take turns using it. Buy extra --there will be breakage along the way.
7. Buy Your Own Liquor
There are many options in how you handle drinks at your party. You can have a simple wine, juice and soda bar or an expanded version where you have the setups and alcohol for the six to 10 most popular mixed drinks. You do not need to offer a full-service bar to be considered a good host. Hire your own server. See if the wine vendor delivers, if he includes the use of wineglasses and if he will allow you to return unopened bottles for a refund.
8. Make Decorations and Party Favors Yourself
Get your friends to help you -- you'll have so much fun! Don't worry that they won't then be surprised by the décor when they come to the party. The thrill of an opening night is never diminished for the actors just because they've rehearsed it a zillion times.
9. Having Flowers? Arrange Them Yourself
If you have a good eye, buy flowers in bulk and make the arrangements yourself. If you don't have a good eye, get potted flowering plants or get large bunches of one beautiful flower and place them in simple pots. Make simple topiaries by bunching one kind of long-stemmed flower together and tying raffia around the "trunk" of stalks to keep them upright. Jam the bottoms into wet floral foam in a pot and cover foam with moss.
10. Make Entertainers Do Double-Duty
If you're hiring entertainment in addition to the music, get someone who will create a giveaway, thereby eliminating the need for a separate party favor. At this writing, some of the hot entertainment/giveaway-producing ideas are the classic photo-booth buttons and photo strips, magnets and magazine covers; or a tape of the guest singing karaoke or doing "Dance Heads."
Gail Greenberg is the author of "MitzvahChic, How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah." For more great ideas, free planning e-mails and other fabulous services for b'nai mitzvah families, visit www.mitzvahchic.com.