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Budget birthday parties for kids

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Saving money on kids' birthday parties. Image: Getty
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By Allison Tait
MSN NZ Money

Who's coming to your child's next birthday party? Spider-Man? Crackers the Clown? The Jumping Castle Man? Keep the lid on your budget by inviting some old-fashioned fun and imaginative thinking instead.

Jumping castles, magicians, clowns, fairies, princesses, ponies, superheroes … the list of expensive elements you can invite to your next children's party is as long as most letters to Santa. The days when a bit of fairy bread and a pass the parcel seem long gone, and, unfortunately, so too seem the days of a budget birthday party.

Not so, says Sara Verge, editor of Wondertime magazine, who reckons the key to keeping an eye on your birthday budget is remembering to see the big day from your child's perspective.

"Kids' parties have become so competitive," Verge says. "My first tip to parents would be to try very hard not to get sucked into it. Kids are not necessarily impressed by bigger, better and more — particularly little kids who can be overwhelmed by big parties."

The key is to remember that young kids have no idea of the value of money. "So much of what goes on is for the parents," Verge says. "Children aren't going to be impressed by designer cupcakes — they just want to have a party and play with their friends. Keep it simple."

What are Verge's top five tips for kids' parties that won't break the bank?

  • Don't overcater. "They'll either gorge themselves or they'll pick up lots of stuff and have one bite and put it back," Verge says. "You don't need 20 different dishes. One savoury thing, a few sweets, a bit of fruit and a birthday cake and they're happy."
  • Weigh up the cost of outsourcing. Sometimes Fairy Sparkle can be a good investment. "Having a professional lead your party can save you a lot of time and your time is valuable," Verge says. "Having said that, it's important to ask your child what they want. There's no point in paying a magician to perform if your child is not into magic."
  • Keep your lolly bags small. "The smaller the bag, the fewer items that are needed to fill them," she says. "One idea is to use boring old brown paper bags and have the kids decorate them as part of the party activities."
  • Keep it short, keep it small. "A short party filled with activities is better, and less expensive, than a long party involving lots of free play," Verge says. "Have a list of age-appropriate games — any of the old-fashioned ones like egg and spoon races, relays, musical statues, the Mummy game where one child is wrapped in toilet paper, are fun — and a schedule."
  • Don't do it every year. Have an "every second year" rule in your house. Home is where the heart is

Fiona Lippey, founder of Simple Savings, agrees that simple is best. "You can have a wonderful party for as little as $10 a head," she says. "If you spend $125 a head, you have to ask yourself whether the memories be any different? Smaller children don't even remember it."

For younger children, she suggests a family barbecue, free play and a birthday cake.

Older children and young teens are magnets for expensive options such as bowling parties, go-karting, and any other "event" party you can imagine. "That kind of party can cost anywhere between $150-$250 a head for a few hours fun," says Lippey. "Instead, utilise what you have at home or borrow from friends for activities. Think table tennis, air hockey, etc."

Given the media reports about how sophisticated "tweens" can be these days, it's easy to think you need "makeover" parties or karaoke to entertain them, but the truth is that kids are still kids. Even big kids — adults — still love the opportunity to get in and play silly games such as musical chairs, sardines and blowing bubbles.

"Try the chocolate game," suggests Lippey. "It's easy and so much fun. Everyone sits in a circle and takes turn throwing a dice. When someone rolls a six they put on a dress-up [clothes] — I suggest hat, sunglasses or shirt — and have to use a blunt knife and fork to cut up a block of milk chocolate, one block at a time, and then eat it. While they're doing that, the other kids are throwing the dice trying to roll a six. As soon as that happens, it's their turn to drag on the dress-ups — assuming no-one rolls a six while they're still getting dressed! It's very funny and they love it."

The point is that kids' parties are about kids having fun, not about parents spending money because they need to "keep up" or impress other parents. Half the fun of the party for the child is the expectation and anticipation, so involve them in the planning and you're halfway there!

