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A few weeks ago, I challenged myself to spend no more than £30 on my daughter’s 2nd birthday party – a dollies’ tea-party.
We recently held a robot-themed party for Mister’s 4th birthday and, again, I wanted to see if I could do it for less than £30.
(A small aside: what a cool theme for a party! I take no credit – it was all Mister’s idea, and I’m so glad he chose it! It gave me plenty to work with.)
The main factor working against my low budget was the number of people attending. Missy had 11 people to her party – Mister had 20. This wasn’t entirely deliberate: I invited 14, expecting there’d be the usual couple of declines (there weren’t), and forgetting about siblings. Last year, Mister’s friends’ siblings were mainly babies – this year they’re fully-grown toddlers, keen to be involved in every aspect of the party. In other words, they now ‘count’.
So we arrive at 20. And I am pretty sure I can’t run a party for £1.50 a head. I’m going to have to pull out all the stops if I want it to be under £50, let alone £30. Let’s take the party step by step:
Mister now has birthday nostalgia bunting, just like Missy’s, made from his old clothes – so this provides free decoration year after year.
I found a stash of balloons in a cupboard, including (bizarrely) some ‘4th birthday’ ones. I took some robot pictures Mister and I had made, and made them into door signs.
The food had silly names with a robot/electronic theme, like “Chicken plug-its” and “Hard drive egg sandwiches”, and the labels were handmade.
I made junk robots to plonk on tables:
as well as a larger one to welcome guests at the door:
These cost me nothing. I could have decorated them more elaborately, I guess, but I liked them rustic!
The tablecloth was reused from Missy’s party, and the plates were a mishmash of ones we owned, as well as some paper plates I bought (£2). No one seemed to mind the random selection! Napkins and cups were those we already owned.
As I mentioned in the post about Missy’s £30 doll-themed party, themed tableware can really rack up the cost of a party – but does it make any difference to the kids’ enjoyment? Probably not.
We kept Missy’s party pretty simple, but 4 year olds (or, more accurately, twenty 1-6 year olds) probably need a little more stimulus in order to avoid a Lord of the Flies type outcome by the end.
Likewise, they need the option not to take part, as this age group tends to have strong opinions about what they do and do not want to do, and of course the point of a party is to ENJOY yourself, not feel pressurized! So I set up a number of fairly open-ended activities which kids could join in with, or not, as they liked.
The first option was to make a robot waffle, something which actually everyone opted to do. A success!
The waffles cost £1.99 and the sweets were free, left over from decorating Mister’s robot cake. This is allowed, right? The cake is out of budget, after all. The frosting was left over from Missy’s cake pops a few weeks ago. (Keeps for 30 days. Offspring’s birthdays 19 days apart. Will remember this for future years.)
The second activity, which some kids loved and some didn’t touch, was to make a robot mask. This was time-consuming, as I had to design the masks and cut the foam.
But cost-wise, I only had to buy elastic (£2) as I used coloured foam sheets which we already had in our craft cupboard. The results were pretty good!
At this point, I got out some robot tattoos, and most kids were keen (nay, desperate) to have one on their arm. Even one Dad joined in the fun. I got 24 for £3.95 on eBay, and although this was over 10% of my intended budget, I think it was money well spent for the novelty!
We then trooped outside to decorate some larger robot costumes I’d made earlier in the week.
These were entirely free – boxes from a Freecycler, features made from recycled bits and bobs, paint from Mister and Missy’s supply. Lots of the kids enjoyed being able to paint the robots – and those who weren’t keen seemed happy to play in the garden. Once the robots looked nice and colourful, the kids got to try them on!
I took lots of photos, including something resembling a group photo (for Pete’s sake – it’s hard enough getting one small child to stand still for a photo, never mind 20). When we eventually headed inside for games, I left the mob to Al while I printed out the photos and put one in each party bag – a free party bag filler!
The games were Pass the Parcel (two parcels, each with a prize from the Pound shop, plus sweets in the other layers which cost £1.25) and Musical Robots (again, prize from the pound shop, and leftover sweets for everyone else).
This was the bit where perhaps we needn’t have had any structured activities – by this stage, the kids were having fun just messing around, and although they took part in the games, they weren’t really necessary. But in my world, a party isn’t a party without Pass the Parcel – the question is: if we’d missed it out, would the kids have noticed?!
With 20 mouths to feed, I knew I was going to have to be really canny with the food to keep it under budget. I stuck to several principles, learned from experience:
1) we already have a lot of food in our house. (I worked cheese, egg/mayonnaise, crisps and chicken nuggets into the menu, all things we already had.)
2) kids (or anyone, for that matter) never eat as much as you think they’re going to, especially at a party. (I kept the quantities moderate, knowing I could always make more sandwiches if we needed. We didn’t.)
3) I shopped without the kids, so was able to take my time and pick up reduced-price foods about to go out of date (obviously OK until the party date).
Then – because I am probably insane – I cut melon in the shape of robots:
This was the cake: a shoddy mess when up close, but from a distance looked pretty good.
