Cheapskate’s guide to children’s parties
We all want to give our children a magical birthday but this doesn’t have to mean taking out a second mortgage to cover the cost of employing the Moscow State Circus for the entertainment or Gordon Ramsay for the catering! Being a mother of five I do know a thing or two about children’s parties. Being a mother of four children whose birthdays fall within a month of each other I also know a thing or two about keeping the cost down!
1) DO IT YOUR OWN WAY. We all seem so pressured these days to provide the biggest and most lavish parties for our children. Why? Most children are just happy to have their friends to play and some cake! Keep it simple. I have found that when I previously went over the top it was my own expectations of the day that were high and me that was disappointed if everything didn’t go according to the itinerary. Relax. State on the invitation that cake and ice-cream will be served; parents will know then that their children need to eat lunch before they come. Be honest, how many times have you put out a truck-load of food only to have to put it in everyone’s lunch boxes for the next two weeks? Most children would rather be playing than eating.
2) VENUE. If you can hold it at home then do it? Not only will you save money on the venue but you won’t have to buy paper plates, cups etc. If you feel you want to buy these disposables, then choose a theme and pick one item, for example if your theme is ‘princesses’ then buy princess plates but then buy pink cups, napkins etc this will keep the cost down but keep to the theme. Holding a party at home may seem daunting but when you factor in the cost of a party venue and the stressful task of ferrying the precious birthday cake and forgetting to bring the candles or a lighter to light them with it becomes the cheaper and more relaxed option! If your child’s birthday is in the Spring or Summer then have it in the park. Just make sure you have a Plan B in case of rain!
3) INVITATIONS. Only invite children your child actually plays with. Do not, for example, do what I did one year which was to have a joint party for my two oldest sons and invite the WHOLE of BOTH their classes….sixty children! Needless to say this was not at my home and was not what I would count as a Cheapskate success. But I learnt a valuable lesson. Only a handful of those children were actually proper friends the rest were classmates…learn the distinction FAST! There’s a reason why your children play with certain children and not others – they like certain children and not others – this is a fact of life, don’t use your child’s precious birthday party to try to make extra friends for her, the likelihood is that if they don’t get on with each other at school they are unlikely to get on with each other at a party. If you feel you really need to physically send out invites then either make them yourself or get your child to do it. My boys’ birthdays are in the Autumn and so one year I found conkers and attached paper labels with the party invitation written on it. Simple and free. Another year I wrote the invites on stones from the beach, again free. Or you could go to a site like E-vite.com and email the invites.
4) DECORATIONS: Balloons are a cheap and easy way to party-up the house and have become synonymous with children’s parties the world over, go for it! I like a banner. A homemade one though, an old sheet or pillowcase can be written on either in thick felt pen or any old paint that you have lying about the house – get creative. Bunting is great and so easy; even if you don’t sew. Get some brightly coloured carrier bags or paper or even paper lace doilies – anything, cut them all in to triangles and stick with glue to a length of string! Beautiful, easy and re-usable.
• Pass the parcel is always a winner but when did it change in to EVERY layer has a present? One parcel one present!
• Crafts are great and a well organised craft table can keep kids happy for ages. Icing biscuits, making masks, puppets etc.
• Or how about decorating the birthday cake. I’m sure you’ve all been to parties where a child wants a certain slice of the cake as it has a coveted decoration or sweet on it – get the children to decorate their own portion. Buy a plain iced cake and mark sections according to the amount of guests you have. Give them sweets and icing pens and let them get decorating.
• If you have a theme such as pirates get the guests to make eye patches and hats and scabbards it will keep them busy and they can then play with them OR they could do a short performance using the props they have made.
All of these are great and not only fun but the end result is something for them to take home. Which leads me on to my next point.
6) GOING HOME BAGS & PRIZES!!!
My personal bug bare. Seriously, my children have come home from birthday parties with better gifts than they went with. I’m sorry but this has to stop! My little one played ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ and won exactly the same gift as I had bought for the birthday child. Just a cheap yo-yo or a dive into the lucky dip for a sweetie is enough. If you really feel a party is not a party without a bulging ‘going home bag’ then go back to basics – cake, party blower, balloon and of course they will have all the lovely things they have made to carry home – they will not leave the party feeling let down – believe me!
Don’t set a precedent for your child. The expectation will grow year on year leading to lord only knows what – a chartered plane to the Moon and a real star on a stick to take home, maybe?
Be nice to yourself, your purse and your child…they might be a parent too one day and will thank you for your common sense! They will almost certainly not thank you if all they can remember from their parties is an underlying angst brought on by their parents overindulgent spending and fear of impending starvation, assuming there are no left over sausage rolls of course!
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