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!