Ideas for everyday living

How I’m getting creative with my kids’ birthdays

Worried about splashing out on a big bash for your little ones? Money-savvy parent Jo Kingsley shares her ideas for celebrating birthdays on a budget.

My eldest was five when he asked for his very first birthday party. He’d started school in September and, by the beginning of January, he’d made enough friends to want a party – I was thrilled!

Despite the painful cost implications of having a birthday so close to Christmas, I happily got to work. Dream venue, cake, decorations… I even had the invitations professionally printed. I know, what was I thinking? Call it first-time Mummy excitement.

I soon realised that this wasn’t a pace that my finances could keep up with. I have two children, both of whom have the nerve to have birthdays. Every. Single. Year. But it’s not really their fault. The cost of living in a post-pandemic world has had a huge effect on household budgets.

Three years down the line, birthdays look a little different for our family – but certainly no less fun. A keener focus on budget has helped us to prioritise, cut out the stuff we don’t need (I’m looking at you, professionally printed invitations) and ultimately make more meaningful memories.

Here are a few easy-to-follow pointers to help you throw brilliant birthday parties on a budget:

Set a limit and prioritise

It can be tough being so upfront about money, especially when it comes to our kids, but now more than ever, it just has to be done. You need to get a clear picture of what you can realistically afford and stick to it. And once you know your budget, plan and prioritise.

While you might want to dedicate a chunk of that budget to a gorgeous Insta-worthy cake, it’s probably not going to give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to making their big day memorable. For them, choosing a venue that can accommodate more of their friends, for example, might be a bigger priority. Remember to think about it from their point of view – it’s their birthday, after all!

And don’t forget to be methodical with how and what you buy. Buying bits and pieces here and there will inevitably mean you spend more. So do your research, make a list and once your budget is spent, don’t be tempted by that one last thing.

Say no to party bags

Okay, bear with me because this one won’t win you any popularity points. But, despite kids adamantly declaring their love for them, party bags are no more than overpriced bags of plastic tat that are ‘tidied’ into the bin before you’ve finished singing Happy Birthday.

This year, I did a pick ‘n’ mix station instead. I found a sweet-shop play set that had different containers with flaps you could lift up, little scoops and striped paper bags for them to shovel the sweets into, all for a fraction of the cost of party bags. And the kids loved it. They got to play – and eat the end result. Win-win.

If you’re into baking, you could try making the kids their own personalised biscuits. Or a bulk order of books is a great way to give each child a cheap, but educational gift.

Make it personal

As parents, we’re always keen to make everything special and magical for our children. And sometimes we can get carried away with trying to buy that. But, in reality, children don’t remember how much we spent on presents or decorations. They remember how they felt, how much fun they had and the friends and family that celebrated with them.

One of the lasting memories from my own childhood is the cakes my parents used to make me every year. Whether or not that Care Bear cake looked like a Care Bear really doesn’t matter, all I remember is how it made me feel.

So, bake them a cake or make them a present. Write them a poem or create a photo book. Paint them a picture or sing them a song. These are the things that will truly make your child feel special on their birthday – and they’re completely free.

And there are so many other money-saving ideas you can try as well:

  1. 01

    Choose an early morning or post-lunch party time so guests don’t need a full meal.

  2. 02

    Consider having a joint birthday party – twice the fun and half the cost.

  3. 03

    For younger children, replace a more expensive venue-based party with a picnic or playground play-date with a few friends.

  4. 04

    Use digital invitations.

  5. 05

    Raid pound shops for cheap treats and colourful decorations.

  6. 06

    Swap an entertainer or bouncy castle for a DIY craft table or nail painting – make sure you rope in a clued-up adult to guide the kids and keep them engaged for longer.

  7. 07

    Don’t bother with a professionally made cake – you can get amazing celebration cakes from supermarkets for around a tenner, or have a go at making your own.

  8. 08

    Go retro with activities like musical chairs, charades, Simon Says or musical statues – fun and free!

  9. 09

    Enlist a team. If you’ve got kids, you’re sure to have parent friends with all sorts of stuff lurking in cupboards. Don’t be shy to ask for help and see what you can borrow – as long as you remember to do the same for them.

Jo Kingsley

Jo is a writer, mental health blogger and mum of two.

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