Kids Parties on a Budget

by Karen Swan

In the late 1970’s when I was a child, (am I really old enough to say ‘back when I was a child”? Apparently so.) kids birthday parties were innocent affairs attended by a handful of friends in the backyard of our house. As the day neared, the anticipation of the plates full of soft, white fairy bread, crepe paper streamers and balloons would be almost unbearable! I’d hover over my Mum’s shoulder as she put the finishing touches to my birthday cake, chosen each year, from the pages of the “Women’s Weekly” cookbook (my all time fave? The Swimming Pool Cake.) Dad would be out in the garden laden with packets and packets of “Minties”, all soon to be hidden around the garden in preparation for the “Great Minite Hunt”! Little trinkets would be hidden under layer after layer of plain old newspaper for a game of Pass the Parcel, and the Donkey would be hanging, prone, on the back fence, waiting for the piercings of the fumbled attempts at pinning on his tail. Little plastics bags would be filled with lollies and tied with a freezer tie and piled at the door, ready for my guests to take home with them.

In 2016, children’s birthday parties have, lets face it, got a tad out of control; and expensive! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to create an incredible day of wonder and experience for your child on their birthday, but sometimes, the more extravagant the event, the less time you and your little birthday boy/girl get to enjoy it. Children yearn to be surrounded and celebrated by those they love; and you don’t need a petting zoo or blow up jumping castle to do that.

So, why not go retro and get back to the simple basics of celebrating your child’s birthday with our Top 10 Cheap and Cheerful Birthday Party Tips.

Times Up!

Given that the average child has an attention span of 8 minutes, throwing a 4 hour extravaganza for a 2 year old is just asking for trouble (of the over tired, sugar rush variety!). Depending on your child’s age and sleep habits, consider an early morning breakfast party, or an afternoon tea party. Two hours is plenty of time for the kiddlets to celebrate and just long enough that you won’t be reaching for the wine bottle in an effort to drown out the noise!


You really don’t have to invite the whole class. Really. Do you honestly want 26 children rampaging through your house, party pie in hand? Save the big guest lists for their wedding. Smaller parties are far more manageable for you and quite often are more enjoyable for your child; they don’t have to compete for attention. I’ve read that the number of kids to invite to your child’s party should be their age, plus 1. So if they’re turning 5, you invite 6 people (a rule I can say with some certainty, will be completely ignored!).

You’ve Got Mail:

I have what can only be described as a full blown addiction to stationary, so what I’m about to say is giving me a sensation not unlike the one I feel when fingernails are scraped down a blackboard: save time, money and paper and send out E-Invitations. That’s about as descriptive as my addiction allows me to get. Chalk this one up to “Do as I say, not as I do”!

Get Baking:

I cringe when I see how expensive children’s birthday cakes can be. Sure, they look incredible, but in less than 2 minutes flat, that $500 creation will be nothing but crumbs on a plate. My fondest birthday memories are of my home made cakes (I had a plain, packet Madeira cake one year!). Put the money you were going to blow on a cake into your child’s bank account and pull out the beaters. Homemade is the new black!  Find our cake and party recipes (including allergy friendly) here.

Kickin’ it Old Skool:

Forget party planners, caterers and hired entertainment. Go retro with traditional party games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, “Musical Chairs”, “Pass the Parcel”, “Limbo” or “Twister”. They might seem old fashioned to us, but kids are kids. 1975 or 2016, I don’t know any kids who wouldn’t like to play a game of “Hot Potato”.

Mini Masterchef:

Kids love helping in the kitchen. Why not make the party a mini Masterchef theme? Set out bowls of toppings and let the kids make their own; be it pizza, ice creams or sundaes. Mix up a huge batch of cookie dough, hand over some cookie cutters (I’m loving the Ninja-bread men I saw online recently). You can open presents while their edible masterpieces cook AND you’ve got ready made lolly-bags!

Feature Wall:

Channel some of that party food induced energy into creating an artwork on a massive scale. Cover an entire wall with butchers paper, or, if weather and space permits, hang a sheet over a fence in the backyard, hand out the smocks and paints and let the creativity flow! Put on some catchy tunes and encourage the kids to paint along to the beat of the music. Good old messy fun!

Treasure Hunt:

Every old home movie of birthdays in my family contains a scene of dozens of squealing kids running through the garden on a search for the most “Minties”. Don’t save hunts for Easter, they’re another sneaky way to wear out your child and their friends, cleverly designed as fun! For older kids, you can leave clues to make it more interesting. Lollies, little toys and kiddie jewellery all make fab ‘treasure’.

It’s all in the timing:

Check out what local events are on around the time of your child’s birthday. A fair, fete, open day or festival all provide instant party venues, and they’re free!

Family Affair:

If, like most families, you’re time poor and never seem to get enough time to spend with each other, why not make it a point to create some time where you can be together as a family to celebrate. After all, it’s the birth of your child that’s being celebrated, not the fact that you can throw the most amazing party this side of the Royal Wedding! Even if you do choose to celebrate with others, be sure to take some time out with your child to tell them how much you love them and how special the day of their birth was.


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