Parties have turned Saturdays on their head – and then there’s the horror of hosting. Birthday planning brings out the Grinch in all of us

Oh, those far off times when cheese and pineapple on sticks, lurid jelly, gooey chocolate cake and a few spirited rounds of pass the parcel counted as a brilliant kids’ birthday bash. These days, their social whirl is different. You seem to be on taxi-driver duty every Saturday, ferrying them to increasingly lavish venues with magicians, daytime discos, and the rest.

No one wants to sound like a meanie, but children’s birthday parties are way more expensive than they used to be. The typical British family now spends upwards of £300 on each child’s birthday get-together, not counting presents.

Of course, averages don’t give the full story. If you don’t already know about the trend for ‘whole class parties’ get ready for a shocker when you see the guest list. Then there are party bags – once a slice of cake would do, but now you’re expected to fill them with those tawdry toys all children love. These gifts may be cheap individually but multiply each one by 20+ and you will feel your inner Grinch stir.

Keeping up

When your child is enjoying lavish entertainments every Saturday, it’s easy to feel pressure to match or better the experience. But should you even try keeping up? The chances are, other parents in your peer group feel this is all a bit much, so will welcome a more pared back and ‘old-fashioned’ gathering.

Talk to locals with older children. From cheapest halls for hire to the most cost-effective entertainment, they’ve struggled through the birthday battleground and know all the best budgeting tricks.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to do different. The most memorable gatherings are often more spontaneous – and young partygoers are invariably happy if they have space to run around and make lots of noise. Back garden games in summer can be a great way to host a crowd. Sharing the hall hire for a birthday knees-up with a friend in the colder months is double the celebration and takes some of the pressure off you as host.

Future trials

These sugar and balloon-fuelled extravaganzas don’t last forever. But with the exclusive outings to top shows, entertainments and theme parks that follow, food and entertainment are equally punishing to your wallet.

Final birthday milestone comes when you have to vacate your home. You will still fork out for food and entertainment, of course, but must then make yourself scarce – silently praying all evening that the house will still be standing on your return. Let’s face it, party planning for the offspring is enough to transform any parent into a fully-fledged Grinch. 

Further reading: Fashion experiments and how to manage them