This month my daughter will turn six and will celebrate with twenty of her closest friends from school 😉
This is our first time hosting a party for more than a couple of friends and family members at home. My kids go to dozens of parties a year, all with slightly different themes and activities. One thing is constant – that they always have fun. It’s an exciting, slightly overwhelming milestone for us, but I was determined to plan something fun that wouldn’t break the bank (or create lots of waste as a by-product).
According to VoucherCloud the average British family spends £320 on their child’s birthday party, with the biggest expenses being: venue hire; entertainment; catering; decorations and party bags.
Here are my top tips for ideas for saving in all of these areas. I hope they help make planning your next party easy, so you can enjoy the process and not feel overwhelmed.
Our party is just a few days before Halloween, so lots of these tips would work for a Halloween party too, as we chose the theme “fairy or scary” for it.
Saving money on venues
You have three options with a party:
- Host it at home
- Hire a “blank canvas” venue and bring all the food and entertainment
- Have the party at a “full package” venue where you pay per head, but get everything covered
Obviously the home option is the cheapest, but you may find, like us, that you don’t have the space for it, and/or that you don’t want so many people at home. We’ve always had parties at home because we’ve done tiny ones until now, plus, you know, the pandemic.
You can also pay for a venue, like a soft play or local city zoo, to organise everything, including the activities and food – so you can just turn up with the cake. This is probably the easiest option, but you would usually pay a premium for this. It’s worth checking the cost though, as it may work out competitive if you don’t have a lot of guests, or if you know that you’d get carried away buying extras like lots of decorations if you were doing everything yourself.
We chose a DIY approach, booking out a local scout hall, hiring a bouncy castle separately and organising our own activities. The upside to this was that we could invite as many people as my daughter wanted to, as well as some friends for my younger son.
For us the scout hall was £33 an hour, and they did not charge extra for the time spent setting up and clearing up.
The bouncy castle was £80 for the full time. We chose an indoor one with a low roof so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the rain.
Saving money on entertainment: Activity Ideas
As we were on a budget we chose not to bring in any entertainers but organised party games and crafts instead.
It’s easy to think that you need to have a lot organised, but two hours will go more quickly than you think. If you have a bouncy castle there, lots of kids will also be happy playing on it for most of the time.
There’s always a queue for face painting at parties – they love it! But hiring a face painter can cost £100-200. Rather than hire a face painter, you can get a face painting kit with stencils (no skills required).
For the face paints, we went for this water-based kit on Amazon (affiliate link) because it included brushes and stencils.
If your budget allows, this organic option (made from beeswax and clay) is also available on Etsy (affiliate link).
To make the designs more special, you can dab on some biodegradable glitter, using some lip balm to make the area sticky first. Standard glitter is made from microplastics, which usually end up in the oceans, killing animals when it builds up in their systems.
As an alternative, you can get biodegradable glitter which is made from plant cellulose that breaks down naturally.
If you are feeling really fancy, another cute trick is to use a butterfly punch to create rice paper cut outs, and stick them on with eyelash glue. As the rice paper is edible, it’s not the end of the world if they get eaten, although I wouldn’t encourage it!
Craft ideas for a party
Both of my kids like to take themselves off in the midst of chaos! As we are hiring a bouncy castle, we are also having a quiet corner where kids can do some crafts.
Some easy ideas for a party with a Halloween/autumnal theme are:
- Decorating gingerbread men: you can bake these in advance or buy them, and then they can be part of their party bag too instead of plastic-wrapped sweets
- Making pine cone creatures: Some pine cones and clay is all you need to make cute creatures. Instead of plastic googly eyes, find some spotty autumnal leaves and use a hole punch to make little circles that you can use as eyes on your monsters.
Games ideas for a party
Entertainers can be great fun at a party but it’s usually because they are doing interactive activities that the kids are engaging in. You can create the same sense of fun at a party with some games.
Pass the parcel is a classic, and you can avoid creatings lots of paper waste by using scraps of fabric or scarves instead of paper.
