Friday, 7 September 2012

Our best ever children's parties (on a tight budget)

My daughters are already planning their birthday activities which both fall in November - they were born exactly 3 years and one day apart. This year the Teenager will be 16, and Tall Daughter will be 13.

I know, great planning right? Well, in a way yes because when they were little they would share a birthday party. Those times have passed now that they're older but that's another story.

When the girls were little we organised some really fun (and often expensive) birthday parties for them. When they were 5 and 2 we hired the local church hall for the afternoon, and because we invited lots of our friends as well as the children's we paid for outside catering. We also booked a children's entertainer, JJ the Clown. He was fantastic and worth every penny - the children loved him and he kept everything and everyone under control. I'm sure if he wanted to change career he would be a terrific lion tamer. And of course all of the 25 children were given party bags that I'd agonised over for weeks beforehand.

That party was a great success but it was very expensive!

My girlies with Mickey and Minnie Mouse
The next year we decided to do something different and booked a weekend trip to Disneyland Paris for their birthdays. They had a great time and we pushed the boat out and paid for a Disney character birthday breakfast for the girls. Again, an expensive birthday but we have very happy memories and fantastic photos from that trip.

By the following year my husband had left, I was a single parent and I'd also been made redundant. Not my best year!

Since then, the girls' birthday parties have been much simpler and the other day when a friend was talking about the expense of her daughter's impending party I realised the best ones I organised were also the least expensive.

Designing their own t-shirts

The T-shirt party

I bought some cheap, basic t-shirts from Asda and a set of fabric pens. After the sandwiches and cakes had been scoffed and they were all full of sugar, I gave each child a t-shirt and they spent some time designing with the pens. Tip: to make sure the ink didn't bleed through to the back of the shirt, I put a piece of plastic or cardboard in between. When they were finished I quickly ironed them to set the design and the children took their t-shirt, a balloon and a piece of birthday cake home with them - no party bags required!

'Girls are the best'....of course they are!

This party was without doubt our most successful. It's the one my daughters enjoyed the most and their friends have remembered the best.  Simple to do and it was fun, creative and just a little bit different.

The Cinema party

Instead of taking a big group of children to the cinema I brought the cinema to us. My girls sent party invitations to their friends with a homemade 'cinema ticket' enclosed. On the day of the party, I set up a Tuck Shop on a long table (a decorated wallpapering table actually, ideal size!). On the table I set out a 'pic&mix' with bowls of different sweets to choose from and small paper bags to put them in.

There was also cones of popcorn (big, inexpensive bags of popcorn decanted into paper cones at home) and a couple of dozen small bottles of different flavoured pop. To do it even cheaper I could have bought big bottles and given drinks out in cups, but I liked the novelty idea of the small bottles and by popping a straw into the top it also made it less likely to spill on my carpet.

The living room was set up for the film with the curtains drawn and plenty of cushions on the floor. They happily watched a new-release DVD that I'd hired, with an interval halfway to top up their snacks and drinks.

All you need for a decent children's party is party food (cakes, sandwiches, crisps, pop), music, simple games and a fun activity. Keeping it simple will keep your costs down and I can promise you that children will not hold it against you if don't give them a party bag! They're expensive and unnecessary. And resist the temptation to keep adding things (expensive presents for pass the parcel; too much food, etc.) the children will enjoy it more if you are organised and less stressed. Good luck!