17 Tips to Throw a Kids' Birthday Party on a Budget

Throw a bash to be remembered with these clever cost-cutting ideas. Happy birthday, indeed.

Want to throw your child an awesome party without breaking the bank? We've got you covered! Here are our best tips for sticking to a budget at your next bash.

1. Timing is everything. Plan your party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., says Danielle Walker, author of Against All Grain: Celebrations. After lunch and before dinner is the best time to party, when guests don't expect a full meal.

2. Stretch your planning. Start supply-hunting early; it’ll give you time to comparison shop. Plus, you’ll save yourself from running out at the last minute to buy overpriced things you’ve forgotten. “I’m on the lookout all year for party items that go on sale, usually in the dollar bin at Target, Dollar Tree, or the 99-cent store,” says Helen Holden, author of the blog Counting Candles.

3. Go digital. In a Parents survey of nearly 1,500 parents, 73 percent of you said you sent paper invitations for your kid’s last birthday party. Next time, send your guests a free electronic invitation; you’ll save what you’d normally spend on paper invites.

4. Double up. If your kid’s birthday falls close to a buddy’s, consider a dual party. You and the other child’s parents will split the cost—and responsibilities. Just make sure each kid gets her own cake.

5. Avoid party-store traps. Don’t pay a markup for party-store items that you could find elsewhere for less. For example, chocolates may be sold five for $1 (20 cents each) at party shops, but a bag of minis from a big-box store can be half as much.

6. Tap your network. For entertainment, think about your personal connections and community resources, suggest Steve and Annette Economides, of MoneySmartFamily.com. For example, the couple once asked a friend who is a police officer to come to one of their son’s parties in uniform; likewise, their local college has bowling lanes where rounds were less than half the price of the commercial bowling alley.

7. Opt out. When kids are still little, consider skipping a traditional birthday party altogether, suggests Simple Matters author Erin Boyle. “My husband and I celebrated our daughter’s first birthday with a picnic.”

8. Make themed favors. Try a personalized craft activity; it eliminates the need for hired entertainment and takes the place of a costly goody bag. “I type ‘blank’ or ‘DIY’ on party-supply sites, to see what comes up,” says Jodi Levine, of SuperMakeIt.com, who suggests you pick something related to your theme—whether it’s plain tote bags or white umbrellas.

Yunhee Kim

9. Order online. Prices aren’t always better if you shop online, but hitting the Web for your favors and decorations may help you avoid impulse purchases. Here are a few of our favorite sites for discount party supplies: 

10. Make a semi-homemade cake. Karen Tack, coauthor of Cake My Day!, suggests baking an inexpensive box mix, but substituting buttermilk for the water for a firmer, less-sweet cake. Then frost the cake with a homemade buttercream, combining milk, unsalted butter, vanilla, and confectioners' sugar (many boxes of the sugar have the recipe).

11. Dress up humble supplies. Use what you have on hand to make plain party supplies feel special, as they typically cost half as much as decorated supplies. For example, use a hole-puncher to jazz up paper plates and napkins (punch holes around the outer edge of each plate and one corner of each napkin to create a design) and binder- and dot-stickers to decorate plain balloons. Buy a few key items to establish the theme, like a special foil balloon, and stick to affordable basics for everything else.

12. Price out the party places. Not up for hosting at your casa? It may be more cost- and time-effective to let a venue do the work.

13. Upcycle party favors. Hate goody bags? Levine suggests embracing the stuff kids bring home. “I save all the goody-bag candy that I’d rather they didn’t eat and the toys that they forget about immediately. Then I use them for piñata filler at their own parties,” she says. Bonus: The piñata acts as an activity and its fillings as favors. Find piñatas for less than $20 each at orientaltrading.com.

14. Elevate the everyday. Take advantage of kids’ vivid imagination, suggest Steve and Annette Economides, who say one of their most successful party games was a treasure hunt for “gold” (spray-painted rocks) that the kids took home as favors.

15. Streamline the swag bag. These trinkets are usually sold in sets; divide them up for affordable party favors that are way better than your average birthday goody bag:

Yunhee Kim

16. Embrace no-cost activities. Instead of hired entertainment, be prepared with a few free activities like these classic games you can play for next to nothing:

  • Freeze Dance
  • Keep-Up-the-Balloon
  • Musical Chairs
  • Hot Potato
  • Charades
  • Red Rover
  • Three-Legged Race
  • Duck, Duck, Goose
  • “Button, button, who’s got the button?”
  • “Simon says”

17. Utilize your library. For a free activity, borrow books, videos, and DVDs from the library that correspond to your party’s theme. Storytime is an especially good way to calm preschoolers down after physically active games.

Parents Magazine

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