There were four groups getting ready for parties at about 9.30am. The most extravagant was under one of the shelters and had decorations that included playing cards hanging on a string, coloured paper lanterns and blow-up pink flamingos. I'm still trying to work out what their theme was – Alice in Wonderland maybe, or oriental casino? There were also LOTS of Tupperware containers filled with homemade goodies.
Also at the park was another group brought four fold-out chairs, a table, three balloons and a packet of Twisties. They might not have gone all out with decorations, or had their own shelter, but they had prime position in the sunshine and the kids were all off enjoying the slides and climbing equipment anyway.
Park parties are the best (although slightly nerve wracking at this time of year as you constantly check the weather forecast) and Rotary Park was awesome.
Other prime park locations include:
Heathcoate Reserve (sometimes known as the 'pirate park') in Applecross. Kings Park (the Lotterywest area for the littlies and the Synergy area for the older ones).
Whiteman Park. Clarko Reserve at Trigg Beach.
Mueller Park in Subiaco – it's between Paterson's Stadium and PMH and great for under-fives.
Tash, a mum of three girls, says: "Easiest birthday party for us was park party - up at Heathcoate. To save money on food we organised a breakfast BBQ party was from 8:30 -10:30 and we had bacon and egg rolls and fruit skewers juice and a thermos of coffee/tea!"
Katie, a mum to primary school-aged kids, says retro games are the best for home parties.
"The cheapest party I've ever had was at home with good old games like Eat the Doughnut Off a String, Bobbing for Apples, Musical Bobs, Statues and the Chocolate Eating Game."
I always loved the chocolate game growing up. Basic rules – everyone sits in a circle around a block of chocolate on a cutting board. You take turns rolling the dice and when someone rolls a six they have to put on some dress ups (gloves, scarf, hat perhaps) then cut the chocolate with a knife and fork. You get to eat one piece at a time until someone else rolls a six.
Katie also adapted the hen's night favourite where girls make dresses from newspaper, toilet paper and alfoil: "Perfect for eight-year-old girls and super cheap."
Try pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, or make your own version – how about a lay-your-lips-on-Justin-Bieber?
How about a colouring-in table? There was one at a first birthday we went to recently with animal pictures and masks and it was good for kids of different ages. You can print out online picture templates or visit somewhere like Riot Art and Craft for masks.
Sleepovers are good fun too (especially for the parents whose kids are at your place because they've got a free babysitter for the night).
Tanya's son had three mates stay the night when he turned 11: "We did make your own pizzas for dinner and make your own dessert pizza for - you guessed it - dessert! Other than the food, I didn't have to do much besides setting up a big sleep out in the lounge room. Quite cost effective. The boys brought console games and watched YouTube all night."
For little kids, skip the animal farm (which might cost $400) and the ponies ($200) because as Louise found out, you might be wasting your money anyway: "Last year, for Annika's third birthday we had two ponies - only about a third liked it and were brave enough to have a ride! At least the neighbours had a thrill."
If you really want animals, take your kids to the Landsdale Farm School instead. You'll pay $5 a head and kids under two are free.
Besides, sometimes it's nice having a party away from home, especially if you're a busy parent.
Away from home
Other suggestions would be to try an indoor play centres like the Go Bananas in Joondalup. The party packages start at about $20 a head. Food and a play on the equipment is included.
Meree loved it for her daughter's fifth birthday: "All I really had to do was pick the food they wanted to eat and make a cake and lolly bags. Even the party host we had told me she was there to watch the kids so I could sit back and relax. So I would definitely recommend having a party at Go Bananas to anyone."
Bridget, says Darklight, also in Joondalup ($20 a head includes food and a game), is popular with her nine year-old son's friends. And she says TimeZone ($16 a head but no food) is good too.
Rollerskating can be another good away-from-home option, but as Bridget found out when she took a bus load of eight-year-olds to Morley Rollerdrome last year – you need to check if your child's friends can actually skate first.
"Most kids couldn't skate, fell over and cried. Think the bus was about $80. The kids enjoyed that more than the skating which was about $150 including food."
One thing to remember with excursion-style parties is if you're the host, you're picking up the bill for all the kids you invite and these places generally have a minimum of guests required.
Tips to save money
Katie says her kids only have a party every second year. (That way she's OK with going a bit OTT.)
Lynsey agrees: "Instead of a party we took Chelsea [who turned three] and her bestie to the zoo, then just family over in the evening for a few nibbles and birthday cake. She certainly doesn't feel like she didn't have a party, we had a huge day and it didn't cost much!"
Bronwyn, also mum to a three-year-old girl, says if you are putting on a party start planning early: "During each weekly grocery shop look out for sales on lollies, chocolates, little prizes etc. for the party bags and game prizes."
Another of her tips is to check out cake decorating shops like Cake Tinz and Thingz in Balcatta where you can hire a novelty cake tin for only a few dollars: "This is far cheaper than buying a novelty cake from a bakery, as these can easily cost nearly a $100! Plus you can be so proud of the finished product and enjoy the compliments you receive!"
Lisa's kids (a primary school-aged boy and girl) loved her homemade ice-cream cake: "Buy a tub of Neapolitan ice-cream and mix each colour with a different chocolate bar = $10 ice-cream cake!"
She says you'll need to do a different layer each night and recommends Peppermint Crisp for the chocolate layer, Maltesers for the vanilla and Cherry Ripe for the strawberry.
And then there's always the good ol' Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book too.
If you want an indoor party but not at home, Bronwyn says hire a hall from your local playgroup: "For a very small fee you have access to all of the playgroup toys, outdoor playground, tables and chairs, highchairs etc. You turn up an hour before to set up. There is a great kitchen with an oven, microwave and fridge to use. The party guests have a great time playing with fab toys and at the end of the party, you tidy up, mop the floor and you are done!"
It's pretty easy to do your own invites if you have a computer. And if you email them to friends you can avoid some of the politics involved with who's invited and who's not - some mums say kids' party politics are worse than weddings.
I'd also add, don't go overboard with decorations and themes. Do you really need a life-size Dora piñata? Or would your daughter be happy with Dora paper plates? Check eBay and Red Dot for bargains too.