And, anyway, surely we only ever make our kids’ birthday cakes for that jaw-dropping “Ah!” when they first see what you’ve created for them. Anything else – including the cake holding together till the end of the party – is surely a bonus. I’m pleased to say mine did – just.
Party bags (£3.35)
These had to be majorly economical. To me, spending £1 on each bag would have been challenge enough – but that would have cost me two-thirds of my overall budget! So I had to be clever.
Firstly, I didn’t do party bags for siblings. I don’t think they minded – they got cake, plus any waffle and/or mask they’d made. So I ended up with 14 bags to put together.
I’d wanted to make lollies and sherbet for a while, since spotting the recipe in a new cookbook, and remembering how great they were when I was a kid. Would they be a cheap-but-nice item for the bags? Cheap, because I made them from blackberries (from our garden) and sugar (which we already had). The sherbet was sugar, citric acid (left over from elderflower cordial) then I only had to buy lemon flavouring and yellow food colouring (£2.57 total).
Of course, they might taste disgusting – I didn’t have any left over to try (or to make Mister try), so if you’re reading this and your child has heaved after eating one, then oops and sorry.
I had to spend 78p on two extra lollies, as I didn’t do my sums right. Grrr. (It’s been many years since A-Level Maths and, to be fair, the syllabus didn’t include calculating party bag quantities, it was more useful stuff like surds.)
Next, I put in the robot masks (or kit to make one) and waffles, utilising the well-worn trick of getting kids to make their own party bag contents, as well as the photo/s from earlier in the party. Finally, I found a few bits and bobs stashed away (bubbles, curly straws, stickers, hats) so each child got one of those, not forgetting a slab of birthday cake.
And the bags themselves? Upcycled from old Disney and cbeebies magazines.
I could have bought all the party bags for £2, but this is a considerable chunk of a £30 budget for something which can be made for free.
>>Check out my 50 Plastic-Free Party Bag Ideas<<
Total cost: £33.53
And before you complain that I went over budget…
…since I was a teensy bit under for Missy’s party (by £3.77), I allowed myself to add this to the budget for Mister’s (he did have more guests, after all), meaning that still, overall, I’ve spent under £60 for the two parties.
Grand total cost of both parties: £59.76
Disclaimer: if you’ve got to the end of this post feeling slightly drained and exhausted and like you’ve been reading the diary of a Supermum, let me assure you I am SO FAR from this accolade, it’s untrue. I don’t even clean windowsills. This party took months of dreaming about, weeks of making, and one week of very late nights in order to put together. It is the reason this blog hasn’t been updated for ages. There are bags under my eyes and overflowing laundry baskets in every room. It takes a certain amount of insanity to put this much effort into what is essentially just TWO HOURS, and I am very much teetering on the edge of Doodah Land. It is not pretty, not healthy and definitely not something to envy!
clare webster says
You are the best mummy in the world Lucy Rycroft!!!!! This sounds like an amazing party!!! xxxxxxxx
Wow! That is the most economical and interesting 4-year-old boy birthday party ever! So grateful sharing your story :). And you sure about not being a supermom? Hehehehehe ^_____^
caroline baynes says
Wow! You are so inspirational Lucy! What a devoted,creative,fun Mummy dedicated to the kids enjoyment (and not the windowsills;)) Lois and Joel are so blessed to have u as their mother!! X
Andy B says
ok then Lucy, here’s the big question….
Given the disclaimer at the end, was it worth it? ie will you attempt the same £60 feat next year? (or just screw it, lets go to Toys r Us?).
Do you feel deeply satisfied that you reached your ambitious target? Or just exhausted and wondering why you did it?
Hi Andy, Yes I do feel satisfied on a number of counts: 1) I seriously thought it was an impossible feat when I set out to do it (I have spent far more in previous years!) so it was incredibly pleasing to do it! 2) I think the kids enjoyed it (Joel certainly did) which is of course the most important thing! 3) I really enjoyed preparing it too – I love to make, create and dream up ideas (see future blog post!) so actually it was a real joy to think up. I wasn’t complaining about the late nights, just making it clear that I’m not magically able to whisk up such a party in my spare time! Also, as I’ve been preparing the party (and since then) I’ve been thinking that the idea that you choose to spend time OR money on a party is a misnomer. Actually, in my experience, all parties take quite a bit of prep and thinking time, however much money is spent. Most of my money-saving ideas were just cutting corners (eg not buying themed tableware, and being careful on the food budget) rather than things which took lots of time. Ironically, the time consuming things (preparing the robot masks, making the robot costumes etc) were probably ones I’d still have included, however much the budget was. (Robot stuff just isn’t that easy to find in the shops!) Lucy
Sent from Samsung Mobile
PS I forgot to mention that the actual base issue of not spending too much on the birthday parties is important to us too: firstly because we can’t really afford to spend loads, and secondly because we can’t really justify spending loads. And having both birthdays in the same month puts extra pressure on. So, yes, I’m very glad I did them on a budget!
Andy B says