FORGET pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or the humble sleepover; when it comes to kids' birthdays, parents are increasingly feeling pressure to throw an extravaganza. This often means hiring a professional and forking out lots of cash. Inflatable jumping castles, clowns, pony rides, and petting zoos are just some of the options – and this is if you just hold the party at home.
So how can cash-strapped mums and dads give their youngsters a celebration they will never forget, and at the same time please the playground critics?
1. Tone It DownThe good news is that experts agree that birthday parties for kids are getting out of control. Research has also shown that low-income mothers feel pressure to spend more than they can afford for a birthday party. Professor Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota is so passionate about cutting out the extravagance, he helped to establish a website at www.birthdaysithoutpressure.com to combat the trend. "We are not telling people what they should do; we have no prescriptions for what is the right party. But we do believe that many parents can benefit from conversation about what’s happened to community norms for birthday parties,’’ the group advises.
2. Create Your Own RitualsCelebrating every birthday with a grand fanfare not only becomes costly but also exhausting, particularly if you have more than one child. Instead select special years that may warrant a special party – such as turning one, five, ten or thirteen. Those birthdays falling in between could be restricted to family only, or just afternoon tea with two or three friends. Let the birthday child choose their favourite takeaway dinner, dessert or movie to watch at home. And as a special treat – let them stay up a little longer or excuse them from any regular chores for the week.
3. Good Old-Fashioned FunThrowing a backyard birthday party doesn’t have to hit your back pocket. Generations past have loved games such as pass-the-parcel, bobbing for apples, limbo, or a three-legged race and your children will be no different. Start a new game every 10 to 15 minutes to prevent restlessness. There are plenty of cheap prizes at discount outlets, or you could offer food treats as prizes instead.
Keep the invitation list down to a manageable number. Parents will often want to stay at preschoolers’ parties, so factor this into your guest list. Email your invites instead of sending paper ones for extra savings. Don’t make the function too long – two and a half hours is perfect for kids over five years. And while it might be tempting to hire a professional to do all the entertaining, you can do it with some creativity and energy. They may not show it on the day, but your own children will treasure those memories when they are older.
Tween girls will love the old fashioned slumber party – set up the DVD player and iPod, supply some cheap nail polish and coloured hairspray – they will be able to amuse themselves for hours. You may, however, need to invest in some earplugs to get some peace and quiet!
4. Thrifty ActivitiesIf the kids are too big for musical statues, you may want to treat them to a party outside of the home. The upside is that you won’t have to cook or clean, but on the downside it can be pricey. Proper research and a bit of planning can mean big savings. Entertainment Books (www.entertainmentbook.com.au) sold through most schools and community clubs offers discounts of 25 to 50 percent and two-for-one deals at popular attractions and activities. These can be a great resource for a budget party – especially if you have friends or relatives willing to also give you a few coupons. Find out about group discounts on movie tickets - then the kids will be contained for at least an hour and a half.
5. CreativityKids may seem like tough critics, but it’s likely they won’t even care how much you’ve forked out on the party – as long as they have fun. Think beyond the McDonald’s party or ten-pin bowling. One ideas is to go to the local park and hold your own mini-Olympics. Or host a dress-up party - most little ones will have a superhero or princess costume at home. Don’t go over the top with decorations, a few balloons and paper plates will do. As long as you provide lots of chips, balloons and lollies you’ll please even the most spoilt child. Your children's memories of party fun will be with them for years to come!
This article is by Katrina, who helps people save money through private health insurance comparison and car insurance comparison, among other frugal living activities. She loves to have fun with the kids every day, party or no party!