Not-So-Sweet 16



This year marks a monumental year for our eldest child. Our daughter will be turning sixteen in May. I don’t know what she is more excited about – being able to get her driver’s permit, the ability to get an after school and/or summer job, or the infamous Sweet 16 party?

My husband and I are not too keen on the whole driving issue yet. Not only that, she doesn’t have any $$$ or a job, so there is no way she can buy a car or pay for insurance. We cannot afford to buy her a used car and there is no way we’re paying the hefty insurance fee to cover her (nor are we going to put her under our policy). Driving is a non-issue right now as far as we’re concerned.

We have no problem with her getting an after school job, providing she keeps up her grades. I prefer that she gets a Summer job. I’m tired of listening to her whining about how bored she is. Plus it’s good for her to learn the responsibility that comes with having a job and money.

Our daughter is under the impression she’ll keep all her money and use it to buy $8 bottles of nail polish or another pair of shoes she won’t wear. No way! We already told her part of the money will be put into savings towards a car, another part will be put into savings for college. The rest she can use however she sees fit but we told her once she starts making her own money she’ll have to start buying her own things (make up, spending money, money to go to the mall with friends…). I think that is a fair deal.

I think right now the biggest issue is her Sweet 16 party. Most girls dream of their Sweet 16 party from a young age. I know I did when I was a young girl. I never had a Sweet 16 party. My mom threw me ONE party when I was 10 years old. The party was to be outside but it was pouring rain. My mom ended up having to take a dozen kids to the movies to see Grease. That was my one and only party. It always rains on my birthday, which is part of the reason why I never had a party. My mom didn’t want all those kids in our house and back then they didn’t have the party places like they do now.

My Sweet 16 party consisted of me and my four closest friends going to Friendly’s and having dinner and ice cream. That was it. It wasn’t the big party I always dreamed about, but it was still very nice. I even kept a napkin and sugar packet to remember that day.

We live in the suburbs of New York City. A lot of people around here are very well off (financially). They can easily afford to rent out catering halls and rooms at local hotels, hire a DJ and those the swankiest party you’ve ever seen. Not just any party either. I’m talking parties where the boys wear suits and the girls wear gowns and dresses. I’m talking mini-proms! And that is no exaggeration.


I know our daughter wants an awesome party. And I would love nothing more then the give her the party of her dreams (not the kind you see on My Super Sweet 16 on MTV – LOL).

I called around to a couple of places, just to get a ball park figure on what it would cost. One place I called has a 75 person MINIMUM. We don’t know 75 people! My daughter said she would invite homeless people and/or low income families around town for a good meal and a great time to make it to 75 people. If only it was that easy.

The CHEAPEST party option is $36.95 PER PERSON (75 person minimum) PLUS 20% gratuity. On top  of that they require $150 for security for every 50 people. Without even thinking about decorations or the cake the party would already come in at almost $3,500! This is a popular venue for Sweet 16 parties too. Plus there is the $$$$ for the DJ. Parents must easily spend $5,000 on Sweet 16 parties. We don’t have $5,000. If we did I wouldn’t be driving a nearly 20 year old car that is held together with duct tape and a prayer. 🙁

It’s bad enough that I feel like a horrible parent. We have been able to provide for our children as far as a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their tummies. But that’s is. They don’t have their own room (they have to share), they can’t have friends over (no room for us let alone others), we don’t have a yard, we can’t afford to go on vacation… I just feel like we “robbed” them of their childhood. My daughter has never been able to have a sleep over in our home. My son has never been able to ride his bike around. We have never been able to have parties for them in our home because it’s too small.

Growing up my daughter has always begged us for a purple bedroom and a canopy bed. Our son just wanted a sandbox to play in. Those are simple requrests that we’ve never been able to provide for.

Our family has been on ONE real vacation in 17 years. That was a trip to Disney World. The only reason why we had the opportunity to go is because my mom paid for the condo, airfare and car rental. All we had to cover was park tickets and food. My kid have to go to school and listen to their friends talk about their yearly trips to Disney World, hanging out on the beach on some Caribbean island or how they just got back from a cruise. All my kids get to tell their friends is that they went for a picnic at the local park for “vacation”.