For our party we plumped for the following games:
- Halloween-themed Pictionary
- You need: a list of Halloween themed things (e.g. Dracula, pumpkin, witch), items for drawing, big sheets of paper, masking tape to stick to the wall or clip boards
- Steal the Pumpkin (a variation on “Steal the Bacon” because of the Halloween theme and fact that we have a toy pumpkin at home). We will also use this for dodge ball as a backup game, as the toy is so soft
- You need: something for the kids to steal, e.g. a bean bag or a cute toy
- Button button (the kids get to be a bit sneaky, and all you need is a button)
- You need: a button!
- Musical statues or Freeze Dance (to get people dancing at the end). You just play music and stop it suddenly. The last child to stop dancing is out and it continues until there is just one child left.
- You need: something to play music on. One of our pre-party jobs is to make a playlist for the day.
Example timetable for a party
This plan is based on the party starting at 2 and ending at 4. The snacks and games can be switched around if kids are getting hangry!
|2:00 – 2:15||Kids arrive|
Kids queue up for face painting
Kids play on bouncy castle
|2:15 – 2:30||Crafts and more face painting|
Balloons for keepy uppy
|2:30 – 3:00||GamesHalloween pictionary|
|3:00 – 3:30||Snacks and cake|
|3:30 – 4:00||Bouncy castle |
Saving money on invitations
You can save money on personalised party invitations by either designing them yourself using a free software like Canva, or buying a pre-made template on Etsy.
We always send digital invitations via WhatsApp at school – which means you know everyone has it and also nobody has to worry about losing it.
Saving money on decorations
I’m taking the same approach to this party as I do with my usual spending, i.e. focus on the things that I care about and cut out things that I don’t. We aren’t planning decorations for the party and don’t think it will make it any less fun. It’s a fancy dress party, so as the kids arrive they will enjoy looking at each other’s costumes. There will also be a huge, brightly covered bouncy castle in the middle of the hall, and a fun cake to look at later on. So for us this is an area we can save on.
One thing we did get is a pack of latex (biodegradable) balloons so that the kids (huge Bluey fans) can play Keepy Uppy in the free play part of the party.
Party Bags / Party Favours
I love the way that party bags get people excited about leaving a party – it’s genius! A lot of bag fillers available using single-use plastic, like bags of sweets, polystyrene aeroplanes, slinkies, etc. These are fun toys for a few minutes but in my experience they break so quickly that they usually end up in the bin by the end of the weekend.
Some alternative ideas are:
- Colouring pencils and erasers
- An items from the craft activities
- Little notepads/joke books
- Temporary tattoos – look out for ones with a cellophane rather than plastic backing as this can be added to compost or food waste.
We chose two toys for our party bags, both of which were activities:
Saving money on party food
This is another area where you can save a lot of money and waste by keeping it simple, e.g. cheese sandwiches, crisps and fruit juice.
You can get recyclable paper cups and write the kids’ names on in advance, if you know otherwise you’d be running around doing this during the party, or constantly giving out new cups. This also means you can buy big bottles of juice rather than juice boxes.
In line with the Halloween theme, we chose this amazing spooky red velvet cake from The Sweet Rebellion. The meringue ghosts provide enough of a wow factor, with an inside that the grown ups will enjoy too.
It’s so easy to feel stressed or overwhelmed about organising a kids party, and sometimes the solution feels like throwing money at it. But, like with other spending, you get much more value if you focus on what’s important to you and your child.
For my daughter, she loved getting involved in the guest list and didn’t want to feel pressurised into inviting people who she didn’t play with at school. She also had very particular ideas about the cake, so we looked at options together.
At the end of the day, I know my daughter’s friends are lovely and that it will be a good time if I’m a bit prepared in advance and am relaxed on the day.
Getting stuff for the party bags a couple of weeks in advance, having a plan for the day and making a list of things to bring all help me to feel relaxed.
If all else fails, I just remember it’s only a couple of hours, but the memories will last forever.
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