Planning a birthday celebration for your little one needn't break the bank. Here’s how to have bags of fun without splashing too much cash
Planning children's parties is a moment we all love and dread at the same time. And it seems the pressure to put on a good bash is huge, especially now when everyone's tightening their belts. So how do you 'compete' when you're on a budget?"Just remember it's only you who knows what you've spent," says Cari Parker, mum of two and founder of Party Sprite. "Setting a budget is a good idea. Split it into sections for entertainment, catering, gifts, etc, and stick to it." Write down what you're spending - and keep receipts so you don't forget. Once you've worked out how much you can afford to spend, here's how to stick to your limit.
The cost of invites can really add up. "Make your own," says Laura Fowler, founder of Monster Parties. "It's easy to do them on the computer and then print them yourself," she says. If you're not the artistic type, there are plenty of free invitation templates and invites online.
Sending via email is another cheap option. Or why not let your child make something original.
Save on invites and look trendy into the bargain by creating a Facebook group or event for the party. You can load up pictures, add the venue, times and any updates and send messages to all the 'members' as well as seeing whether they're attending.
"Having your party at home is obviously the cheapest," says Katie Burnett from party organisers Les Enfants. "But if your house can't accommodate many children, consider using a village hall or community centre. They'll be less expensive than soft play areas or private function rooms."If you want to use a bigger venue, see if another mum wants to go halves and you can split the cost. Or think through your friends and family - does someone have a piece of land near their home you could use for free?
Keep it simple. Toddlers can only take in so much at a time. Having too many guests, foods or too much entertainment will confuse them.
"Remember who you're doing the party for - the children, not the parents of the children. A glass of wine or a cup of tea and some nibbles are fine to keep them refreshed."
Katie Burnett from party organisers Les Enfants
Costs can really mount up if you try to stick too diligently to a theme – so be flexible within it. "Save money by tying in colour rather than branded items across the board," says Laura Fowler. "For example, we sell a lot of 'Ben 10' products, but people buy plain green balloons to tie in with the colours of the branded ware."
For very little ones, there's no need to have a huge theme, they won't remmeber it anyway. Pick something they're into such as trains or In The Night Garden, and use what they have kicking around the house, such as music, posters of toys.
Or try and think laterally. "Rather than paying for a cinema party we get in a DVD and make ice-cream cornets at home. I even dress up as an usherette with a tray and a torch," says Melanie, 27, from Essex, mum to Ellie, 3, and Tom, 2.
Got a decent sized sandpit? Ask other children to bring a bucket and spade for a 'beach' party.
Remember children never eat as much as you think they're going to, so don't spend a fortune on the eats. Keep it simple by making foods you know they'll like. "You could even get the guests to help out preparing the nosh," says Annabel Karmel, author of Annabel Karmel Family Cookbook. "Make fairy cakes and cookies in advance and decorate them on the day," she recommends. And don't forget the jelly - it's cheap and they love it!
For food and entertainment in one, give each child a plate and place a scoop of ice cream in the middle. Add an ice cream cone upside-down as a hat and then give them sweets, raisins and fruit so they can make a face.
They're only going to be up for a couple of hours and will probably get ripped, burst, etc, so there are just two words of advice when it comes to decorations... pound shops. Check out Poundland each week for what's in store. We found a pack of 100 balloons for a quid.
Price comparison sites will help you find the cheapest online prices for party bits and bobs. You can search under terms such as 'streamers' to see ranges from different retailers.
"You don't have to get the professionals in to have a good time," says Cari Parker. "Games such as pass the parcel or sleeping elephants are easy to organise yourself and are making a real comeback."
Think musical chairs (or cushions for littler ones), pin the tail on the donkey (save around £15 on a trendy piñata) and a treasure hunt. For younger ones, a group singsong passes time and keeps everyone busy. And no Hallowe'en party is complete without a spooky story!
Plan a treasure hunt. Either hide things in the garden and give them a sheet of clues, or send them off looking for things beginning with different letter sounds. Find out how to conjure up a creative Hallowe'en with tasty recipes and craft ideas.
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