When it comes to kids’ parties, the obvious choices are either hiring a church hall or similar function room, having a traditional party at home (*shudder*) or opting for soft play.
We went for the church hall option to celebrate our eldest little man turning three. But as I stacked the third car boot full of toys, balloons and food, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth we hadn’t just booked a soft play!
The stress and hassle involved in putting on our own party was substantial, whereas friends who had sensibly booked into the local soft play just breezed in half an hour before the planned start, armed with a cake and party bags (some even paid extra for the venue to do that too). The saving in terms of time was immeasurable. I bet they even had time to blow dry their hair that morning, lucky things.
But which works out best financially? Well, here’s a breakdown of costs.
- Venue: Our beautiful church hall was really atmospheric and cost just £51 for 3 hours, which included an hour to set up and half an hour to clear away. (They gave us the final half hour for free so the party itself lasted two hours). Here it is, not on party day but on polling day.
- Food. Well of course, we massively over-estimated how much 16 small people would eat. In fact, as I’ve now learned, they’re mostly too excited at these events to bother with much more than a triangle of sandwich and a handful of Party Rings. I’d estimate we spent £19.53. The breakdown on the food looks like this:
- Two loaves white bread = £1.70
- 2 party packs of Party Rings = £2
- Let’s say third of a jar of peanut butter and the same of jam = 70p
- One third of a block of cheddar = 75p
- Half a pack of ham = 80p
- Two dozen homemade fairy cakes = £1
- 24 Gruffalo cake toppers = £1.99
- Bowlful of raisins = 77p
- 2 punnets of strawberries = £4
- 1 box of Cadbury’s Fingers = £1
- 3 carrots, sliced into sticks = 12p
- half cucumber, sliced into sticks = 24p
- multipack of bear-shaped crisps from Aldi = £1
- 2 for £3 boxes of brownies and caramel shortbread (for the adults) = £3
- 2 pints of milk (for teas and coffess) = 75p
- Probably around 10 tea bags and a few spoons of coffee = 50p
- Say a third of a bottle of blackcurrant squash = 45p
- 1 pouch Kinder Choco-bons, reduced at Co Op (for pass the parcel and musical statues prizes) = 75p
- Invitations. Totally FREEEEEEE! Yup, I took advantage of the Gruffalo invites on http://www.gruffalo.com and printed them off myself. The little host coloured them in and I hand delivered them.
- Decorations. Okay, I did go a little wild here. As wild as you can go with tablecloths and paper plates. But instead of opting for plain coloured cheap ones, I splurged on Gruffalo-themed ones as it was a Gruffalo party. These set me back £13.75 for a party pack of cups, plates, a table cloth and napkins from eBay. I also bought two plain green table cloths from Asda for £2 to make sure the entire table was covered. Nope, I didn’t go completely crazy and buy 3 Gruffalo table cloths, that would have been a leap too far.
- I also forgot my senses when it came to the balloons and bought a helium cannister from Hobbycraft (I had no idea you could even do this!) It was actually on offer for £20, perfectly filled 16 balloons – one tied to each child’s chair and then tied to their party bag as they left – and to be honest, they looked so amazing, I thought the cost was well worth it. Plus a supermarket bumper balloon pack for £2
- As it was a Gruffalo party, I couldn’t resist a 4″ Gruffalo key clip for the Pass the Parcel prize, but it did set me back £5.85
- I also bought 6 Gruffalo badges to wrap inside the different layers of the Pass the Parcel, and these cost £5.50, again from eBay.
- Party bags. Sense prevailed when it came to the actual bags as although I would have loved the gorgeous Gruffalo ones, I couldn’t justify the huge mark-up and instead opted for the amazingly cheap 15 for 99p from B&M. (Did I ever mention how much I love B&M??) Just in case you’re wondering, we had 16 kids and that included our 10-month old, who didn’t get a party bag.
- The goodies inside the party bags cost a grand total of £18.93. Whoops! I hadn’t even realised they had cost this much until I calculated it all for this blog. Each bag contained a jointed plastic snake, a bag of white mice and a multi-coloured owl crayon. (Get it?) BUT, even if we had gone to soft play we would have incurred this expense ourselves, or paid around £1.50 for the venue to provide them.
- The cake. My mum – you know, the incredibly talented member of my family – made an AMAZING Gruffalo cake and gave it to us as part of our son’s birthday present. I’ve no idea how much it cost her or what this would cost if you hired a professional to do it, but again, we would have incurred this same fee if we had gone to soft play.
And so, the grand total ….. drum roll please.
I spent a total of £139.55
Option 2: The soft play option
The average price per child at our local soft play centres is £7.50. This usually includes a party of between 90 minutes to 2 hours, party tea, invitations and sometimes a free coffee or tea for each adult.
We had 16 children at our party, but one was under one and wouldn’t incur a cost at soft play. For 15 children, that would set me back £112.50
No need to buy any decorations as that’s all done for you. Just bring the cake and the party bags. Let’s assume I would make the same party bags for a soft play party to make it comparable, which is £18.53 plus 99p.
That makes the grand total of the soft play centre = £132.02
Now that is a surprise! I could have saved myself all that hassle of decorating a church hall, all the stress of making sandwiches and cutting up carrot sticks that morning, and all the time and energy to pack the cars with loads of toys and blow up balloons AND save £7.53.
However, I admit I did go very wrong on my budget. I got carried away with all the gorgeous Gruffalo stuff when I could have saved pounds on buying plain paper plates, cups and napkins. I also should have kept an eye on what I was spending on the contents of the party bags. Both Tesco and Asda have plenty of party bag fillers and when I was looking, they were on offer of 3 for 2, or similar. It wouldn’t have kept with the theme, but really the kids wouldn’t have given my careful attention to detail a moment’s thought.
Having seen how little toddlers actually eat at these parties, I could have also cut down on my food spending. Although, to be honest, I think catering for an entire children’s party of 16 for less than £20 is not too bad.
My Pass the Parcel was a bit extravagant, again because I fell for the Gruffalo gear. Had I just bunged a few mini packets of Haribo between each layer and spent no more than £3 on the main prize, I could have shaved a LOT off my Pass the Parcel bill. And finally, there was the helium cannister. Another splurge (for a so-called money saver, I do get carried away sometimes), but do you know what, the kids absolutely loved having a balloon on each chair and they were thrilled to take one home each so I don’t regret it.
I don’t regret any of it because my little lad had a ball, and that made it all worthwhile. But maybe we’ll go for soft play for child number 2 …..