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A 15th birthday with a $20K price tag

Elizabeth Trovall Feb 12, 2024
Heard on:
Kailey Cavazos models a dress at the Quince Expo 2024 in Houston. She remembers her quinceañera fondly, especially the song she wrote and sang for her father. Elizabeth Trovall/Marketplace

A 15th birthday with a $20K price tag

Elizabeth Trovall Feb 12, 2024
Heard on:
Kailey Cavazos models a dress at the Quince Expo 2024 in Houston. She remembers her quinceañera fondly, especially the song she wrote and sang for her father. Elizabeth Trovall/Marketplace

At a certain point, it was easier for Luis Cavazos not to know how much his youngest daughter’s quinceañera was costing him. 

“Honestly, I think I stopped counting at about 45 … and I don’t mean $4,500,” Cavazos said. 

While $45,000 is high, it’s not uncommon for families to spend at least $20,000 on these flashy parties celebrating a young woman’s 15th birthday, a tradition with roots in Latin America. That price tag tends to cover a venue, dress, DJ, photographer, cake, decorations and beverages.

Quinceañeras have become more extravagant as the purchasing power of Latinos has grown. At the same time, the U.S. youth population is becoming increasingly Hispanic.

Indeed, a whole industry has blossomed.

A woman at a cake stand talks to customers
Lorena Lock hands out cake samples at the Quince Expo 2024 at NRG Arena. Quinceañeras sustain her custom cake business, Million Cakes, in the Houston area. (Elizabeth Trovall/Marketplace)

Raul Juarez, who has coordinated quinceañera trade shows, or “expos,” since his first in Houston in 2001, said the industry has seen a “night and day” difference in the past two decades. His expos now show across the country, and he’s seen party budgets increase from roughly $5,000 to more than $20,000.

It’s been a boon to the events and party businesses, especially those with strong relationships in Latino communities.

Over the last decade, Lorena Lock has built her Houston-area business around the quinceañera industry. Her store, Million Cakes, has two locations that create custom cakes for different kinds of special events. Quinceañeras have been her bread and butter, accounting for roughly 70% of the cakes she sells.

“We have a lot of referred [customers], and that counts a lot,” she said in Spanish.

She got into the business for fun — making cakes for friends while her husband was studying at a university, which is what originally brought her family to the U.S. from Peru. She eventually went pro. 

“Life surprises you,” she said.

Her cakes can run from $325 to $7,000 — prices she’s raised slightly because her costs have increased.

She employs 17 people, and they make roughly 50 cakes a week. It has been a great experience for her.

“Really, this business has been such a blessing for me, for a lot of people that are on the team,” she said.

An ornate saddle displayed at a Quinceñera exhibition
Southeast Texas venue Rancho Arreguin advertises its country-style event space at Houston’s Quince Expo 2024. Venues tend to be the largest expense for a quinceañera, costing many thousands of dollars. (Elizabeth Trovall/Marketplace)

Her business has been going strong, to some extent following the expanding demographic scale and economic might of Latino communities.

In the U.S., some 2.6 million girls who fall within the 10-to-14-year-old age group identify as Hispanic, according to census estimates from 2022. And Latino purchasing power has increased rapidly in the past decade, growing from less than $2 trillion in 2011 to $3.4 trillion in 2021, according to research by the Latino Donor Collaborative and Arizona State University

Karla Auces, who is planning her daughter’s quinceañera, said the parties have become much more lavish than when she turned 15.

“That’s one thing we quickly realized. Things have changed over the years,” she said. “It’s an extravagant party, but it’s also a celebration for her. That’s what it’s supposed to be, it’s her growing up and maturing.”

Auces did give her daughter the option to take a big trip instead of the party. Her daughter, Ava, chose the quinceañera.

“This is the kind of experience not everyone gets to have and because it is a lot of money and it’s a one-time thing,” Ava Auces said.

Her mother has tried to rein in the spending.

“We initially wanted to stay close to $20,000,” Karla Auces said. “But we see that this year, a lot of things have changed, prices are increasing and whatnot. So, I think it’s going to be a little over.”

Five girls model quinceñera dresses with large skirts and ornate beading.
Dress shop Stephanie’s Bridal Designs showcases lavish custom dresses at the Quince Expo 2024 in Houston. (Elizabeth Trovall/Marketplace)

The pressure to go big on a 15th birthday celebration can clearly put a strain on budgets as families try to throw a party that compares with what friends and relations have done, said Luis Cavazos. He didn’t just spend a lot on his own daughters’ quinceañeras — his family is in the quinceañera business. Cavazos owns a fleet of party buses, and his wife sells and designs quinceañera dresses. 

“Once the first girl gets started and everybody has a pleasant time and it’s all nicely decorated, they all want the same thing,” he said.

Friends and family often help foot the bill as sponsors, or padrinos, he said. But promises of support can fall through. He’s seen dozens of families put in a financial bind.

“Therefore, they’re having to scratch up at the end to fulfill whatever or even eliminate [a] service,” he said. “It could be photo booths, something that’s not necessarily essential.”

Cavazos said shelling out to make the event special “can be very, very stressful.”

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