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The Definitive Cheap Birthday Party Ideas Guide

OK, so it's nearly little Johnny or Jemima's birthday and - like the rest of us - you haven't got as much spare cash as you once did. So, cancel the birthday party.

Wait: no, you can't do that. Instead, follow our guide to inexpensive birthday parties and you'll wonder why you were ever worried.

And it is a worry. No-one wants their children to have a disappointing birthday. So there is always that pressure to spend, spend, spend to make certain it's as good as it can be.

However, once you get out of the mindset of money = quality, you'll find you can create a great birthday party for only a few pounds.

1: Invite Your Child's Friends - Not Their Entire Family

Kids birthday parties tend to get expensive when their parents, nannies, brothers, sisters and the family pet all turn up expecting to be fed and watered.

Make it clear that the party is only for friends and give parents and carers a clear time to drop off and pick up their children.

2: You Don't Have To Invite Everyone Your Child Has Ever Met!

It's all too easy to fall into the trap of feeling obliged to invite everyone in your child's class at school. Think about it for a minute: when you were a kid, did you like everyone in your class? No? Thought not.

Ask your child if he or she had to pick just 6 or 7 guests, who they would be. A smaller party with closer friends will definitely be more fun and have less room for potential problems and clashes than a larger one. Plus, of course, it will keep the costs down.

These two tips alone will already save you money without you having to compromise on anything, as will this third suggestion:

3. Timing Is Everything

A great option is to arrange the party for mid-afternoon. That way, most of the guests will have already eaten lunch and won't be ready for dinner. This cuts down on the need to spend out ridiculous sums on providing every one with a meal. Not to mention worrying about whether so-and-so is lactose intolerant or diabetic or can't eat certain foods for religious reasons.

Instead, a few simple snacks - maybe mini pizzas, pretzels, cupcakes, sweets or similar - and some squash or fizzy drinks would definitely keep the kids happy.

4. Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Of course, you do need to do some preparatory work for your child's birthday party. Invites, decorations and, of course, the obligatory birthday cake - these are all things that need to be taken care of in advance.

a) Invites:

Well, thanks to the combined wonders of the internet, email and SMS, you can create and send these at literally no cost whatsoever.

Pretty much everyone has some kind of graphics software on their computer, in which you could create a pretty decent looking invite. Heck, if your graphic skills are wanting, a quick search using your favourite search engine for 'free birthday invite templates' will bring up more than you ever know what to do with.

Many of them are extremely professional looking. Simply change the name and date, save the file and email them out to the parents of the people you are inviting.

b) Decorations:

Birthday balloons

Of course, the type of party decorations will depend on a number of things, including the location of the party, whether there is a theme and whether you are particularly DIY-orientated.

Here's a few simple, effective and - best of all - affordable ideas that you should definitely consider as party decoration ideas.

Balloons, Magic Markers, Personalised Drinking Cups And More:

The Pound shop (or Dollar Store, depending on where you are reading this) is your friend. Set yourself a decorating budget of say, £8 and see what you can do.

Balloons are super cheap and are pretty much essential to any self-respecting birthday party. If you can find some clear balloons, you could fill them with sweets or coloured fabric or even confetti for a stunning effect.

You will be amazed at what you can pick up for next to nothing. Here are just some of the items I found in my local pound shop:

50 Disposable Thermo Cups, a pack of 7 permanent markers (so you could write the names of the guests on their own personal cups), 80 coloured party balloons, a birthday party banner, 20 glowsticks, not to mention a kids football, colourful plates, 10 cake boxes and lots more.

Total cost for all these items: £8.

With a little imagination, you can create an excitingly decorated party. The key thing is: colour. Anything you can do to brighten up the space in which you are holding your party will do wonders for creating that birthday atmosphere.

A few ideas off the top of my head:

Decorate the room with multi-coloured balloons, hang some red, white and blue streamers from the ceiling (you can get a pack of three for £1 at a pound store), put some Skittles or other sweets with lots of colour in clear plastic glasses on the corners of the table.

c) The Birthday Cake:

Shop bought birthday cakes can be extremely expensive. Obviously, if you have the baking skills of Mary Berry, you can create your own, but I'm going to assume that you - like me - are not really up to that level.

A second option would be to buy a fairly large but cheap cake from your preferred supermarket and then, well, pimp it. You could use cream or icing to pipe the birthday boy or girl's name on to the cake (a piping set can be bought for as little as £2), decorate the edges with hundreds or thousands or small chocolate buttons. The options are limited only by your imagination.

The key is to get a very plain, simple looking cake (a Victoria Sponge would be ideal) and then turn it into something special.

5. Location, Location, Location

Birthday cake

Choosing exactly where to host your children's birthday party could incur a great deal of expense. Going bowling, trampolining or to a zoo or a restaurant: all these things cost a lot of money. Even hiring a hall for the day is far from cheap. Don't panic, though. There are plenty of affordable locations to have that party that won't leave your guests thinking you are cheap. Here are five of the best:

a) Your Home:

Yeah, I know. Having a bunch of young children rampaging through your lovely house is not really a 'family heirloom friendly' experience. However, it does have its advantages.

Firstly, of course, there is no cost. More importantly, however, you and the kids will be in an environment you know well and are comfortable with. A home birthday party also gives you more preparation time and less of that last minute 'oh-my-god-I've-forgotten-something-important' fear.