User comments
We had my daughters 2nd party with a painting theme. My mum had an old roll of wallpaper, we used the paint you make from powder and made fingerpaints out of cornflower. The kids got really messy and had a great time. We stuck the wallpaper on the side of the garage and the kids went hard. We also laid it out on the lawn for them to stick their feet in a painting tray and ran over it (tip, glue side down or it's slippery), we had a paddling pool for them to rinse off in. They went inside for cake (cup-cakes - thanks sis) and chill-axed to a movie. Next year we did egg and spoon - plus hired some cars from the local toy library.
this site just tells you how to have a good party and doesnt focus on what to do or where to go. if your child is popular theyre not going to want 'a few freinds
To the mum who commented that the above suggestions weren't informative because there were no budget recipes - that's the idea! Not to spend time and money unnecessarily, Cheaper not to make up recipes but use food bought from supermarket or The Warehouse ahead of time and on special, saves heaps of money. Popcorn, sausages, or cheap as budget brand pizza, fairy bread, etc. OK, so the recipe for fairy bread in case you don't know is - butter slices of sandwhich bread (even better use margarine on sale) then sprinkle over sprinkles and cut into triangles. Then add a cheap and chearful cake from supermarket or sponge (as per my previous suggestion) ahead of time and freeze when they are on sale. They taste perfectly fine and kids don't really care. Or buy budget brand potato chips on sale for $1.20....
Being a single mum, preparing for a 7 yr old party i had to stick to a budget and prepare everything on my own. I decided to forgoe games (which often require buying prizes even small ones) and loot bags. No-one seemed to mind and parents reported their kids had great time. Sent invites for pizza & dvd party. also had cheap microwave popcorn. Used DVD's we had + a cple kids brought their own favs and used cheap budget supermarket pizza, coz kids don't care about the fancy stuff. I bought the pizzas ahead of time when on special 2 for $3.50 (average size). For my younger daughter we had a $10 pkt of sausages, tomato sauce, fairy bread & popcorn - for a cake - a supermarket large sponge bought on special for $3.00 & froze ahead. Then thawed, put whipped budget cream in middle with pink icing & sprinkles on top. Cheap but chearful, kids really didn't care it was cake with pink icing - that's what they thought was cool. Keep numbers down & from 2-4pm means already had lunch at home
Just celebrated my 12 year olds party. She had six friends for a sleepover and I bought pizza bases and a selection of toppings for them to create their own pizzas for tea! They loved playing the chocolate game afterwards, then made their own smoothies and popcorn.
Mini meatballs are a great cheap party food they can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen. I use Chicken mince as it does not require eggs and I add just a small amount of red curry paste & fish sauce as it adds loads of flavor without being too spicy. Use a potatoe masher to mix as it give a great smooth texture. They can also be served with age appropriate sauce's Tomato for the kids and something a bit more indulgent for the adults and these days there are so many cheap toothpick options. Our party 100 meatballs (1kg mince) & 200 tooth picks = $10. Loads of private Kindergartens & daycare centres also hire out on the weekend. We just paid $50 for a whole day hire which gives me set-up time before and plenty of cleanup time after the party with the added bonus of tons of kids toys and dress ups and an amazing outdoor play area for them to go crazy in. Going cheaper does require a bit of planning ahead as venues are very popular.
Try making popcorn cheaper than lots of other food. Put pure sugar in pot and stir until melts and allow it to just go a light caramel colour. Pour hot toffee over popcorn and mix through with a spoon. Be careful though not to burn yourself and take it off the stove quickly as soon as it changes colour as will burn very quickly. You can add flavourings if you wish. Alternately mix it and put into party favour bags to take home.Get small polystyrene balls and use hot glue to glue on wrapped chocolates or sweets. But be careful with the hot glue you dont burn your fingers Really spectacular when done with shiny paper sweet wrappings. Make a bigger one for a table centre piece or for the birthday child. They are great for christmas presents too. For adults make bigger ones and cover with chocolates Or turn into a topiary using a small terracotta pot using a meat skewer Frozen budget sausage rolls can be cut into bite size lengths.
I agree with the suggestions, you are easily 'sucked' into what you should have at a kid's party. Two hours is heaps of time for a little one's party to go for. Gives them enough time for presents, food and play. At the end of it the parents may even have their sanity and some money left over.
I totally agree! I have four children, 6 including my partners boys and we tend to keep it small and traditional. Fairy bread, jelly and sausagerolls. What ever the girls are into ( littlest petshops etc) are used to decorate their cake and double up as a present. I now only make fairy cakes for the birthday cake as they are easy to put in party bags and can be decorated with lolllies in what ever theme you like. My girlfriends daughter was having her 13th and she had 6 friends over for the whole day and a sleep over.....AHHHHH!!! So to fill in the day with out spending a fortune she borrowed our 8 seater car and the box of fabric and dress ups( hiding them from the girls). Got the girls to blind fold themselves and took them on a mystery tour.... she stopped at the beach, got out the dress ups and the girls had a ball. She took photos of them in poses then took them to MD's for a 50c icecream... with their derss ups on!! lots of fun and laughter!
this is not really informative, needs to have more detail like cheap easy recipes for food etc.