By the time this column is published we will be well into Lockdown Level 1 which means we can again start having parties for our kids – with all the proper precautions of course!
What this also means is that our budgets are going to be stretched even further than they already are, so this month’s column is going to be all about planning a party on a budget. Trust me it can be done, and you can still have lots of fun! I need to add a disclaimer here – I am all for people having large and lavish parties for their kids if they can afford it and all power to them, so if you are one of those parents you can stop reading and move on.
I am a mom who is very chilled when it comes to parties and I always try and keep things to a minimum while my kids still have a lot of fun, in fact they talk about their parties for days afterwards which is basically all I ever want as a parent, happy children who felt very special on their birthday and I promise it does not have to break the bank.
I have 2 boys and their birthdays are less than 2 weeks apart, although there is a 4-year age gap between them. During lockdown this year James turned 12 and Connor turned 8 but we unfortunately could not have a party, but they were completely fine with that and I am very proud of them.
In general, as a family we have always kept our parties low key mainly with a family braai in the afternoon while having a small party of maximum of 10 kids in the morning. Having both the braai and the party on the same day means the family gets to enjoy the excitement of the party and you do not have to spend extra money on party food etc on 2 different days – bonus for your budget if you ask me!
As you can see, practicality wins the day when it comes to celebrating in my household. My kids sit down with me and together we choose a party theme (they must both agree on 1 theme which sometimes does take a while). They each get to choose 5 friends to invite and we go from there. With the exception of one year we have always had our parties at our house which again makes it more budget friendly. I am also lucky enough to be a graphic designer by trade, so I design all my own invitations and decorations, but I still normally keep things simple. Although I do have a confession to make – I do splurge on balloons because what is a party without lots of balloons!
Right, enough about me and my kids, let us get down to how YOU can plan your own party on a budget. I am not going to go into hectic detail just give you quick rundown on what to think about.
First rule – before you even start chatting to your kids about their party or planning anything you need to decide how much money you can afford to spend on your party. NEVER promise your kids anything before you know you can afford it because that is when disappointment happens, smaller kids won’t understand why you promised them a clown or a magician and then when their party comes around there isn’t one they will be very disappointed… and trust me they WILL REMEMBER… kids remember everything that you promise them whether you want them to or not!
So, you have sat down and worked out how much you can afford for your party, now onto the next step – the venue.
Are you going to have the party at home? Can you have a party at your home, or do you live somewhere where you need to have the party elsewhere? Obviously if you are not able to hold the party at your home then your first big decision has been made for you. A budget friendly tip is if you cannot afford a venue why not ask if you can hold the party at a friend or family member’s house to keep your costs down. If you are still stuck for a venue how about using a local park, the beach or even the local public swimming pool.
I am not going to go into details about actual party venues as there are so many options available and the cost can go from reasonable to extravagant so all I am going to say about it is this, do your homework on the different venue options you have available to you, find out if they offer any sort of discounts or extra’s before making your final decision.
Right, so you have your budget sorted, your venue sorted and by now you have decided how many kids are being invited… now it is time to think about your actual party. How much money have you got left to spend on invitations, party food, party décor etc?
Nowadays invitations can be as expensive or as budget friendly as you like. In fact, they could even cost you nothing. If you are on a very tight budget how about using your computer and creating your own simple invitation to send out electronically via email or whatsapp. I cannot remember the last time I printed invitations for any of my parties.
If you do not want to or can’t design your own invitation there are graphic designers (like myself) who will design a personalised digital invitation especially for your child’s party. I am not sure how everyone else works but I create invitations and then I just whatsapp them to all the parents of the kids invited. I find that a lot less hassle than printing each out and then sending them to school with your child and hope he/she hands them out and doesn’t forget them… and then of course making sure the person it was intended for actually received their invitation. A few years ago, I was emptying out my son’s school bag and found an invitation to a party that was a month past… he had completely forgotten about it!
Again, décor can also be as budget friendly or as expensive as you like. I found a great place to find general party décor is at the different china malls and similar shops. Remember, even if you have a particular theme such as something Disney or Pixar and the like it does not mean everything has to be covered in that theme. For example, if you are having a lego party how about buying your plates, cups, and serviettes in the different lego block colours rather than with any lego characters etc. If you want to add lego characters cheaply you can buy some yellow paper and cut out lego heads and stick them to the side of the cups or on the plates.
Pinterest is a wonderful life-saving resource for DIY party ideas, you will find hundreds of ideas! I spend a lot of time looking for great budget friendly party decor ideas on there when planning our parties.
Food and cake can eat up a huge chunk of your party budget, so you need to be careful. The cost of a custom cake, for example can get very expensive so if you want one for your party you need to budget for it early on in your planning stages so you have enough money to be able to afford it.
Some very quick tips on how to keep your food budget manageable:
First, set a limit on the party’s duration so you do not need to feed your party guests all day. Having your party between mealtimes could also help you. If your party runs from 9a.m. to 11a.m. or 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., for example, your child’s guests (and their parents if invited) should be fine with being served a snack, versus lunch or dinner which a BIG help where the food budget is concerned.
Are you going to be making the party food yourself or are you going to buy or get your party catered? I am not going to go into too much detail as everyone’s party food ideas are different but word to the wise, just be careful not to buy or make or over cater with TOO MUCH food… I have done this numerous times and I could cry at the money I did not actually need to spend.
Last year we had a “pizza party” and all I added to the party food other than the pizzas and birthday cupcakes were some packets of chips and a few sweets and the kids were more than happy with that as they spent most of the time running around and playing.
It is common practice to send each guest home with a party/goody bag – but from a financial standpoint, I personally think you are probably wasting your money. Unless you’re willing to spend a fair chunk on each bag your choices are limited to cheap toys and sweets – which let’s face it, is things that many parents (myself included) don’t want lying around the house.
By skipping the goody bags, you can save yourself a lot of money but forgoing the sweets does not mean you have to send your guests home empty-handed. If your entertainment involves a craft, your guests can take home their creations to display or show off to their parents. If your guests are younger, you can let each one take home a balloon.
So, as you can see, if you can start thinking “out the box” and get creative you can throw a great party on a tight budget.
If you can start thinking “out the box” and get creative you can throw a great party on a tight budget.