Is it possible to have a birthday party for your child, and not spend more than £50 or less? I found myself wondering about this when I read at the weekend that on average, people spend £300 on a child's birthday party. With many spending as much as £800.
My first thought was, who are these people? And why aren't they in the same recession as the rest of us? The figures come from a poll run by Mums Show Live, an event held in London for parents of children aged four to 12. Which makes me think that it is the whole school thing that ups the ante. We start to meet other parents, look at what people are doing on social media, and start to feel pressured into doing the same. Suddenly, pin the tail on the donkey, jelly and ice cream doesn't feel like enough.
But people, it doesn't have to be that way. It is possible to throw your child a simple party and for it to be fun, and everyone to have a good time, and it not to cost the earth. Here are some top tips!
Do it at home?
I have only done one party at home. The main reason I haven't done this more often is that we live in a cluttered (no storage) house with a barely usable garden! But you can do it, even if you think that your home isn't appropriate.
Sandra, mum to two, lives in a ground floor flat with a shared garden. She hired a bouncy castle for £50 for the whole day, and just let the kids run in and out of the house, pretty much playing and doing whatever they wanted, followed by lots of party food and a big chunk of cake to take home.
The weather can be tricky if you have a birthday that is outside of the warmer months. My son's best friend has his birthday in January, and to add to the difficulty, they live on the third floor of a council block of flats. The party started with the children being taken to the playground in front of the flat, and just running around to their heart's content for 40 minutes, when it started to rain.
All inside, for pass the parcel, and other games like musical statues. Finally lots of party food, and an ice cream they could decorate themselves with toppings, along with a chunk of cake and a toy car to take home. My son came out saying it was the best birthday party he had ever been to.
Older kids will particularly like these. You may hate them with a passion, but once a year isn't too bad. Claire's daughter's birthday is in November, a month where the weather is definitely variable.
They build a fire in the garden, and keep some fireworks from Halloween. Last year it rained, but her daughter and three friends sat under a tarpaulin, determined to toast their marshmallows, and generally having a giggle.
It was fun because it was different. The novelty and excitement of having a fire in the garden made it special.
Can't do it at home?
Although the cheapest option, it isn't always possible to do a party or sleep over at home. Mum of two boys, Judith, does a movie and MacDonalds party. She takes the party guests to a Vue cinema for the Kids AM showing (tickets are less than £2 each) at 10:30am, and then to MacDonalds for lunch. Judith chose the Vue club as you can book specific seats in advance, making it easier to organise. And a nearby MacDonalds has a party room you can book, so you know you've got seats.
Hire a hall with a bit of outside space. Outside if it is fine, even cold, and inside in case it rains. Some halls won't even do a special rate - I've been quoted £200 an hour for a Saturday morning party, the same rate they'd charge an evening wedding. The mind boggles! But even in London you can find something for less than £10 an hour.
If your birthday party is in the warmer months then the suggestion that I often see is to use a local park. There are a few things to take into consideration, which are never mentioned. Check to see if you can do this first. Some may let you put up gazebos etc, provided you file an event notice (these typically cost around £20). Others will be OK with gazebos if they have no sides and aren't pegged into the ground.
Make it a dress up party. That way you can see your party guests easily at a glance as they run around the playground.
Look for slightly unusual venues. Friends of ours found a really tiny woods within walking distance of their city home. It was possible to be fairly self-contained within part of it, and they had a teddy bears picnic in there for their daughter's 3rd birthday. A genius idea I think.
Don't do one! We went to a birthday party recently where there wasn't a bag, and actually not a single child said a thing. They were all just too busy burying their faces in the huge, doorstep chunks of cake they got as they walked out the door.
Other alternatives we've experienced have been the ice cream, with lots of toppings you can put on yourself (nothing makes a kid happier than being let loose with the sprinkles), cookies and cupcakes that can be decorated as well, a simple toy (car, small doll, a little windmill, bucket and spade, bouncy ball all being gifts we've had over the years).
A crinkly paper bag with sweets in it. That was actually my favourite, it reminded me so much of my own childhood.
Now you've got all my best ideas, I'd love to hear yours. I expect our PlayPennies parents have some pretty savvy money saving ideas that out do these ones!