For the past decade, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my kids’ birthday parties.
Kids’ parties have becomes a big freakin’ deal
I have three daughters who can only be described as birthday party fanatics. They adore them and start planning them months out, while I vacillate between sharing the excitement and wishing the damn thing would be over already.
In fact, so complicated and intense are my feelings about parties, I wrote a book, After the Party, a fictional tale in which a fifth birthday goes badly wrong and ends with life-changing consequences for the hosts.
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In Cassie Hamer’s “After the Party”, an unexpected gift left at her daughter's fifth birthday party in the form of a little girl pitches Sydney mum Lisa Wheeldon into events both hilarious and life-changing 🧁 – – – #dymocks #dymocksgeelong #aftertheparty #cassiehamer #newrelease #book #bookish #booklover #bookworm #bookstagram #igreads #instaread #nowreading #currentlyreading #mustread #lovetoread #fiction
In researching the book, I conducted a survey that found I’m not alone. Of the 200 respondents, 32 percent said they looked forward to their kids’ parties, while a whopping 68 percent said they felt either stressed, nervous or ambivalent.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that kids’ parties have become a big frickin’ deal. A whole industry has sprouted around them, promising convenience and minimal stress – but at a significant price. Parents these days spend an average of $300-400 on their kids’ parties. Multiply that by a couple of kids and 15 years worth of parties and you end up with an amount in the five figures.
This year, I set myself a mission of spending as little as possible on my daughter’s sixth birthday, while not scrimping on the fun factor. Here’s how I did it.
How to spend as little as possible
Venue – $0
To have a party on a budget, you have to either host it at home or in a park that allows parties. Now, a park is fine, provided you are either prepared to cancel in the event of wet weather, or you have a plan B option. We opted for home because I couldn’t cope with the disappointment of cancelling or the stress of re-organising the venue.
Now, I know some people worry about the kids trashing the house, or that they simply don’t have enough space. Two things: if you have sufficient activities, the kids will not trash your house. Yes, there will be cleaning, but with the money you save on having the party at home, you could hire a cleaner. Regarding space, you simply adjust the numbers of guests to suit the size of your home. My girls have attended parties in apartments and they have been fabulous.
Invitations – $0
It is more than acceptable to email or text message your party invitations. Paperless Post has free options, as does Evite and Canva.
Alternatively, if you don’t have all the parents’ contact details, then go to a website like Greetings Island where you can download a free template and print it yourself.
Decorations – $12
My daughter went with an international theme for her party (she wanted to dress up in a Kimono) so I jumped onto eBay and started searching for overseas flag bunting, flag balloons and flag cocktail sticks. Twelve dollars later, I had my decorations sorted, all without leaving my own home.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to go mad on decorations. The kids will barely notice them. A bag of balloons is plenty, and ‘balloon tennis’ is a terrific activity to keep them busy when they arrive.
Cake – $7
Sure, you could spend hours sculpting and icing a cake that would make Michelangelo proud, or you could do what I did – buy a packet cake, whack on the included icing, and cover it with cocktail flagsticks. The whole thing took under an hour (including 30 minutes baking time).
Over the years, I have realised there is no correlation between hours spent on making a cake and the degree to which kids are impressed by it. Do you know what really makes them go, ‘Wow’? A cake that is covered, and I mean completely covered in hundreds and thousands, or coated in smarties or lavished with party mix lollies.
Activities – $30
For this party, we went old-school. It was pass-the-parcel, musical chairs, musical statues, pin-the-tail, heads-down-thumbs-up, and a pinata. This was perfect for the six-year-old attendees, and I acknowledge that older children will need something different. In the past, for my other children, we have done craft activities, slime making and t-shirt decorating.
The key to successful activities is to have them well-planned out. You need to lead them with authority and commit a fair degree of energy and enthusiasm to make them work. Don’t be afraid to make your party short and sharp; ours only went for an hour and a half. It takes a lot of energy to keep kids entertained!
Food – $50
Obviously, the cost here will depend on guest numbers, but you can certainly fill up little tummies for around $4/per person if you follow my very basic menu of oven-baked chips, sushi, pizza and chicken nuggets. I find that most kids will eat at least one of these items, if not all.
In years gone by, I’ve produced an array of home-made treats and snacks, and was always extremely disappointed when they didn’t get eaten. I now know better. When the guests arrive, I have nothing out but popcorn and fruit for the truly ravenous. Once everyone’s there, we do activities. Around 45 minutes from the end of the party, I get the kids to sit in a circle. I give each one a plate, then I go around and I serve the food onto their plate.
Party Bags – $20
I hate plastic crap and I refuse to lash out on wildly elaborate party bags. We keep it simple. A few lollies and a small container of bubbles. Again, kids aren’t impressed by the expensive party bags.
Plates and Cups – $5
This year I used paper plates and cups and served water only. Sugary-drinks are a recipe for trouble and could well lead to the kind of disaster that you are desperately trying to avoid.
After the Party by Cassie Hamer, published by HQ Fiction, is out now where all good books are sold RRP $29.99.