I think we all have a tendency to want to go a bit over-board for our kid’s parties. Well, I certainly do! We love them...! But 'going overboard' doesn’t mean we need to go over budget and buy a whole load of stuff that will never get used again or end up in the bin. Nor does it mean that we need to employ expensive entertainment or caterers. We can have wonderful, inexpensive parties with just a bit of planning and thought. And cutting party costs certainly doesn't mean we have to compromise on the 'fabulous'!
We can start by having a more 'green' approach and cutting out all the plastic. (See my post http://www.hoppingharesparties.com/reigning-disposable-party-culture/) We can prepare our own games, crafts, decorations and food and take advantage of our own slave labour! In my opinion, getting the whole family involved, results in the best parties! They are a wonderful bonding experience, leaving everyone with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment... and they’re so much fun!
I think kids of any age get hugely excited about their parties! Even my 13 year old acts like an over-the-top four year old, come party time! So here is your slave labour...! Channel that excitement and get them involved in the preparations. And you'll find, when they are a little older, they are actually quite helpful...!
- My older girls, Zoe and Yasmin, are expert kebab and sandwich makers, make-up artists, little kid supervisors. They also take great interest in all the decorations.
- My youngest, Amber loves all of it...preparing food, decorations, laying out the items ready for the crafts and so forth.
- My husband Derek, although not as excited as the rest of us....is an excellent balloon sculptor. He taught himself off the internet and managed to do quite elaborate things like mermaids and octopuses (in the days before we became more environmentally conscious). He is also a master at hiding things for treasure hunts AND remembering where he hid them for when the kids get stumped...! Also an invaluable helper come clearing up time!
- And as for me, I am now an expert at failing to get embarrassed! Dressing up for games, shrieking to encourage the kids and generally running around like a lunatic! Of course my big girls find me excruciatingly embarrassing nowadays...! They loved me once.....!
Making your venue look the part, can be costly, particularly if you are covering a large area. However, I think if you 'think big' you can make some wonderfully bold statements. You can bring that necessary drama and festive mood without necessarily putting a hole in your pocket. Since trying to cut down on our balloon usage for environmental reasons, I have tried more and more to make my decorations. Bunting is beautiful. You can easily make it at home, either by sewing scraps of old material together or getting the kids to cut out triangles of colourful, scrap card. Or try and think along the lines of your theme. Have you a paper parasol in a cupboard that you could hang up for a Japanese party? Or could you hang some large, simple origami animals (teach yourself off the internet) from branches you've picked up at the park? Have you a $2 shop near by, where you could pick up some paper lanterns, wind socks, fans? Have you pink paper that you could cut to look like cherry blossom floating down your walls? ...Inexpensive but fabulous!
Crafts are a great activity to do at a party, especially at the start when you are waiting for everyone to arrive. But crafting can be expensive. I've been to kids' parties where they have had elaborate sand art stations or painting with individual paints and canvases. All lovely, but I presume, costly. There are ways of creating fabulous objects that they will be proud to take home, without the high costs.
For Amber’s recent party, we decided to make Talking Sticks for one of our crafts (http://www.hoppingharesparties.com/american-indian-party/). We both had a great time walking around the parks, collecting sticks, then stripping the bark and sanding them down. We then painted sections of the sticks gold, ready for the kids to add their own colour and decoration later at the party. Natural and free....! The only costs incurred were for some acrylic paints. The beads and feathers were things we already had lying around the house. They looked beautiful when finished!
The other craft were dream catchers, made with $1 circular bag handles, wrapped and woven with kitchen string. Equally inexpensive, but extremely effective and something the kids were excited to take home and hang in their bedrooms! Both crafts just required a little preparation time and imagination, but were well worth the effort.
Games: taking inspiration from the old classics
Cutting out the professional entertainers is the best way of cutting party costs. I don't believe they always, necessarily, equal fun anyway. In fact, I believe adapting some old classic games and throwing in a few new ones, provides the best fun of all! The kids are running around, letting off steam and interacting with each other, perfect...!
There are so many games, but I think the trick is to take the old, tried and tested ones, and tweak them to fit in with the theme of your party. Treasure hunts for example, are always a winner. For the young ones I have done them at the beach where they had to find pieces of a puzzle I had made. Once completed, it revealed a map indicating where there was treasure buried in the sand. Or for our American Indian party they had to find pebbles with traditional symbols painted on them of buffalo, teepees, mountains etc which they brought back to the ‘camp fire’ to construct a story.
Then for the older ones we organized a treasure hunt for a Candilicious party where they had to find (fake) bars of chocolate. Printed on the inside of the wrapping were questions related to ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. These had to be answered correctly before continuing the hunt.
Basically the possibilities are endless....
Dress-up obstacle courses
Then dress-up obstacle courses are always fun. We did one for a Hawaiian party, where the girls AND boys had to dress up in such things as bikini tops, hula skirts, flippers, sunglasses etc. and then run a course. A good giggle was had by all! Likewise we did one for a Circus party where they dressed up in clown wigs, glasses and red noses!
With all these games, you can use clothes and props you already have at home. You can type out and print questions on your home computer. Easy and cheap! It just needs a minute of thought how to adapt these wonderful games from your own childhood, to your chosen theme.
Providing food can be hard work, especially as much of it needs to be prepared on the day of the party itself. However, with planning and following my motto of 'keep it simple', you can prepare a beautiful spread and cut the cost of those expensive caterers.
Wherever possible buy pre-prepared items from the supermarket, if they are appropriate to your theme. Buy sushi and rice crackers for a Japanese party. Seaweed, fish-shaped crackers and blue jelly for an underwater party. Small packets of fish and chips for a British Gents party etc etc. The kids never eat as much as you think they will, so I always feel it’s better to make a small amount, but make what you have look attractive and wherever possible, fit into your theme.
Be sure to try and have a balance between healthy food and treats. I always hear people say here, that kids only eat chicken nuggets. Well, that's true, if that’s all you give them..! In my experience, all our healthier options get gobbled up, particularly when paired with a crisp or sweet or two...! Kebabs, I find, are always a great option. Either sweet or savoury, using anything colourful that will poke easily onto a stick. This way they look attractive and those kids that are less used to chomping down veggies, are more likely to give it a go. Kebabs are also fun and easy for your kids to help prepare!
There are some fabulous cakes around, but they also come at fabulous prices! And in my experience, fabulous looking cakes don't always mean fabulous tasting cakes. It's the climax of any kid's party, but I don't think we need to insist on perfection. So, I always like to make my own. My mum always did for us and somehow it doesn't feel right to buy one for my kids. It's all about the love in the preparation. I think the trick is to never attempt anything beyond your capabilities. I always used to try and do complicated cakes but they inevitably turned out a disaster...! So I now try to come up with a simple idea, but one that is effective.
You don't necessarily have to have a cake per say. It could be mousse, or ice-cream or biscuit...like my flower pots with soil (chocolate mousse) and flowers (cut marshmallows). They were very easy to make, but so pretty! Or my trifle-inspired cups of tea ‘cakes’. Again, super easy, just a matter of assembly...cake, custard, raspberries and fresh cream in layers. Or you can go for simple, decorated cupcakes. It’s just how you present them...There are thousands of wonderful ideas out there on the internet, see what you can adapt for your theme and you'll save a ton of money!
So try cutting your party costs. Forget the magicians and the caterers and have a go! Search the internet for some great ideas. Pinterest is always amazing for inspiration! It may require a bit more planning and bit more of your time, but you can come up with something fabulous! And having that bit of money still sitting in your wallet and seeing the happiness on the kids' faces...will be a wonderful reward!