When I was a child, a birthday party was simple. You put on your long dress (it was the 70s) and headed off to the birthday girl or boy's house for party games with a few friends, followed by a birthday tea.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the kids' birthday party has become an elaborate beast. My kids have been to simple affairs akin to the classic 1970s party of my childhood, but they have also been to birthday parties with magicians and entertainers. They have been go-karting, and travelled in a limo to the cinema. They have been to craft parties, swimming pool parties. They have done all sorts.
And in turn, we've done our bit to fuel the elaborate party craze. Parties at home, parties in the park, parties in the garden, parties at the leisure centre, a climbing party, the party where I was Princess Leia from Star Wars and Darth Vader arrived all the way from next door...
But then again, we've also had no brithday party. Last year Son had a new bike for his birthday, which was way more than we usually spend on birthday presents, and part of the deal was no extra expense of a party.
So how did Son want to celebrate this year? Two friends for a sleepover and a bike ride. Simple!
We were able to piggy back onto the Spindles and Sprockets (our local community bike collective) monthly bike ride. Three boys cycling 18 miles in the afternoon = a blissful night's sleepover for all involved! (Thank you Spindles!)
There was also DIY Pizza all round. Add a whoopee cushion and a healthy dose of fart humour into the mix and you're guaranteed a successful supper. Ten year old boys are easily amused.
While the pizza dough was rising there was just the right amount of time for a flag capturing game in the garden.
And before they hit the sack, there was the compulsory DVD.
In the morning, ice cubes from the breakfast orange juice provided amusement for some considerable while. Melting holes in ice cubes by blowing through drinking straws is good fun (if you're ten). And it was a small step from hole-blowing to requests for more ice cubes, and a bold announcement that they would be constructing the Statue of Liberty from ice. Sadly this project was dropped in favour of kicking a football around...
All this got me thinking; years of planning fancy birthday parties, and it turns out whoopee cushion farts and a pile of ice cubes are as good an entertainment as anything!
However, even with the more complicated birthday parties we've organised, there have always been ways of keeping it simple and keeping the costs down. Based on our experience here are my thoughts:
- We've shared several parties with other children who have birthdays at the same time as ours, which spreads the cost and the workload.
- We have had lots of parties at home. We haven't got a huge house or garden but if you don't invite the whole class and all the extended family, then you can fit quite a few kids in a small space. My kids have brithdays in April and October and we've often been able to overflow into the garden for both.
- Choosing a theme can jazz a party up a bit, and make it easier to think of activities. Most of the usual party games can be adapted to fit the theme. Over the years we've had a Postman Pat party (Pin the tail on Jess...), a Star Wars party (Husband spray painted pipe insulating foam silver for light sabres and they all went home covered in flecks of silver paint...), a Spiderman party and a Pocahontas party (complete with a teepee in the garden made from bamboo poles and bed sheets...)
- Bake your own cake. I'm not an expert cake decorator, but a simple iced sponge decorated with maltesers or chocolate buttons or hundreds and thousands goes down just as well (and tastes better) as a bought cake.
- Once you've planned the amount of food you think you need to buy, halve it! Kids never eat as many sandwiches as you think they will. (The same rule applies to the length of time you think eating the birthday tea will take...you might think eating will require a civilised half an hour of the party but they'll demolish the food in ten minutes!)
- Don't spend a fortune on party bag stuff. A bit of cake, a lollipop and a balloon, and you're done.
There were plenty of other birthday party tips on the Non Consumer Advocate last week.
And other bloggers have been busy recently blogging about their kids' birthdays too: check out how Jen tackled her two year old's birthday on My Make Do and Mend Year (and also her mum's and brother's all in the same week!), and Ted's nature walk party at Bradshaw and Sons.) Wondering how to organise a frugal 18th birthday party for twins? Check out Lili's blogpost last month on just that topic at Creative Savv.
What are your favourite frugal birthday party tips?