If you are going to choose a home party, then I have plenty of suggestions for games, themes and entertainment in section 6 of this guide.

b) Local Park:

If you are lucky enough to live near a park, this would be a great summer location for a party. There will already be picnic areas, playground equipment and, best of all, lots of space for all the activities you have planned.

c) Community Centre or Church Hall:

If you happen to be a member of a local church, you may be able to secure the church hall for free, but if not, the cost of hiring this or a community centre facility will be far, far less than any other similar option. Plus, of course, there is likely to be a separate kitchen and area for storing food, which will definitely come in useful.

d) Kids Cinema Clubs:

Most of the larger cinemas have Kids Cinema Club screenings on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The ones at Cineworld, for example, are £1 per child, which definitely counts as affordable.

The only thing you have to be wary of is giving into the lure of the 'large popcorn and large coke' concession stands, so make certain that you have some treats on hand and the promise of more goodies later on!

e) Museum and Picnic:

This might not be for everyone, as not all kids enjoy museums. That having been said, The Royal Armoury in Leeds or the Manchester Transport Museum or any of the Imperial War Museum's is certain to appeal to group of boys.

Throw in a picnic afterwards and you've got a great - and cheap - birthday day out.

6. That's Entertainment

So, now you've decided on your location, all you need to do is keep a bunch of young children amused and occupied for a few hours. Simple. Well, maybe not simple.

Forgoing the bouncy castle, the children's magician, the indoor ski slope or expensive games created by 'professional' party planners, it's now down to you to create the games and keep everyone entertained. There's no need to be daunted, though. Here is an exhaustive list of birthday party games and ideas that would suit your location and budget. Ready?

Classic Party Games For Kids

Remember these?

Simon Says, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Pass the Parcel, Musical Chairs, Musical Statues, Hide and Seek, Sack Race, Three Legged Race, Treasure Hunt and Hot Potato.

All of these games still have their place at a kids' party. You can just customise them and update them according to the theme of your party.

Pirate party costume

For example, a Pirate themed party might involve Pin the Parrot on the Pirate, Musical Ships, a Buried Treasure Hunt.

Or maybe a Princess theme could have Musical Thrones, Hot Crown where you pass around a cheap plastic Crown or Tiara rather than a potato and Seek the Prince instead of Hide and Seek.

More Unusual Party Game Ideas

How about these?

Bottle Skittles - All you need for this are a few leftover plastic bottles (Cola bottles are ideal) and a ball.

Obstacle Course - A great idea for outdoor birthday parties. It doesn't have to cost much. You can improvise with cardboard boxes to crawl through; a low rope to jump over or a ball to kick into an improvised goal or basket.

Relay Races - Divide the kids into two teams and have each race. Make it fun and a little bit silly and you will definitely be on to a winner. How about having them wear a pair of very large shoes which they have to go back for if they drop off their feet. Try to avoid making it too competitive.

Spot The Difference - This is another one of those games that is easy to 'theme' depending on what type of birthday party you are hosting. The basics of the game are this: you show a number of different items and ask the kids to memorise them. Then you remove one item and ask the children to tell you which it is.

The items you use can be part of the theme of the party. For instance, if it's a Jungle themed party, you could get plastic Monkeys, Lions, Tigers; even Jeeps or Snakes.

Guess What's In The Bag - Another simple game. Put an item in a bag, then allow each child to guess what is in the bag. The winner or winners get a prize.

Throwing Games - There are plenty of games involving throwing things that will keep children amused.

Some ideas include throwing items towards a box or a draw out target or throwing water balloons from one person to another (this, I suspect, might be an outdoor) activity.

Another game might be throwing things into a bucket of water where the team that has the most water left in their bucket is the winner.

Cardboard Box Game - And, of course, there's the 'Cardboard Box' game that, as far as I know, was invented by my mum. This is an absolute must for any party - especially, if it's one that takes place in your own home.

The Cardboard Box game is the very last game that your child's guests will play. Why? Because it involves two teams throwing all the party rubbish, wrapping paper and other clutter into their team's cardboard box as quickly as they can. The winning team, of course, gets the best prize.

Think about it: you are making a competition out of kids tidying up. What could be better?

Scavenger Hunts - If your birthday party is taking place in a park or outdoors, a scavenger hunt is the perfect way to keep children occupied and interested for a long period of time.

Do it right and they will never be bored. Plan ahead and hide a bunch of different things within the area in which your party is taking place. Among other items, these could include small party gifts or even sweets that, at the end of the party, could be taken home by the children.

That's not to say that only the group that finds those items should get treats to take home. You should try to ensure that all children find something to take home with them. It doesn't have to be very expensive. The very fact that they've found something themselves that they can keep adds value to it.

7: Party Themes

It has become almost traditional to have a 'themed' party these days. If your son or daughter is struggling to come up with a theme of their own, here are just some of the most popular:

  • Beauty Party
  • Beach Party
  • Princess (or Prince) Party
  • Pirate Party
  • Camping Party
  • Cars Themed Party
  • Dinosaur Theme Party
  • Fairytale Party
  • Hello Kitty Theme
  • Disney Party
  • Pop Stars Theme
  • Halloween Theme
  • Movie Stars Theme
  • Superheroes Party
  • Football Party
  • Zoo Party

Again, none of these has to be expensive. A little imagination and creativity goes a long way to making a birthday party one to remember.

Don't feel cheap because you are unwilling or unable to blow hundreds of pounds on what is, frankly, only a few hours out of one day per year. Hopefully, our guide to cheap birthday party ideas will inspire you. Remember: birthday parties are supposed to be fun, not a competitive sport between parents!

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