Kids’ birthday parties can be a massive cost when you least need it. Plus they’re a huge stress! Here are some tips to help you choose what to have where, without losing the will to live…
Choosing the venue
If you’re booking entertainment, there are several options to go for, depending on how brave you are and your budget:
To save the pennies, home’s the cheapest option… unless you have pale carpets! If the weather’s rubbish and everyone’s indoors, remove anything that could be damaged or might harm excited children. If it’s dry and warm you’re laughing. It doesn’t matter how small the garden is, provided there’s easy kitchen and toilet access it’s the best place for manic children!
This option is dependent on the sun shining, but parks can be a great venue to hold a party (and they're free, too!). There's plenty of space for party games, football, tag, rounders - and you can bring along a picnic as the birthday party meal.
Whether it’s your village hall, church facilities or a Guide hut, you’ll have a couple of options wherever you live. The key is to book well in advance and check for size, facilities and parking. The good ones get booked up fast by the mums of your child’s peers – though it’s worth getting recommendations. Find a community hall near you.
Venue with an entertainer
Some venues offer the whole experience, and it definitely makes organising simpler as it kills two birds with one phone call. You may not get the best price here, but the stress saved might be worth it!
Soft play area
Your local soft play area is often a popular choice with parents for young one's parties. They usually do packages at a set price and are easy entertainment for little ones.
Arranging the entertainment
Have a look at our party ideas for kids and our party ideas for tweens and teenagers.
Also check out these fun things to do with kids on a budget - it contains everything from arts and craft ideas to rainy day activity suggestions.
This is down to personal choice, but there’s a huge discrepancy in prices if you're looking to hire a professional entertainer. Shop around before you commit, and ask other parents for recommendations.
A big plus of hiring entertainment is that they can engage the children while you sort the party food.
But don't forget that as long as you have another adult to help you out, they can be the 'entertainment'. They don't have to be a clown, a magician or adept at making balloon-animals - you just need someone to keep the kids occupied with party games or sports while you have your hands full in the kitchen.
If you want to splash out, there’s a range of inflatables available depending on available space, child numbers and your budget. You’ll be more hands-on if you go this route though, to check no-one gets hurt or plays too rough.
Anything from craft activities and teddy bear making to children’s farms and miniature railways will usually offer a party option. The thing with these parties is that you usually pay per child, but that keeps the cost within your control. Soft play places will do party bags and food too – you’ll just need to be on hand for toilet trips and nursing bruises! Find out what’s in your area.
Sorting the invites
Keep the numbers down
Don't feel pressured to invite the whole school... keep the numbers small and it will keep the cost (and your stress levels!) down to a reasonable level.
Get the invites out early
It's good to get the invites out early - especially if your child’s birthday is near a school holiday. Keep a list of who you send them to so you know who to chase and tick off. State a deadline for responses too, as some parents give infuriatingly short notice!
No need to spend a fortune on fancy invites
Many venues issue their own invites, which they’ll post or you can print from their website. Make sure they send the right amount and that the information is correct.
If you have people’s mobile numbers or email addresses, you can just let people know this way. It’s ideal for pre-school or family parties, where you know everyone already.
You can always print off your own invites on a PC - or better still, get the kids to design their own invitation, and then photocopy their design.
Or just buy a supermarket bulk pack can work out cheaper than designing and printing your own on the computer – and loads less hassle for us time-strapped mums!
Putting together a party bag
There's no need to put together a party bag if you don't want to - it's not essential to the day in the way a birthday cake is.
Keep an eye on your local Poundshop in the run-up to the party - they often have cheap toys and little knick-nacks that kids love. Or just put some sweets in a little cellophane bag, and tie each one with a fancy ribbon - sorted!
Another cost-effective alternative to party bags is to have a Lucky Dip box. Pick up some cheap toys and treats (again, Poundshop is your friend!) wrap them up, and put them in a box mixed in with old torn up newspapers or sawdust.
Alternatively, Hawkin's Bazaar sell both party bag fillers and pre-made party bags. Their pre-made party bags cost £4 each, but you save if you buy in bulk (if you buy 12, the price goes down to £2.75 per bag).
Getting the cake
You can always buy a cake of course, but it's far cheaper to make your own. (Though you don't even have to make a cake - one of our readers told us how she baked a giant cookie one year, which went down a treat!).
If you want some birthday cake ideas and recipes, have a look at our kids' party food article.
Putting up the decorations
There's no need to go overboard with decorations (kids tend to hardly notice them anyway!). Some balloons and a few streamers are all you need to give a bit of birthday glitz to your home or the hall you've hired.
Choosing the date
Of course you can try and hold the party on the birthday itself, but most people tend to opt for the nearest weekend to the actual date.
However, if your child has a friend with a birthday in the same month, why not hold a joint party? That way, you can split the costs with the other family - and you'll have at least one extra pair of hands to help organise it and clean up afterwards!