A certain little lady is three this weekend so it seemed very appropriate therefore to focus this week's Thrifty Friday Five on Toddler birthdays.
All children love birthdays, of that there is no doubt. But if you're not careful they can end up costing a crazy amount of money. If you want to have a huge party and spend lots of money you can, but remember that just because one family does, everyone else doesn't have to follow suit.
1. Plan toy presents in advance
It's only natural that you'll want to buy your little one some presents to mark their special day, but if you plan in advance exactly what it is you want to get them it can really help. Once you've decided what to buy shop around to make sure you get the best prices. For toys there are a variety of places online that are all very competitive, but if you have the time it might also be worth seeing if you can pick them up in a sale. Many supermarkets have toy sales at some point during the school holidays, or you might be able to pick up something in the January or summer sales if the timing is right.
Other special offers on the high street are also worth looking for. Argos often has events where toys might be on a 3 for 2 offer, or when if you spend over a certain amount you get a gift card as cash back. In the run up to Christmas Boots also have special 3 for 2 offers on toys and gifts. If prices are the same in many shops consider if you get loyalty points at any of them – especially supermarkets.
But don't forget independent high street toy shops though – if you ask many will price match other local shops and some will even price match online prices too.
2. Present alternatives
Many parents will tell you that there house feels like it is full of toys – especially if they have more than one child. Before buying presents think carefully about just how many new toys your little one really needs. Why not consider an experience gift instead?
I'm not talking about something on a par with adult experience gift vouchers, but with a little bit of imagination you could still do something very special. How about buying them a new bucket and spade and when they unwrap it explain that the main part of the gift is taking them to the seaside for the day. Or maybe you could give then a couple of small plastic animals and the main gift is that they are taken to the zoo. A special play park or a local museum might be what is right for your child and the beauty of this sort of gift is that you can choose something appropriate for your budget.
Little Miss C has particularly asked to go to the Natural History Museum in Tring for her birthday and that's what we'll be doing as a special birthday gift experience.
3. Simple party ideas
There's no rule saying that children must have an extravagant birthday party, but I know that in some schools and nurseries it can feel like that with every parent trying to outdo the one before. Children themselves don't notice the differences at this age – they just want to have fun!
Don't feel pressurised into hiring soft play centres or children's entertainers if that's not what you want to do, or what your budget will allow. If you've got the space at home (either inside or out) why not just host the party yourself and have some old fashioned party games. Simple things like pass the parcel, musical statues and pin the tail on the donkey will be fun for children and are inexpensive too. Put some loud music on the stereo and push the furniture out of the way and you could just have your own toddler disco.
If you don't have the space at home then think about hiring a village or church hall which again won't be too expensive, but will give you plenty of space. If you're happy to take a risk with the weather then you could just invite everyone to a local park and set up some party games there. It does away with the venue hire that's for sure.
4. Simple decorations
It's lovely to decorate your house for a child's birthday, but why not turn the decorating into a craft or educational activity first? Either one just for you, or one you can share with the kids.
Balloons are a great part of birthday decorations, but you could do some balloon experiments first? Children who are learning to use scissors can help cut out shapes to make a birthday banner or paper bunting. Rather than splashing out of character decorations you could cut up old children's magazines and make collages, or giant birthday cards like you see on CBeebies or Milkshake.
Fabric bunting can be very expensive to buy, but if you have a sewing machine and some scrap fabric it's easy to make your own. Just cut out triangles – ideally with pinking shears to stop it fraying – and sew them on to a fabric tape. Hey presto, cheap and easy bunting without it costing the earth.
5. Simple birthday tea
If you're hosting your own party then you need to think about food. Again it's possible to spend loads of money on this, but not at all necessary. A birthday tea of sandwiches and squash may sound simple, but just having their friends there will make it special for the birthday boy or girl.
Children's birthday cakes are big business with all sorts of characters available. Supermarkets often sell cheaper versions than you'll find at professional cake makers,but you can also make something simple, but effective at home. A chocolate sponge cake can be covered with chocolate butter icing and decorated with hundreds and thousands, or smarties or chocolate buttons very cheaply. If you want one shaped like a number or something more unusual then many baking shops hire out cake tins, as do some professional bakers.