The big money eater Christmas has scuffled off into the past, nervously avoiding your bank manager, but now the birthday party circuit is in full swing. It’s enough to bring a grown woman to her knees, sobbing about peer pressure and her child’s future happiness.
Never fear! You don’t need a gut of steel and nerves of iron to survive; here are some brilliant tips that have been stolen, hijacked and begged from enterprising mums across the UK. No matter how small your budget you can throw a stunner of a party and have fun doing it.
First, let’s look at gifts. It’s turned into something of a minefield. What do you give to another child as a present? All of the mothers I spoke to agreed that the type of present is entirely dependent on a specific pecking order. Jo explains, “It’s about how close your child is to the other one, how close you are to their mum, how nice they are and what they gave your child last year”.
As I said, a minefield.
However, if you tackle this tricky situation well in advance you need never worry about the pecking order at all. And, hopefully, other mums will see you as the most generous and organised of the lot. Not a bad reputation to get.
“I recommend buying presents well in advance, regardless of whether you know who’s going to invite you or not,” says Anya, “Take advantage of sales to get really good quality toys for excellent prices.”
If your child is, say, four then it’s likely that the parties they will attend will be hosted by those turning five. So get toys to match the age. Don’t forget toys for relatives and close friends with children and babies though!
You should also look at sites like HotUKDeals and our very own PlayPennies to see if there are any good deals on toys. Do this whenever your finances are looking very healthy and you have a bit of extra cash.
“I always find that I’m broke just when I’ve got about 20 birthdays in one month so I tend to always buy whenever I have extra,” says Jo. “You’ll often find an excellent price on an awesome product that will make the other mum oooh with amazement.”
When it comes to planning your own party start out by deciding exactly what your budget is well in advance. Apply the same principle as above when buying your sweets and party-bag fillers so you already have the bulk of your essentials well organised and you don’t face a huge lump payment in one go.
“Create a Party Cupboard,” says Vicki, “Every month I would get a bag of this or a bit of that to add to this secret spot so by the time the month of the big event rolled in I only needed to sort out a few bits and bobs.”
Try not to get caught up in the “Susie had flying elephant at her party so I better hire Tom Cruise to tap-dance for them” mentality. Your child really does not care if she’s in a park or at a play centre as long as she has her friends, her loot and her cake. There are some stunning and inexpensive locations for children’s parties that will impress those inevitable snobby parents and won’t eat your wallet for breakfast.
“Make sure you know exactly what kind of party you want before you start,” says Jo, “There is so much choice out there so without a clear gameplan you will get frustrated and tense. For example, if your son wants a Thomas the Tank Engine party then it makes it so much easier to decide your day in terms of venue, cake design and colours.”
I recently went to a party where there were no party games, only an hour of concentrated activity in a gymnastic hall. This was followed by spaghetti Bolognese and fruit salad for dessert. It was such a healthy and fun choice. The kids had a whale of time learning how to swing from poles and jump on trampolines while the parents could relax with tea.
This mum told me that she had to play to her strengths. She was a good cook but a terrible entertainer. The staff did the hard work for her and she had as much fun as her tot. Sit down with your partner and create an event that suits your child and your own core strengths. If you’re a sporty family then look at an active party or if you’re a creative family then you can easily pull off a themed one.
You can find cost-effective locations such as family friendly restaurants, farms, your local hall or community centre, soft play areas, children gymnastic schools, sports facilities and theme parks. Some of these may seem expensive to hire but if they include food, juice, activities and trained staff they may work out cheaper than a park where you do all the catering (and all the work).
“I decided to stay at home,” says Vicki, “I wanted complete control over the type of food they ate and the activities they played. Also my son is quite shy and I wanted him to be in his comfort zone so he would enjoy himself.”
From party poppers to presents, you can get good prices by searching online or talking to other mums in your area. Some venues won’t advertise and are discovered through word of mouth, these are often cheap and cheerful too. Plan in advance and then relax. You may even find yourself having fun...