What is the cost of a child's birthday party?

It pains me to say I have created a rod for my own back. We have three children, aged 7 through 18 months and we have always, every single year, had a party to celebrate the day of their birth.

These have not been lavish affairs with venues, caterers, themes, ponies or magicians. They certainly haven't cost us anything close to $1000 which wasreported a year ago by the ABC to be the price some families spend on creating the perfect child's birthday party.

Ours have been modest festivities either at home or the park, with cake, chocolate crackles and lolly bags. (Oh OK, also meringues, chicken sandwiches, fruit platters, fairy bread, honey jumbles and a few other treats that nostalgia prevents me from failing to prepare).

While these parties have not been outlandishly expensive they do take time and energy to plan, prepare and host, which is why I recently pitched an alternative. Perhaps we could take the birthday girl, with her sisters, and two or three friends to the movies or even Luna Park? Wouldn't that be lovely? (Not to mention a little less time-intensive.)

Apparently not. The birthday girl is turning five and has been discussing her party basically since the day of her 4th birthday party so it's hardly surprising the proposed alternatives were knocked back.

"Well we could do that, Mummy AND have a party with my friends at home, with cake and lollies?" she said optimistically.

Nice try, but no. It's one or the other and given she's not for turning, a birthday party it is.

Having hosted a party every year for each child, not hosting one now seems unfairly punitive. (Even if, truth be told, a little punitive treatment wouldn't go astray at times.)

In a bid to preserve precious time, I thought I'd make some inquiries about aspects of the party that could be outsourced.

Buying a cake was scratched when I was quoted $180 for a fairly simple creation, at which point I quickly picked our beloved, worn Australian Women's Weekly cake bible back off the shelf and started flipping. Admittedly that was a higher-end bakery but given my husband and I can both bake, the idea of forking out suddenly felt unnecessarily extravagant.

We can cater the whole party for $180 but it will take a lot more of our time than if we engaged a professional baker to create a masterpiece. (Those Women's Weekly cakes are plenty of things but speedy to bake, create and decorate they are not.)

The cake conundrum reminded me of the ever-present juggle in the running of a household: so often money is the trade-off for saving time, just as time is the trade-off for saving money.

Healthy, pre-prepared meal options are a fabulously efficient way to feed the family but they're not cheap. Homemade meals are a lot cheaper but they take a lot more time to plan, shop for and then prepare. Hiring a cleaner saves time, but costs more money.

Given time and money are finite commodities, both are valuable. Figuring out which one takes precedence, at which point, for which cause, is a moving feast. At least, it is in our home. For now, we are willing to expend more time than money in celebrating the birthday of one of our daughters.

It might not always be the case but it's also probably true that in a few years' time the elaborate decorated cakes won't be desired, at which point it's possible we will miss the opportunity to make them. Getting creative with cake, buttercream and assorted lollies isn't the worst way to spend a few hours. And, it turns out doing so has saved us a fair bit of money over the years.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality.

This story What is the cost of a child's birthday party? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.