photo by crystl
birthday balloons

DEAR SARA: My 10-year-old daughter wants a hotel birthday party. Last year, I had a great frugal birthday party for her. I used a coupon for free pizza, served soda I already had and purchased a cookie cake. I took my daughter and her cousins and friends to the city pool. It cost me only about $25 for her birthday.

This year, she was invited to two hotel parties with parental supervision. Both were sleepovers, and they swam in the pool, watched movies, played games, ate pizza and had a good time. This is what my daughter wants.

Her birthday is right before school starts. She's starting middle school, so this is completely new for her. Moneywise, I am not sure how much a hotel room costs, but pizza is inexpensive, and I could get a sheet cake at the thrift bakery for $5.99. With her birthday being right before school starts, I need to also budget in school clothes and supplies. My mother already told her we should do this. I am not sure. I don't have enough room for a sleepover at my house. What should I do? -- Lea, Michigan

DEAR LEA: Hotel parties are trendy. Assuming you can afford this, kids and adults can have a lot of fun. While some view it as a place strictly for adults, it has quickly become a practical and reasonable option (excluding home parties) as a venue for birthday celebrations. The majority of hotels have party packages, too. It's great for parents because they don't have to play hostess at the party. Food is readily available or you can bring your own, there's plenty of space and the cleanup is nonexistant. You could purchase inexpensive pool toys that can double as party favors, watch movies and some hotels offer free breakfast, too.

If this is a stretch for you financially, I wouldn't do it. It can possibly set an unrealistic expectation for the future, too. Then again, you can control that. You might consider telling your daughter that she has to earn the money for it herself. She might surprise you. Regardless of what your mother has said, I wouldn't feel pressured by anyone to do this. Don't do anything you don't want to do. A stern no is easy. It's starts with a loud Nnnn sound and the O is all nasal. Focus on budgeting for the items she needs for school. That's the priority. Remember: Wants vs. needs.

DEAR SARA: Do you know of any "adopt-a-grandparent" kinds of volunteer programs? I've wanted to do this for a couple of years now. My Gramma passed away, and I miss her terribly. Not that anyone could ever fill her shoes, but I'd sure love to have a "grandma figure" around. It seems like somewhere out there someone would like a pretend granddaughter. -- Kathryn, via e-mail

DEAR KATHRYN: There are many adopt-a-grandparent programs throughout the United States. You can start by calling your local assisted-living centers, volunteer programs and United Way. You'll be pleasantly surprised how quickly they will match you with a senior who would love to spend quality time with you.

DEAR SARA: Are you familiar with GFS Marketplace? We have one opening soon. I have heard it is like a warehouse club but without a membership fee. -- Kimmie, via e-mail

DEAR KIMMIE: Yes, I have local GFS stores. Don't expect it to be like a warehouse club. These stores are smaller. My experience has been that although they sell in bulk like warehouse clubs, they are more of a commercial supplier. I've purchased items such as cups, napkins and plates for my son's classroom. I've also enjoyed their deli meats and frozen foods and found the prices to be fairly low. It's worth visiting, and you might find you use a lot of the products they sell, so it could save you a membership to a warehouse club.