How to have fuss-free birthday parties

January 5, 2015, 0 Comments


I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I’ve discovered something which works for me, and hopefully for you!

When the kids are much younger, their birthday parties were very very simple. Food, family members, relatives, “ang pows”, practical pressies, hugs and kisses is all the love they get on their special day. The older boy usually prefers a cosy group.

During his 5th birthday, he invited his closest friends to one of his favourite place – The Fire station.  A team of very sporting Firemen took time to take the group for a tour of the station, and sang him a birthday song which made him nearly cry. Then they had everyone ride on the rhino at the station ground. They also threw in pretty goody bags for all the kids. That was superbly fun, and virtually fuss-free for all.

The younger boy  whose birthday falls in December, however is usually celebrated with my husband’s family in Jakarta. It coincides with Christmas gathering, so all we ever did for the past 5 years was to have families over and a birthday cake for him. But he is a social person, he likes it big, merry and bright. So this year, we decided to make it a little bit more fun for him. He could celebrate with his friends for the first time, as he turned 6!

Elias long time favorite book is “The tiger came to tea“.  The story featured a tiger who surprised a family by visiting them, and then finished all the food in their house because he was really hungry. Somehow, he found it really funny. So we decided to spring a surprise on him on his special day.

Since kor kor is 7, and Elias is almost 6, both boys are more than happy to contribute ideas  and are capable to work independently. And so, I discovered some secrets that worked!

Tip #1 – Make the children work!

I’m not kidding, we all know dilligent hands maketh a responsible man, ain’t it? Keep them busy and let them have responsibilities everyday, so when special occasions calls for it, we can count on them. Plus, they always develop a sense of achievement for the projects they are involved personally.

These are the stuff the boys did:

1) Painted 18 paper plates.
2) Laboured faithfully for 4 days to complete layers and layers of piniata.
3) Looped all the ribbons everywhere in the house, including climbing the walls to do that.
4) Helped to blow the balloons. They insisted on blowing it, but succumb to the pump later.
5) Set up the table.
6) Handpicked their friend’s gifts and packed all the goody bags all by themselves.
7) Contributed ideas for menu and drinks.
8) Elias suggested doing a “how-do make a piniata” video! So here it is.


Tip # 2 – Do less when kids are young

Let’s admit it, we all have been to birthday parties where there are so many young toddlers whose own parents are fighting to get their toddlers’ attention. Then, you have one enthusiastic parent trying to get every toddler to come together to play.that.game or stand around the birthday cake without poking into the cute Thomas the Train topper. It is almost like a first day in a childcare centre. Chaotic.

Well, in my humble opinion, the best parties for toddlers, if we have to have them, is to let them have  free play. Water play, sand play, ball pool and the likes. Keep it simple, and parents can chill.

Toddlers are just not created to toe a straight line and jump over hoops.















Tip # 3 – Keep the group cosy, up the quality

Unless your budget is $500 and above, this does not apply.

We try to cap a celebration under $200. Let’s just say even $10 makes a difference to us in daily life, so we try to be very prudent with our resources.

The logic is, the cosier the group, the more we can major on the major.  We are able to ensure home-cooked food, retaining its nutritional goodness. We’re able to have jugfuls of freshly squeezed orange juice, home-cooked finger foods, and nuggets (okay, fried is not exactly healthy, but wait till you hear what some nuggets out there are made of), plus goody bags that need not contain loads of poor quality stuff or junk food.











We packed goody bags that consisted of a cap and a personalized badge – We hope that these would be something useful, fun and practical for all the children.










Tip # 4 – keeping the cost low

Logically, with a small number (for us, its anything below 10) is usually quite manageable. If my 106sqm four-room flat fits 7 kids and a few adults, I think a bigger flat should suffice a few hours of meaningful fun time.

Oh, did I mentioned how much we saved by doing everything all on our own? A pretty piniata would cost us anything from $35 – $75. But we did it all using a balloon, loads of old newspaper, home-made starch, crepe paper, vanguard sheet, totaling under $5! Then of course, we filled it with some really good quality goodies inside.

Our first attempt at a piniata and it was a hit!





























We took 5 days to complete it, only to see it completely destroyed the following day within a few minutes! Talk about temperance of things.













But seeing the children making a mad dash to salvage whatever is in it totally makes it worthwhile.  I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed watching kids be kids!

Cake – Ours was a simple cake from Bengawan solo. The difference in a classic cake and a customised one or one that is trademarked is about $20. I reckon we could do with a classic cake. I can’t bake at the moment, so this is the next best choice.

I bought most of my party supplies in a little known, old HDB estate in Lane Crawford, and an online wholesale party supplier, Mtrade. I’m sure there are plenty of shops which sells pretty affordable party wares in Bugis Street, Hong Lim complex etc. It is much cheaper than shopping in a speciality retail.

