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Quinceañera Parties on the Cheap

Throw a memorable quinceañera, despite rough economic times

En español | Adrianne Ferree, 50, knows something about sticking to a budget when it comes to throwing parties.

“I’m a single mother of three girls and my parents live with me,” says the Argentine American who lives in Palos Verdes, California. “I don’t have that kind of money.”

So when her daughters approached 15, it was second nature for their mom to do their quinceañeras economically—but without compromising style.

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Her oldest daughter, Alexandra, decided to forgo a “quince” altogether; she preferred a dirt bike. But her other two girls were given a tight budget and slashed costs in every way.

“Lauren spent $1,700,” Ferree said of her middle daughter’s 100-guest gala. Her youngest daughter, Amanda, spent about $2,000 for 150 guests.

That’s definitely on the low end, according to experts. Quinceañeras cost on average $8,000 for 150 to 200 guests, says Marco Salcedo, publisher of the San Diego edition of Quinceañeras magazine. With up to 400,000 girls holding quinceañeras every year in the United States, that adds up.

To save money, experts say party planners should start well ahead of time, set a realistic budget, employ creativity, and not shy away from asking for help.

Isabella Wall, an advisor on these coming-of-age parties, emphasizes planning far in advance. “The more you plan ahead, the better you are at saving money,” says Wall, who writes an advice blog for She recommends mothers start talking with their daughters when they’re 13, drafting out a plan and making it a bonding experience for both.

“They’re budgeting and looking for deals together,” Wall says. “It brings mother and daughter closer together.”

Many experts suggest that party planners begin by slashing the guest list. That’s what Norma Furriel of Bonita, California, did. She cut her daughter’s original list of 400 invitees in half.

“I wanted people who really knew Patricia,” says Furriel, 45, a Mexican American, referring to daughter who is holding her quince in August. “We have to be selective. I don’t want her to invite all of her high school.”

Experts estimate that, depending on the menu and type of party, the cost for each guest can exceed $40 per person. The money saved from inviting fewer people is allowing the Furriels to splurge on other items, such as hundreds of fresh flowers.

After checking the guest list, say experts, survey the frills. The most expensive item for a quinceañera is the dress, says Wall, followed by the cake.

“The dress and cake alone—that’s almost $1,000,” says the Dominican American. The more princess-like the dress, she says, the more it usually costs.

Lauren Ferree had her heart set on the princess style. Still, with her mom’s limited budget, she found a $400 fluffy tulle gown for only $40 at a store that was going out of business and had the dress tailored at a local dry cleaner for about $100. Even better, the same dress was recycled for Amanda’s quinceañera for just $20 by a seamstress Ferree found on Craigslist.

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Another growing trend is buying an elegant and intricately designed camouflage cake: essentially a fake cake that’s made to look beautiful for presentation at the event, Wall says. When the cake is ready to be cut, though, you take it back into the kitchen and come out with plates of less-expensive sheet cake.

Ferree, who bought Lauren’s cake for $400, decided to cut the cake cost for youngest daughter Amanda’s event by making their own. They ended up spending about $60 on a cake decorating class at a local craft store; the cake itself cost about $30.

Next, look at where you’re holding the event. The Furriels shopped around before committing to a venue; they’ve found there’s so much competition in today’s recession that vendors should be able to compete and offer good deals. “If they don’t lower the price you can go somewhere else,” says Furriel.

Amanda’s quince was held at a park community center, which charged her $640 for four hours for the party, an hour for set-up, an hour for clean-up, and security. Lauren held hers at another park community center for $450, including chairs, tables, security, and after-hours extension. Patricia Furriel’s will be at a private reception hall, at a cost of around $3,500 for 150 to 200 guests, including a DJ.

Another pricey expense depends on your theme. Experts suggest choosing a less-expensive theme, such as a beach party, which can cut down on the costs of decorations and dress fabric.

Even if you have a formal theme, you can save in other ways. For her dance club-themed party, Amanda wanted black and strobe lights, which she borrowed from friends of friends who had them left over from previous haunted houses. And though she wanted a lounge-feel to her club party—and had her heart set on renting nice couches for the party, at $150 a crack—she settled for a few borrowed couches, eight tables for $2 each, and 50 chairs at $1 a pop.

In addition, consultants try to cut the costs of invitations and RSVP cards. Amanda made her invitations herself, much cheaper than a formal invitation prepared by a printer, but e-mail invitations may also work for a less-formal affair, says Wall.

Ferree says one of the most important ways to save money was to recruit the help of friends and family.

“I couldn’t do this all myself,” Amanda says.

“It’s not just about saving money but getting more people involved,” says Wall.

And that, says Amanda, turned out, in the long run, to be a positive thing. Sure, she had to cut certain luxuries. Still, she says what made the event special was that her friends and family helped out and had a stake in one of the most important moments in her life.

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