Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mystery Auction for a Tween Birthday Party

We had The Girl's 11th birthday party a few weeks ago, and when it comes to the Tween age group,
planning a party can be quite difficult. They are getting to the age of having a boy/girl party, too old for activities like pin the tail on the donkey or a pinata, too young for not having any activities at all planned and just letting everyone hang out for a few hours. So, I scoured the internet for ideas for Tween birthday party activities, and came up with some extremely cheesy ideas. I needed something that entertained easily-bored Tweens without embarrassing The Girl (which is easy at this age).

The Mystery Auction idea was born from my love of the TV reality show Survivor. Any Survivor fans know that after almost a month on the island, Jeff pulls out $500 for each remaining contestant and does a Survivor-style auction for food items and tips to where hidden immunity idols are to be found. Sometimes the players know what they are bidding on, and sometimes the item is kept hidden until the bidding is done, and the person could get surprised with a cheeseburger, fries and milkshake, or they could have spent $500 on a single cracker with cheese on it.

To set up for the Mystery Auction, you'll need to buy fake money and
Pretend Money
Fake, oversized money from the
dollar store.
a wide array of inexpensive toys and other things Tweens would be interested in. I hit up the dollar store for many of the items, as well as the bargain bins at Target, discount stores like Ross, and the clearance racks at Target and Kohl's. For a total of 18 items, I spent around $30. We figured this was around the cost of treat bags, which we opted not to do this year. I did buy a few $1 boxes of candy as consolation prizes in case a kid bet their entire cash pile on a dud prize (see below).

Prizes for a Tween Birthday Mystery Auction
Some of the auction items.
Considering The Girl was having a coed party, I bought items like candy, notebooks, whoopie cushions (farts are funny at any age), writing pens, etc for everyone, then specialized some girl's and boy's gifts like a manicure set and a Star Wars item. You also want to purchase gag gifts (or dud prizes), like a toddler's dinosaur toy or a roll of toilet paper. These are going to be a part of the hidden items.  Out of 18 total items, we had 4 hidden items, and 2 of these hidden items were pretty cool while the other 2 were simply for laughs (the dino and the toilet paper).

Before the party starts, divide the money up evenly among the number of kids you have coming and figure out the order of the auction items, which ones will be hidden, and what the bidding will start at for each item. I just wrote everything down on a piece of paper and kept it in the large bag that had the items in it. Set up an auction area in your house with a table (I used our kitchen island) that you will stand behind and have all of the kids sit in front.
Hidden Prizes for a Tween Birthday Party Mystery Auction
The 4 Hidden items for the Mystery Auction

Keep in mind that this is not a regular auction or even a silent auction. The kids will not know what they are bidding on until you place it on the table in front of you when the item comes up for bid. That way, the kids have no idea if they should bid on that item or wait for something better down the line. Every now and then I would let them know what number item we were on and how many more we had until the auction was done.

Things will start off slow at first as the kids are trying to figure out how the auction is being done. Once you get to the first hidden item, and you tell them that they have to blind bid on the item and it could be something amazing or something horrible, the Tweens' curiosities are peaked and they start to come out of their shells. Our first hidden item was a whoopie cushion, which all of the kids immediately wished they had bid on. When the second hidden item came up for bid, we had a bidding war on our hands, as all the kids thought it was something cool. The girl that bought the second hidden item spent more than half of her money on... a roll of toilet paper. Laughter erupted and I knew that the Mystery Auction was a success.
We even put the toilet paper into
a big bag so the kids would think
it was a huge prize.

We started bidding at $5 on most items, $10 on others (even one of the gag gifts, just to throw them off), and bidding was in $5 increments (We had given them $270 each to start.). That way I didn't have to worry about giving change back. Don't be surprised when a kid sees something they really want and yells out "$100!!" before you can even say, "The bidding will start at...". If they bid all of the money they have, it's theirs. It would be up to you if you allow kids to combine their money to try and get something together. We didn't allow it, but that was to keep the playing field as even as possible throughout the auction. From start to finish, with 18 items total, the Mystery Auction took about 45 minutes.

There will be kids who spend a lot of their money on smaller things or ended up with a dud prize that they thought would be amazing, so for these kids I allowed them to each pick a box of candy from the consolation prize bag, so no one went home upset. You'll find that when the auction is over, the kids will trade prizes or some may even want to keep the fake money they were left with. We didn't mind any of this, because, as I said before, we did this Mystery Auction instead of buying goodie bags for the kids to take home. So, what they won at the auction was their thank you item for attending the party. It cost nothing for the kids, gets them talking, laughing and interacting, and is funny for the adults, too.

Here's an easy rundown of how to have a Mystery Auction at your Tween's birthday party:

  • You'll need fake money, a few dud or gag prizes, twice as many regular prizes, and consolation prizes. 
  • Organize a list with the order of prizes and starting bid amounts before the kids get there. It makes things easier. 
  • Explain to the kids that they will not know what all of the items are until they are up for bid. Tell them if they see something they want, the need to get it because there's no telling what will come later down the line.
  • Distribute the hidden items evenly throughout the entire auction. Of 18 items, we had the hidden items at spots #3, #8, #12 and #15, with #3 and #12 being awesome prizes, and #8 and #15 being the duds (a roll of toilet paper and a toddler's plastic dinosaur).
  • Describe the item (if it's a non-hidden one), place it on the table for the kids to see, and then immediately start bidding. Don't let them see the items before they go onto the table during the auction.
  • Start a dud item off at a high bid, and throw it into a really big bag or box just to throw the kids off a little. It makes it more enjoyable.
  • Remember to let the kids know every few items of what number you are on and how many more there are until the end of the auction. This encourages them to bid on something instead of holding onto their money to see if something awesome is at the end.
  • Once the item is 'sold', get the money before you give them the item, especially when it's a hidden item. They are finicky Tweens- don't let them try and keep the money because they are upset they just spent all $250 on a plastic dinosaur.
  • Expect loudness. They are Tweens- they will get loud, a little rowdy, and you will constantly have to get their attention in between auction items.
For us, the Mystery Auction was a huge success- something I definitely recommend to any parent of a Tween. 

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  1. Genius my friend. Pure genius. But what else can I expect from the Tatted Mom?

    1. Thank you! I'm currently training my flying monkeys, so keep an eye out for those flying across the sky to help me take over the world. ;)

  2. What a cute idea! But wait, not too cute. COOL, I mean. Is that proper Tween slang?


    1. It's definitely not 'rad' or 'hip', that's for sure. You get funny faces when you use those. And her friends giggle when I say 'Cool beans' and 'Awesomesauce', and I don't know if it's a good laugh or a bad one, lol.

  3. We are planning on doing this same thing for our upcoming tween/teen party, but have a question: What bills did you give each guest to add up to the $270? We're trying to figure this all out.... Thanks!

    1. 2 $100 bills, 2 $20s, 2 $10s and 2 $5s. ;) The pack of money from the dollar store didn't give us $50s, lol.

  4. great idea! How many tweens were at the party?

  5. This is an AMAZING idea! Each guest only gets one item, right?

  6. What were the other prizes you gave out? Awesome idea btw trying to organise this for my own party.