I’m A Single Mum & Kids’ Birthday Parties Are A Financial Strain

Photo by Felicity McCabe/Getty Images.
It is so special when you bring a newborn baby into the world. Of course it's a moment that's worthy of being celebrated every year. It is a day to express to your child how special they are to you. And of course it is a day that means so much to a child. But kids' birthdays today are expensive.
Research has shown that parents across the UK spend nearly £5,000 on their children's birthdays from the ages of 4-11. That is over £400 per child, per year. In my case, as a 26-year-old single mother of 5-year-old twins, it's just too much. But these days, there is so much pressure for parents to spend a fortune on big parties and the latest gifts for their children that whether you have the financial means to do so is almost another story.
Advertisement
It is, like most things, a problem that has grown exponentially thanks to social media; it is almost expected that you post photos of an expensive party and get those bragging rights. Trust me, once you have kids the peer pressure leaking from your Facebook feed is heavy. My solution is to remind myself who I am really doing it for, and what really matters.
The financial means
Speaking to other parents of young children, I am relieved to find out I'm not the only one dealing with the financial stress of organising my kids' birthdays. There are so many things to consider. Can I afford to have a party? What gifts can I buy? Do I invite just their friends or the whole class? Who's paying for all these kids? And most importantly, what is the budget?
Some parents I spoke to said they’d save for a few months in advance, while others would just splurge for that one day at a toy store. One even suggested collecting Tesco Clubcard points to use up on their big day and feast out. All fine choices, and each to their own.
Research reported by Poverty and Social Exclusion UK notes that 51% of low-income families cannot afford a birthday party for their children. When it comes to the population as a whole, 44% say they struggle and for parents aged 18-24, this number is 83%. As a result, 21% of parents say they would sacrifice household bills to accommodate their kids on their birthdays.
Advertisement
Choosing between heating and birthdays is a bitter pill to swallow if you look to the other side of the tracks. For those with money, kids' birthday experiences are bespoke, and limitless. Organising a birthday party with luxury kids' party planners (yes, they exist, and not just in Big Little Lies) can set you back tens of thousands of pounds. Of course, it will be a night to remember; I've heard of mini discos, magic shows, puppet shows, and don't forget the inflatable party games. North West and Penelope Disick's unicorn-themed birthday bash last year isn't as crazy as you might think.
Comparison is the thief of all joy
As a mum, you can feel a lot of pressure to do it big every year. But it's important to ask yourself, where is this pressure coming from? As mentioned, social media plays a role, but for a number of parents it may be to compensate for feeling like they're not there enough. Others may fear their child could be bullied at school for not having the same sort of celebration as their peers.
Some parents are just trying to prove that they have it together. I fall into this category. I am trying to prove to myself, to my kids and to others that I am a good parent. I want my twins to have good memories of their childhood, being raised by a single parent, and birthdays are synonymous with that. I wish I could spoil my kids on their special day but I simply can’t afford to on such a grand scale. And so, recognising that other children's birthday parties will make me feel guilty, I remind myself that I do the best I can with what I have. Whether that means a cake and presents at home with my nearest and dearest, or a day trip to the aquarium. I know my kids will appreciate whatever I do because that is how I have raised them. The most important thing is that they have fun and feel loved.  
Advertisement
Kids' expectations
Remember as well that younger kids don’t have any expectations for their birthday. It was a big moment when I realised that I was the one putting pressure on myself to make each birthday bigger and better than the last, and feeling like a failure when my plans fell short. All my twins are concerned about is what presents they get to unwrap.
Any expectations and demands children do have for their birthdays is learned – probably from their parents. If you complain how you can't afford to match their classmates' parties, they'll feel like they're missing out. Ditto if you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion – they'll develop an expectation for next time!
Just remember what a birthday is all about. You are celebrating and acknowledging a child's individuality and their development, while allowing them to shine on that day. Doing this with love can have positive lasting effects, not only for them but for the relationship you have with them. So make that your number one priority, not the silent kiddie disco.
9 ways to cut costs on birthday parties
• Email birthday invites or download them for free.
• Join up with another parent or family member with a similar birthday and halve the costs.
• Have the party at home. If you don’t have the space, go to the local park or a free outdoor play area.
• Go for a theme that is affordable (like an 'orange' party, with orange clothes, orange food, etc.).
• Get family and friends to come together to help set up and decorate.
• Keep guest numbers low.
• Be creative with the entertainment and plan for games.
• Send guests home with a piece of cake rather than a goodie bag.
• Bake your own birthday cake.

More from Living

R29 Original Series

Advertisement