Aideen Sheehan says you don't have to splash out to have a day to remember
They can strike fear into the hearts of parents, but birthday parties remain a highlight of most children's year.
Despite cutbacks the birthday party circuit is still going strong for the country's kids, and parents are finding ways of cutting costs while giving their children a day to remember.
With a million children in the country under 14, there's still thousands of parties being held every single week so Smart Consumer took a look at the costs involved, and ways of giving your child a special day on a budget.
Activity centres are extremely popular for parties because kids like them and parents like not having to clean up afterwards.
They usually provide around 90 minutes of play/activities, sometimes around a theme like princesses or pirates, followed by food although you usually have to bring your own cake.
The following venues are popular, but loads more options can be found on websites such as schooldays.ie and childrensparties.ie
Leisureplex, Coolock, Blanchardstown, Tallaght, Stillorgan in Dublin. Sat-Sun €15.75/child. Mon-Fri, and before 1pm weekends €14/child.
Supernova, Cork: Activity/Princess parties Mon-Sunday €15-25/child.
Kids Playbus, Limerick: Fri-Sun €230, Mon-Thurs €200.
City Limits, Galway: Fri-Sun €16/child, Tues-Thursday €13/child.
These usually come to your home and provide an hour to 90 minutes of entertainment after which you feed the kids and hopefully send them home happy.
Juliette Rahill of Geniemackers.com said many parents chose an entertainer because flat rates meant it worked out cheaper than an activity centre for a larger number of children.
Paul Redmond, who's been a magician for 26 years, said parents did still dig deep to give their kids a good party.
"There are still loads of parties happening because parents will beg, borrow or steal for their children, but you do have to go the extra mile now," he said.
Loads more examples of entertainers can be found on www.schooldays.ie or www.childrensparties.ie.
Geniemackers.com: €185 at weekends, €155 weekdays or mornings. Includes facepainting, magic and balloons.
Paul the Magician: €150, €99 midweek, Paulthemagician.ie. Includes magic show, Punch & Judy and balloon modelling.
Do it yourself
While activity centres and home entertainers are very popular for parties, having a party at home and organising all the games yourself is the obvious way of keeping costs down.
Summer parties have the advantage over winter ones that you'll hopefully be able to let them loose outdoors.
The key to a good home party is to be prepared and plan your games in advance – small children have a short attention span and need structure to keep them from rampaging around your home.
That means things like wrapping that parcel in advance for pass the parcel, choosing suitable music and drawing up a list of games.
With food, go for things kids will definitely eat such as chips, sausages, chicken nuggets, pizza and cake while cartons of juice with straws can avoid spillage.
Have your party in the morning
While afternoon parties are still the norm, discounted rates are often available if you have yours in the morning.
Many playcentres and entertainers offer good reductions for having offpeak parties, up to €5 less per child.
Share a party
Sharing a party with one or two other kids in the class is a great way of sharing the cost and the hassle.
Parents sometimes introduce a "one present only" rule on invites to joint parties and then share the presents between the children.
During the boom years children sometimes invited the whole class, particularly in the younger age groups, but few can now afford this or manage 30 plus kids.
However, you could take a decision to invite only girls or boys from the class, or ask your child who they want.
Parents can feel pressured to spend too much on birthday presents, even though most also feel kids already get too much.
Around €10-15 seems to be the norm. We've heard of classes where the parents get together to organise contributions of €5 to €10 each per party attended, with the money going to buy a voucher for a toy shop along with one small gift that can be given on the day.
Unfortunately these are now so common that kids demand them at the end of the party but often they contain bits and pieces that get looked at once and never used again.
A couple of edible treats like jellies or mini chocolate bars always go down well, however.