Teens party on as families cut thousands off budgets to host coming-of-age celebrations

By Ileana Morales, AP
Friday, July 31, 2009

Milestone parties shrink to survive for teens

MIAMI — For a generation of girls, coming of age during the recession calls for a celebration that can be as much DIY as it is mini-wedding.

Planning a quinceanera? Think about choreographing your own dance routine. Feeding a Sweet 16? Hope you know how to bake. Bat mitzvah on the way? You might want to share your party with a neighbor.

“You don’t know if you’re going to lose your job. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to go overboard,” said Yanicet Ganuzas. For her daughter Yanelis’s quinceanera, the lavish party many Latino families throw when their daughters turn 15, she spent $14,000 — a little more than half of what she spent two years ago on another daughter.

Other families like the Ganuzas are cutting thousands from the budgets for teenage girls’ coming-of-age celebrations because of the sour economy, party planners said, but stopping short of canceling the bashes. After all, the parties mark a milestone in otherwise uncertain times.

“You never know if you’re going to get married, but you know you’re going to turn 15,’” said Deborah R. Vargas, an American studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

In Atlanta, Michelle Bruck and a neighbor are planning to combine their daughters’ bat mitzvahs in two years to share the cost of renting a space, entertaining common friends and paying the photographer and the DJ. In all, each family expects to chip in $7,000, savings of about $5,000 apiece.

A bat mitzvah — like the bar mitzvah celebrations that boys have — marks the moment a Jewish girl comes of age and becomes responsible for obeying the tenets of the faith.

“Our girls are a week apart and they’re very good friends at school and through our Temple,” said Bruck, whose daughter Jenna and her friend Alena Skyer are both 11. “I just said … ‘We could save a lot of money and have fun if we have this together.’”

Bruck’s neighbor, Lisa Skyer, said the families are considering printing their own invitations.

“That’s something most people throw away … I’m sure we won’t be spending much on that,” she said.

Vendors are also adapting to cost-conscious customers. Photographer Juan Escobedo of Austin, Texas, recently dropped his prices for the first time in eight years.

In the last year he’s seen families end their parties at midnight, not 2 a.m. Mothers cook and decorate the candy boxes or other souvenirs for guests. Families hire disc jockeys instead of more-expensive bands.

During more flush times in his three decades in the industry, Miami party planner Angel Diaz has seen a belly-dancing birthday girl entertain atop an elephant and another escorted on stage by a tiger.

Now, he says he’s not seeing fewer customers, but they are spending less. A party budget that would’ve been $17,000 two years ago is now $12,000. Instead of $35,000, a family is spending $25,000.

Having a smaller party didn’t dampen Yanelis Ganuzas’s excitement.

Two years ago, her parents hired a choreographer to create her sister’s dance routine. Yanelis and her friends skipped the professional guidance this year, practicing their own dance routine for three months. At her bash in March, nine young couples moved stiffly to a mix of waltz, salsa, reggaeton and hip-hop to represent the blended culture of a Latin-American girl.

“It’s like one of these once in a lifetime things with family and friends. It’s the moment, it’s so sweet,” said Yanelis, a Cuban-American girl wearing four-inch heels. “I’m going to miss it.”

That’s why the Ganuzas family hosted another quinceanera. That’s why mother Yanicet dipped pretzels and fruits in chocolate herself for dessert among other ways to save. For the family. For Yanelis.

“She’s the last baby I have,” Yanicet said. “Tradition.”

Associated Press writer Dionne Walker in Atlanta contributed to this report.

will not be displayed