Being too cumbersome to move around now with a huge bump, I liked it that I could shop for both my cake and supplies online without ever stepping out.

Helium balloons are expensive in Singapore! I checked out a few places, Turf City – Pasarbella, Party Planners at Holland Village, Florist at Lot One and Bukit Panjang Plaza. The cheapest would be Turf City.  They charge $2 for both latex balloons with helium gas, but we don’t drive, so we can’t get the balloons on the same day.

In the end, we spent $15 for 5 balloons to be filled with helium, but kids really liked it, so whoever wants it gets to take one home. It was always worth it when something good puts a smile on a kid’s face.

We had a tea party to coincide with the storyline. That also means we don’t have to cook large mains to cater for the group. Ticking off costume, food, goody bag items, I think we spent close to $150 in total.

Tip # 4 – Location, location, location

I personally detest function rooms. It is the most boring, uninspiring place to have any celebration. Maybe its because I have never been to any function room that is beautifully painted or have natural play items.

Generally, the ones I’ve come across have walls that are either white, beige or something that does not shout ‘happy’. No toys, no natural habitat which reflects a person’s interest or quirks. I’ve seen children bouncing off the walls in less than 30 mins, and adult staring and stabbing into their food,  as if they can’t wait for the entire thing to be over.

Unless one engages a party planner, have the place dressed up, include some interesting eye pieces, have an entertainer or activities that engages the children and adults alike, I’d say bigger is not necessarily better.  Sometimes bigger just feels really cold.

I’d rather have a little party at home where people feel closer naturally because they get to peek into our lives when we invite them into our living space. I love browsing a friend’s shelves whenever I’m new at a friend’s place. I could easily strike up a conversation and understand them better based on what they read or collect. Or have a party outdoor, where kids always feel healthy and good with natural sunlight, air and space (unless of course, if a child is allergic to certain outdoor element or is very sheltered, detest the sunlight etc.).

Children love checking out what other kids play, and it is no coincidence why we have an almost all boys party this year. Cars, trains, planes, transportation. We can’t ever go wrong on that. I’m beginning to think that boys are so easily contented, and so low maintenance? Is it true?

Tip # 6 – Dynamics

When people come together, it is all about vibes, or dynamics. Time is secondary. Children want short, interesting activities. Adults need pockets of time to unwind, chill and interact without having to worry over non-stop activities. Marry the two together and you end up having something that looks roughly like this.


Friends arrive and they headed straight into the playroom where the boys had their train city, airport hanger and police station all built and ready to share the fun!












Games (musical chairs)

I just have to mentioned, with 3 first-borns (all boys) in the party, it is no wonder they are the only ones left competing after ousting everyone out. I love this good ol’ high adrenalin game. It is so very very simple to organise. Things just take off on its own once you pull a chair out!














Break for a drink, then story-telling


Surprise guest appearance. We’d love for the real mascot tiger from the storybook to come but he is in London. So we had to find a substitute, and this one brought in the magic too! Or maybe it was daddy who did.















We got the oohs and aahs settled by then before we got the birthday cake going.

This was really funny. The older kids were clearly not amused. One friend told the “Tiger” he was wearing a jacket and he looked really hot under it. The younger, or should I say, some more imaginary ones really enjoyed seeing the “Tiger”. The birthday boy, however was clearly thrilled.











Dig in and opening of pressies.

This has got to be the most fun moment for the birthday boy, and I love love love that kids get to open their presents and appreciate their friends right away! Being one affectionate boy, Elias shouted “thanks!” to each of his friends and hugged both my husband and I spontaneously when he received his gift – A junior tiger costume, no less!









What I missed!

Clearly, I am not an expert in parties and I did have a few hits and misses. But, I was blessed with having an extra photographer – a parent whose kids we invited, and a videographer (my brother) who helped take various shots, other than me, who is forever multi-tasking everything.

I was so caught up in taking photos that I cleanly forgot to take a family photo with my son during the cake-cutting! There is NO family photo. What? No family photo? No standard PR shots of the birthday cake, no hugging, kissing birthday boy shots, Nothing!

So when everyone left, my brother suggested this family photo for fun. So we get something to pin up on our wall to remember his birthday by at least! hahah.. Next year, I must remember to put myself in the photo!

I am thankful to have a domestic helper who helped out with the preparation of food. We can’t take for granted for the many hands that made our work lighter, because we don’t always have that luxury. But I believe, no man is an island. It does stave off some workloads and eventually, everyone enjoyed, especially the birthday boy.

If you have any tips in organising fuss-free birthday parties, let me know too!

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