Birthday Party

I feel horrible that we have never been able to provide our kids with something special. That is why I would love to throw our daughter a memorable Sweet 16 party. It’s kind of impossible when you don’t have any $$$$.

We might be able to swing renting out our condo complex club house. But it’s old and outdated (it was built in the early 70’s and still retains the same look including wood paneling all over the place). We would have to provide the food and decorations and hire a DJ. We’ve been to parties at our club house. The tables are like picnic tables and the whole place dark. The dance floor is no bigger than my bathroom.

Another option that was suggested to me was Dave & Buster’s which is a restaurant with a built in arcade, and then a movie aftewards. I’m just afraid that it will be seen as more of a “kiddie” party and not a Sweet 16.

My daughter’s friends are the kids that have the $$$$ parties. I worry that my daughter would be made fun of if she invited people to a “homemade” Sweet 16 party at our clubhouse or a party at the mall. You know how cruel kids can be too.

Our daughter already says to us in a joking manner to pick her up some food from McDonald’s and consider that her birthday party (we next to never eat at fast food places). She says it jokingly, but you can tell just by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that there is a bit of sadness. She knows we can’t afford a special Sweet 16 party for her, like the kind the other girls at school have. You can just tell she’s disappointed.

The other day she asked me if I could do a review of a party venue, in hopes that would help off set the cost and we could actually afford a real party for her. I WISH!!!! She knows that I am fortunate to be able to review a lot of wonderful things, so she was hoping I could add a party venue to the list. I’m afraid not. It doesn’t work that way. I highly doubt a venue would offer us a party to review on my site. That would be a miracle.

She’s been looking forward to this birthday for years. She even likes to look at fancy dresses when we’re at the store and she always tells me how she would like a pair of heels so she could get used to walking around in them. These things were all in preparation for her birthday birthday. I’m afraid this birthday is going to be no different than any other birthday for our kids – we’ll take her to the restaurant of her choice for dinner and then come home and sing “Happy Birthday” and have cake. Not exactly the Sweet 16 party she dreamed of.


I feel like a horrible parent. Well, I always feel like a horrible parent because I wasn’t able to provide things like a canopy bed and a sandbox for my children, but knowing that our daughter’s Sweet 16 will come and go with no fanfare, makes me feel a million times worse. How is she going to feel when she attends her friend’s Sweet 16 parties knowing that her birthday came and went as if it was another day? Right now she has to listen to her best friend talking up a storm about her Sweet 16 party that is not even until September but the parents already booked a room at a nearby hotel and are making preparations for it to be the party of a lifetime. Our poor daughter has to sit there and listen to her best friend talking about her wonderful party knowing all too well that she will never have one.

Good golly… I have tears welling up in my eyes are I type this. My kids rarely ask for anything. Overall they are good kids. Like every parent, we want to make our children’s lives better than ours were. We always want better for our children. It breaks my heart that we are unable to afford to make just ONE DAY out of our child’s life a day where she can feel extra special.

How is she going to feel when she’s a mother and her daughter is approaching her Sweet 16?

I blame ourselves for most of this. We should have started to set aside money many years ago for this day. Sadly whenever we have money it pays the bills. We don’t spend it on frivolous things. I wouldn’t be driving a nearly 20 year old car or cut my own hair if we were “spendthrifts”.

As a parent, have you had any experience with Sweet 16 parties? Do you have any suggestions on how to throw a nice party that the other kids won’t see as “lame”? How can we make our daughter’s birthday a special one? As a parent, how do you deal with the GUILT associated with not being able to provide your children with those extra special moments life has to offer (Sweet 16 party, family vacation…)?

Sweet 16



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About Kimberly

Kimberly Vetrano resides in the suburbs of New York City with her family and "mini zoo" consisting of five cats, a dog and a Goldfish. Kimberly is a teacher's assistant for a Kindergarten class. When she is not working or blogging, Kimberly enjoys taking photos of nature and hanging out with family and friends.


