Our son just recently celebrated his fourth birthday. It’s always tricky to keep the costs down with birthdays – it’s so easy for things to spiral out of control. You want to spoil them and, the older they get, the more expensive presents can be.
One lady I was talking to last week told me that her sister had only bought her four year-old one present for his birthday. “Poor kid,” she said. “He’ll open it and then it’ll all be over.” But her sister had admitted that the train set she’d bought him had cost £60 alone. And that’s before you start spending out on parties or trips out.
Budgeting on presents
I got a good tip this year from another parent at our son’s nursery school. Both our kids are obsessed with Batman and the Imaginext set of toys. When we visited for her son’s birthday playdate and I admired the Imaginext Batcave he’d got, she told me that she’d got a job-lot second-hand from a friend and had paid just £30 for the whole bundle.
So, when it came to Stellan’s birthday, I headed to eBay and bid on a bundle of Imaginext toys. When they arrived via courier, in a big black plastic bag and sealed in bubble wrap, it looked like a dead body was being delivered! There was so much stuff that I was able to divide it between his birthday in October and Christmas.
The whole lot cost me £78 including the £12 courier fee – slightly more than I intended to pay, but I ended up with a lot more stuff than I expected. Just one Imaginext set, such as a Batcave or Joker house, costs £30 brand new alone and a bundle of figures is a similar price, even second-hand. I got four building sets, several figures, small bikes, a Bat mobile and a Joker robot, among other items for that.
One worry when buying second-hand is whether the items will last or fall to bits sooner – I often buy from charity shops and sometimes find this – but in this case the items were in good condition and are generally pretty robust.
It’s easy for the cost of kids’ parties to get out of hand too, whether you throw an actual party somewhere or take your child and their friends out to do an activity. The same mother suggested before that we have a joint birthday party to save cash. She told me that parties at venues, such as kids’ soft-play, can cost £200 or more – not the kind of cash we have to throw around at the moment.
I’ve overspent in the past by panic-buying party food and drink, so this time I tried to plan ahead and look for bargains – buying many of the items in Asda which I tend to find cheaper than our local Sainsbury’s, for example – and not to over-buy.
To keep down costs, we also held the party at home, limited the number of guests – it can be tempting to invite everyone from nursery as it seems fairer, but I thought it sensible not to – and set the arrival time as 2pm, making it obvious that we weren’t providing lunch.
We did, however, provide some savoury nibbles for the kids and parents as well as the cakes – mostly crisps, french bread, cheese and cocktail sausages – it’s hungry work playing, after all, and I hate it when you arrive at a kids’ party to find that the food is only for the children.
Plus, people are always so generous with the gifts they bring your children that you want to be hospitable. We did have some alcohol available for Mums and Dads but, as most were driving, there were only a few takers. I ran out of time on this occasion, but next time I’ll aim to head to Aldi for the food and wine, which as well as being a bargain has won awards.
Party bags or not?
Maybe I’m a cheapskate, but I don’t tend to bother with party bags. While fun for the kids, I personally hate having to dig out the sweets that I don’t really want my child to eat – and wind up having an argument with them over – and find the small plastic toys in them that will invariably fall apart/get chewed by the dog/end up cluttering up the house annoying.
I felt the same way about wedding favours when we were getting married and didn’t bother with them either. I’d rather just give people a slice of birthday cake and be done with it. I did toy with the idea of making a birthday cake – I can bake but I’m not a Bake-Off Bunny – but decided in the end that I’d rather spend the money on the cake and save my time. We opted for a Captain America cake from Asda for £10 – an extravagance, but at least all of it was eaten.
But, even with these economies, we still managed to have a great party and enjoy ourselves. And the kids had a good time too!