Somehow, my eldest daughter is turning 12 – which is surprising, as I am only 19 years old (in my head, anyway) – which means that Bat Mitzvah season is upon us. Lior is the oldest of five children, [including one with special needs], so we were well aware that what we do now sets the precedent for the rest of the brood.
We have the advantage of a daughter with a late birthday, so we got to see what the other girls in her class did. From attending those events, we knew we wanted printed invitations (rather than evites), rsvps by email (rather than stamped, self-addressed response cards), no band or DJ, and a celebration that put the emphasis on family, friends, and sharing.
[Quick sidebar: One of my daughter’s good friends used Paperless Post for her invitations, and I have to say they were lovely, and they made perfect sense for her family (her father is the rabbi of a huge conservative shul, and they had to invite several hundred people). I think electronic invitations are a perfectly valid choice that can save you a fortune – and they will only become more standard and acceptable with time. In fact, based on my experience, I am seriously considering them for our next daughter’s simcha.]
We ultimately decided on a Kiddush open to all shul members and much of our community following davening, cooked by good friends rather than catered, and a catered Sunday morning brunch for a smaller set of people. We also planned to host Friday night dinner (cooked by me) at our home for out of town family and friends.
Ordering invitations took us a long time. Turns out we should have put that time to better use by, oh, say, finalizing our guest list. This may seem obvious to many of you, but I had no idea what I was doing, and just estimated how many invitations I would need. This means I have a good 25 or so left over. OUCH. I also estimated the number of people I would invite to the brunch, so DOUBLE OUCH. I cannot stress enough that you must start making your list early. Decide exactly who is invited to what so that you know how many invitations you need to order. I probably could have saved $200 if I had been a little more careful.
The invitations we ordered were from Invitations Online. We liked that their invitations included Hebrew printing, and we were able to get a return address printed on the outer envelopes for free. They were beautiful, and I am thrilled with the quality. We did not pay extra for lined envelopes. It’s an ENVELOPE. People throw it away.
Another thing to bear in mind when you choose your invitations is what postage will ultimately cost you. If you go with a more standard size envelope, you can save a lot of money. A LOT. That’s another thing I didn’t think about at all, and that lack of knowledge probably cost me about $75.
Of course, once you have all those invitations, you have to address them. I spent about $15 on clear adhesive labels and printed them out. In contrast, my parents paid about $1/envelope back in the day to have my Bat Mitzvah invitations hand calligraphed. (In fact, I think that for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, I was the person who earned that money!) I did not even consider doing this.
With the invitations out of the way – at a total cost of about $750, including postage – it was time to begin planning the actual event.
We took our kids shopping for clothes before Pesach. Since Mara had graciously invited us allowed us to invite ourselves to her home for all of Pesach, I told my younger daughter and my sons that they could wear their Pesach clothes for the Bat Mitzvah in Houston and no one would be the wiser. We hit up a lot of clearance racks, and I spent a couple hours trolling thrift stores. I got my Friday night outfit for $10 at a thrift shop. My husband got one new shirt and tie. My daughter got one pricey dress, and everything else came from the clearance racks. I did make one last minute purchase for myself – I found a pair of shoes that perfectly matched my dress, on sale for $15, and I grabbed them the Thursday before the Bat Mitzvah. They are awesome. Our clothes budget, for 7 people, was about $300. Not bad.
We invited our out of town friends and family to our home for Friday night dinner. That was about 30 people, including children. Here was the menu:
- Sushi/poached salmon
- Challah rolls
- Roasted vegetables
- Roasted potatoes
- Noodle kugel
- Spinach kugel
- Cranberry crunch
- Fruit platter
- Chocolate peanut butter balls
- Lemon squares
- Chocolate chip cookies
I kept an eye out for marked down brisket at my grocery store and got the 12 pounds of brisket I ultimately made for 30% off. So yes, it’s a splurge, but I saved a lot, too – and I feel that this is an appropriate occasion for serving brisket.
I don’t have dishes for 30, so I ordered paper goods. Now, I could have easily spent hours – if not days – poring over sites and comparing prices and items. That’s not time I have. So I hired a virtual assistant and paid her about $20 to narrow down the choices for me. Trust me, that was money well spent – she found great stuff, and I could click and order. I got all my paper goods – including hand towels for the bathrooms – for $60. They were gorgeous.
I also ordered the sushi trays from my grocery and picked them up on Friday afternoon. They would have cost $100, but my father picked them up and paid for them, despite the fact that I gave him my credit card to use. Thanks, Dad!
Most of the rest of the food was prepped and frozen ahead of time; obviously the potatoes and veggies were roasted that day. The desserts were courtesy of my dear friend Marcy, who also made all the welcome baskets for my out of town guests AND sent flowers on my behalf to all my host families in town. I HIGHLY recommend getting a friend like Marcy if you are planning a simcha of any sort – or even if you’re not. Marcy is AWESOME.
I didn’t track every dollar I spent on Friday night dinner, but it was probably in the neighborhood of $400, all told. Obviously, that’s significantly more than I normally spend on Shabbat dinner, but this was a special occasion with a lot of people – and I used the leftovers to feed my guests all week long.
OH – and that money includes an extra $40 for my cleaning lady to come back Friday night at 8pm and wash dishes and put my kitchen back in order after that meal. That was a really smart $40 – it made me so much more relaxed and happy for the evening.
On to Shabbat. We spoke to a friend and shul member who had coordinated the Bat Mitzvah of another friend. She graciously agreed to help us as well. This meant that we paid for all the food for the Kiddush and made a donation to the shul; our friend did not charge us for her services. The total cost came out to about $2500 – and that includes a $1000 donation to the shul and a $500 tent rental (this is Houston, peeps, and it is HOT in the sun).
The Kiddush looked spectacular. Obviously, I don’t have pictures, but the menu was fantastic: cholent, burrekas, Chinese chicken salad, sesame noodles, regular salad, deli roll, cupcakes, candies, drinks, chips, and spreads. We also had rolls available for those who wanted to wash and make this their meal, although we did not set up for a sit-down luncheon. It was delicious, the decorations (all included in that budget number) were stunning, and people had a great time.
Later in the afternoon I put out platters of deli, fruit, and leftovers from dinner at my home for my out-of-towners to enjoy for seudah slishit.
Then came Sunday morning, and the brunch at our home. We looked at several local caterers, and eventually chose one. She is not the cheapest, but she handles everything – personalized napkins, decorations, set-up – everything. We had about 120 guests, and we had an omelet bar, waffles, salad, fruit, pastries, amazing chocolate fudge lollipops, coffee, tea, water, and candies, and the total cost was $4000. Yes, we could have planned an event for less money, but remember: I have five children, and one has special needs, and I am also moving to Israel in another month. There is no way I was going to cook, clean, serve, and run a brunch at my home for 120 people by myself. I had to pay someone to do it, and I chose to go with a caterer who would also handle decorations and event planning. My sanity is definitely worth the price we paid.
Like Mara always says, we create margin in our budgets so that we can spend on the things we want to spend on. We wanted to make a lovely affair that would celebrate this special time in our daughter’s life, that would serve as our farewell to the community where we have lived for the last five and a half years, and that would be fun for us to attend.
So let’s do the math:
Invitations and postage – $750
Clothes – $300
Friday night dinner – $400
Kiddush (incl. donation) – $2500
Brunch – $4000
Total – $7950, including a $1000 donation to our shul
So, Mara’s readers, how do you think I did?