Kids birthday parties don't have to break the bank

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Anyone who has held a kids' birthday party will know that the costs quickly add up as you buy decorations, party bags, prizes for games from the $2 shop as well as food and cakes.

The biggest cost can be the entertainment, whether it's movie tickets or hiring a karaoke machine or someone to entertain the kids.

It's important to set a budget and stick to it. Don't get caught up in birthday party mania.

I recently heard of parents hiring a dozen chopper motorcycles (with drivers) for their son's 10th birthday and a makeover party for a pre-teen girl where beauticians did nails, hair and make-up and a photographer took a guest portfolio.

You don't need to go to great expense to give your kids a great birthday party.

I have to say that kids seem to have the same amount of fun regardless.

Often a simple party - especially for young kids - can be a real hit. The more complicated, the more things can go wrong. I've had a horse riding party and a girl fell off. Luckily she was okay.

I hired a magician to come dressed as Harry Potter (the theme of the party) but he arrived dressed as a clown, 45 minutes late.

You need imaginative activities to keep kids busy. Set a theme.

My daughter recently went to a party where you dressed up as a character from a book.

Involve your kids in the budget and organising the activities.

Ask them to help make the decorations and the party bags - but start a few weeks before the party. A friend of mine had a hula party and gathered frangipanis from neighbourhood lawns for them to make fragrant leis.

A favourite with one of my daughters was a traditional backyard party with games: donuts on strings, relay races where you dress up, treasure hunts with mysterious clues, sack races and a race to wrap a friend like a mummy in toilet paper.

You can use a local park - but have a wet weather contingency plan. For the very young, a park with a fence is a good idea.

You don't need a lot of party food - particularly if it's in the morning before lunch or mid afternoon before dinner. Serve drinks, a cake and perhaps a plate of fruit, or sausage rolls and pizza slices.

Parents often invite the whole kindergarten class so their child goes to all the parties, but big parties aren't essential.

As the kids get older, invite a small group of kids over to watch a DVD at a sleepover. Kids will make their own fun.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.

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