  1. This post hurts my heart so much. I wish I could help you somehow. You are NOT a bad mother in any way shape or form. I know it hurts not being able to give your kids what they desire, but you did give them your love, which is the most important thing you can give them.
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  2. I a a left comment on your Facebook wall. I’m 20 & at 16 I didn’t get that getting everything I wanted want a priority but now I’ve learned there are cheap ways to still have a fabulous time. I know when people ask me what the best of my life was I always think back to my sweet sixteen party which was kinda big but compared to others it was smaller. As well as my sweet 16 the Filipino culture celebrates 18 so we had something in the Philippines small but a big deal with family. I write a dress and heels I already had and spent intimate time with close people. I had my 18 roses to dance with the men in my life and 18 candles to respect the women. I didn’t even have enough for all 26 but it still happened in the middle of the living room. I know money is tight but as long as you do something memorable even a little or of budget it’ll be worth it. Another idea I had when I was 16 was a dinner cruise party with a few of my close friends out of Jersey or NYC. But ultimately i ended up wanting a party. As long as it’s memorable and lots of overtures are taken, hopefully she’ll appreciate it. Another idea is going down the shore to like Atlantic city and hanging out on the beach with her close friends, maybe renting a hotel for a sleepover. Depending on when her birthday is.

  3. Kimberly,
    The greatest gift you can give your children is your love and the family life you enjoy each and every day-not a fancy party. That is what is going to impact her life in a meaningful way and will guide her throughout the rest of her life. Looking from the outside in, those families throwing lavish parties must look to you like a benchmark you’ve missed. I would bet my bottom dollar you’d think differently if you could be a fly on their walls for a day or two. Take it from me-the daughter of a very succesful father. We hid the tyrannical alcoholic who abused us. You are giving your children the greatest gift of all -love, a moral compass and all that comes with it. There will be no scars or psychological damage left behind because you didn’t spend ridiculous amounts of money for one day.

  4. It bothers me that money has become such a symbol of our society that kids are ridiculed if they don’t have the latest and greatest of everything.

    Here is my advice to you. Set a budget. Whether it be $100 or $500. Explain to your daughter that this is all you can afford for her Sweet 16 because you certainly don’t want to go into debt for it (I’m sure there are many parents that do). Then let HER choose what she does that day. It’ll give her a taste of just how fast money can “disappear” and but it will give her the power to make decisions and set priorities – something she will need to learn soon anyway.

  5. I don’t know what it is about these lavish parties I think its ridiculous. When I turned 16 I spent the day with my family eating my favorite meal and picking out my present. You shouldn’t feel like a horrible mother because you can’t afford a $5000 party (that number makes me cringe I would never spend that on a party). It really shouldn’t be about the materialistic things but rather making memories during milestones I’m sure if you have a talk with your daughter she would understand and the both of you can brainstorm other fun activities as possibilities for that day

  6. bitofblarney says:

    Her Sweet 16 can be unforgettable with a bit of creativity. Last year for my daughters sweet 16 (a June bday), we had a Garden Party at a local estate on the Hudson River that is open to the public. They already had picnic tables there. We brought white table clothes and she made simple yet elegant table decorations. We brought food and drinks and the girls dressed in beautiful dresses and flipflops. They ran around exploring the garden, doing each others nails, henna tattoo’s, etc. One of the Mom’s took photo’s & the party was relatively inexpensive, fun, and unforgettable.
    If your daughter’s bday is during cooler weather, you could take her and a few close friends to a Mexican restaurant on the night that they have the Mariachi band playing. Get creative, you don’t have to compete with the other girls parties. She can have a wonderful time that is completely different than the rest!

  7. It’s never easy to watch your kid struggle to fit in and stay popular especially when all their friends are having amazing parties but you can’t afford to give your child the same. However in the long run this whole thing will hardly be a little bump in the road for you and your child. It seems like a big deal now but it likely won’t be in years to come.
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  8. You are the furthest thing from a bad parent. Trust me, as she grows up and moves out the thought of not having this party will not matter. She will remember the love and how you would do anything you can for her. That is what is important.

    Oh, and Dave and Busters is not a kiddie party. I had my 30th birthday party there. It was a blast!
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  9. Karen R says:

    Could you maybe rent a limo and pay for a small group of her friends to go to a movie or eat at a modest restaurant? You are not a bad parent. She will understand. Maybe, just the two of you could make a day of it……….go to a spa, have lunch out, go to a movie, and have cake at home. Get her a party hat that says Sweet 16 or Happy Birthday and make her wear it all day.

