World Book Day is on 2 March. It's a fantastic idea to promote literacy. An entire day is devoted to children sharing their love of their favourite books, and spreading the joy of reading. In Primary schools, the kids are even invited to dress up, to help celebrations feel even more festive. It's a fantastic idea: the trouble is that companies have hijacked it as a money-making exercise. So how can you avoid the rip offs?
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The email inboxes of parents are packed with missives from party companies and online retailers trying to sell them the latest and greatest fancy dress costumes for the day. According to eBay, they spend a combined £386,000 on outfits for the day.
Rhian Bartlett, Senior Director of home, garden and fashion at eBay says: "World Book Day has captured the imagination of families up and down the country and with endless cute pictures of kids dressed up doing the rounds on their parents' social media accounts; it's no surprise that parents are keen for their child to look the part."
If you are going to avoid the rip-offs, then you have six possible approaches.
1. Find a discount
The users of HotUKdeals.com have been on the case, and discovered that Smyths Toys and Matalan are both offering decent discounts on a number of costumes that could work for the day.
2. Befriend someone with a taller child (of the same gender)
Generally in life, this one simple step is going to save you hundreds of pounds in clothes, as you snaffle up their hand-me-downs. They may well appreciate the fact that their clothes and old World Book Day costumes are going to a good home, and you might come to an arrangement as to how you can repay them for their generosity - like baking them a home-made cake occasionally, or babysitting for them.
Everybody goes through World Book Day angst every year, so why not take advantage of their brilliant solution from last year, by dressing your child in their old costume?
3. Start with your child's wardrobe and work backwards
If your child has a striped red and white top, then you're covered (Where's Wally). If they have a football kit then look no further (Frankie's Magic Football). If they have a blue dress and a red ribbon, you have your answer (Matilda), and if they have a red top and you have a big saucepan, then you're sorted too (George's Marvellous Medicine).
If you have somehow managed to avoid buying them anything useful, then don't worry, because school uniform will work. Black shorts, a white t-shirt and a black backpack will give you the Wimpy Kid, while Flubit.com's money saving expert Carla Rio Alves points out that an untidy uniform (loose tie and untucked shirt) will transform your child into Jodie from My Sister Jodie by Jacqueline Wilson.
4. Harry Potter Characters
Admittedly, you are likely to have to invest in a cloak, but Tesco Direct has one for £13. You just need to add a grey jumper or a white shirt, plus black trousers or a skirt and you have a costume that's going to work for World Book Day and Halloween. It's also 'one size fits all', so you can keep it going for as many years as you want.
Don't feel you have to invest in glasses too - there's a vast array of characters to choose from - and you might even persuade the kids to check the book for ideas.
5. Be creative with the accessories
A costume doesn't have to involve a whole new outfit. If your child owns some blue clothes, then wrap them in bandages, and suddenly they're Mr Bump. If your daughter owns a cardigan and a shirt, then douse their hair in talc, apply some face paint (or eyeliner) wrinkles, and she's Gangsta Granny. Alternatively, a scrap of gold paper (the inside of a Galaxy Bar counts) can be transformed into a golden ticket - and your child into Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
6. Showstoppers for the gutsy
If your confident child wants to make a splash, then Captain Underpants can be created with a pair of y-fronts and a red cape (presumably with something underneath... you don't want them to be sent home). Alternatively, there's always The Boy in the Dress for inspiration.
In return for your efforts, don't forget that your child (if they are aged between 5 and 18) will get a free £1 book token to spend on a book of their choice (as long as it costs £2.99 or more). Alternatively they can swap it for one of the ten special books produced for the day. Think of it as payment for your ingenuity.
Of course, there's nothing to stop you sticking them anything that comes to hand from the toy box - especially if you remember on the morning. Nobody has the time or headspace to be a perfect, glowing example of parenthood everyday, and this might just not be your day.
...just as long as you don't find yourself scouring the toy shops and supermarkets the night beforehand, throwing a small fortune at a problem that can be solved for free.