The first thing to remember when planning a bar or bat mitzvah is that it is the coming-of-age ceremony that brings meaning to this day. Sure, you want to have a nice reception or party, but when you find yourself tempted to over-extend your budget, remind yourself: my child is becoming a member of the Jewish community, as did his/her ancestors for generations before, and this is what is special on this day. When your teenager hock mier en chinik to hire the local celebrity bar mitzvah band: close your eyes, breath-deeply and chant three times:
The Meaning is in the Mitzvah
Here are some pointers to ease the financial burden of a bar or bat mitzvah party, without compromising on quality or fun.
Be your own party planner.
If you have the time, energy, and gumption, planning the mitzvah party yourself may help you save in two big ways: (1) skipping the party planner fee and (2) exposing yourself to less pressure to spend more. You can buy yourself a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planner Book for around $14.
Consider a reception in the synagogue hall (why not?) or community hall.
I've seen many synagogue reception halls and most of them are lovely, if not blank canvases that can be transformed by decoration into anything you wish. Another less expensive option than hotels or event spaces are community halls. For example, our old neighborhood had a big room in renovated loft space with a catering kitchen to rent for around $200 a night. It was cool, modern and cheap. You may have a local park with a community room or a municipal building that rents the lobby space. For starters, go to local.google.com (set your location to your own zipcode) and then search for "community hall".
Rent a jukebox or fill up your teen's iPod.
Consider renting a jukebox for around $300 or create your own jukebox ala ipod. Your teen can choose the music or you can download a Party Music Essentials playlist from iTunes. You may want to designate a friend or family member to DJ the ipod and make sure the sound system is set up for input of the ipod.
Make it more meaningful through borrowing.
Borrowing Grandpa's tallis, yad or kiddush cup or Grandma's Shabbat candlesticks or Havdallah set doesn't just save you money it is apropos: your child's mitzvah signifies Judaism being passed on to a new generation.
Borrowing for centerpieces can be an easy moneysaver. Everyone has several clear glass or crystal vases in their home. Ask to borrow from your friends and family clear vases (telling them not to loan you anything sentimental or expensive). You can create centerpieces by grouping 3-5 vases together. Unify the pieces by using one or two varieties of flowers in coordinating colors. You can buy flowers in bulk either through Costco, Sams Club, your local farmer's market or online, for example: The Flower Exchange. The picture at right is from ApartmentTherapy.com.