  10. Olivia Rubin says:

    What does your daughter consider fun? Can she do some sort of flashback to when they were kids. Invite her true friends. I attended so many formal sweet 16’s I could puke…they were all the same. The parents came to my mom days after and said how,much their kids raved about relaxing at my sweet 16. We went to a Old Country Buffet. They dressed nice and we had the entire back room that had French doors to seperate. We decorated with balloons and tablecloths. Did the whole music thing. We had awesome party gifts. My mom went to thrift stores, now you could go,to a restaurant depot and bought glass champagne glasses. We filled them with Hershey kisses and had teal ribbon made up with my name and date. People couldn’t get over that we bought real champagne glasses. They all had plastic.

    I don’t know the budget you have in mind. But have your daughter read your post. Let her see your sadness and guilt and understand you want to give her the best, but you can’t. What about 2-3 good friends get mani/pedis. Maybe there would be a groupon in advance. Can they do a sleepover. Have your son stay with a friend so her “little bro” isn’t around. Pick up cucumbers and face masks, all the fixings for icecream sundaes, take out food. Maybe they can build some terrariums to,take home. Heck if I was invited to a party to get a mani/pedis, out to dinner or let them order takeout of their choice,rent a movie, have facials, do some Biore nose strips!, make s’mores for dessert, create a succulent terrarium …I will come and fly up from Florida!

  11. Maria Iemma says:

    I have no experience having a big sweet 16 – my daughter’s boyfriend at the time asked me if he could throw a party for her at his house – i agreed after talking to his mother and she did not let me bring anything but a cake. Everyone had a good time and it was a low key affair.

  12. I know its hard not to feel bad about not being able to do things for your kids like some people can afford to do. LOL I dont even remember ever actually having a birthday party. Those that spend all that money on dresses and fancy parties is ridiculous and spoils the child I think. I wouldnt do that even if I could afford it. Teens are giving way to much now a days and expect all the time. They need to learn to earn things then they appreciate them more. But do find something special to do for your kids as they are good kids.

  13. parties can be expensive

  14. I too am planning a sweet 16 for my daughter on a limited budget. We found a local rod and gun club that rents a room (some fire companies have halls also). Don’t know if that is an option for you. We gave her a limit of guests and I have taken to looking into ways of decorating by using things I already have and using tree branches spray painted and beads hanging from the branches. Looks very fancy. We chose to get subs and wraps. Snacks. We are making a cupcake display and having a candy buffet. (Bought bags of candy on clearance after Valentine’s Day.). For music you can download music to a laptop and play from there over a speaker. You can buy small “dj” lights or a mirror ball with a light aimed at it for effect. My daughter went to a sweet 16 a few weeks ago that was literally that… A sweet sixteen. They had cookies, candy, cupcakes and icecream. The kids loved that! Hopefully some of this helps you. I know how hard it is to want to do for your children and not be able to.

  15. bayle stoneback says:

    at 16 my parents could buy me a car, afford some crazy party, and keep paying for everything so i didn’t have to work…but they didn’t….and i never had hard feelings about it. if fact, it built respect. it taught me the value of money and now 10 years later i know i will be raising my children the same way. do not worry about her missing out because in the end she is better off 🙂

  16. Here is the thing. When she is older she will know that you loved her and did the best you could for both your kids. She will also look back and realize that all these girls she was going to invite to her party, she doesn’t even speak to any more. How many people have that many friends from high school. Maybe one or two. In the end it won’t really mean anything to her that you didn’t have a huge party. Make it special by doing a small tea party or a ladies lunch.

  17. natalie nichols says:

    Someone suggested Dave & Busters? Really? A sweet 16 at a barcade? I’m surprised someone suggested that. You’d have to have one adult for every 5 or 6 kids under 21 and they’d have to stay with them at all times like chaperones. I personally think that that would make for a pretty lame sweet 16.

  18. Maria Iemma says:

    My niece just gave her daughter a sweet 16 party with over 150 guests. It was like a wedding. What a waste of money — the kids did not even eat the food and she paid over $70 a plate. I never gave my daughter a sweet sixteen party, I think we went out to dinner at a restaurant of her choice.

  19. Kristi Renout says:

    My kids are still too young for wanting stuff like that, but I’m not looking forward to not being able to give them everything they want.