How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Kids' Birthday Party

Looking to throw a birthday bash on a budget? These kid-friendly party ideas are fun, festive, and won't break the bank.

If your child's birthday is approaching, you may feel a mix of emotions. It is normal be nostalgic, for example, and even a touch sad. But stressed? You may not expect to be so worked up. And yet many parents are. The pressure to throw the perfect birthday party is real. So how do you host an awesome celebration without breaking the bank? Read on for several kids party ideas, including our best tips for sticking to a budget.

Logistical Cost-Cutting Tips

The who, what, when, and where can often break the bank. So, think about logistical ways to streamline and cut costs as you plan your event.

Timing is everything

Plan your party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., says Danielle Walker, author of Against All Grain Celebrations. Between lunch and dinner is the best time to party because guests don't expect a full meal.

Share with a friend

Consider a dual party if your kid's birthday falls close to a buddy's. Then, you and the other child's parents can split the cost and responsibilities. Just make sure each kid gets their own cake and presents!

Opt out of parties for younger kids

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."

Compare venue prices

If you're not up for hosting the party at your home, it may be more cost-effective and efficient to let a venue do the work. But, prices can vary significantly from place to place. So, shop around.

Woman serving cupcakes at birthday party
Jade Albert Studio, Inc./Getty Images

Tips for Saving on Supplies and Favors

Another significant potential cost with kids' birthday parties is the loot. Party hats, plates, napkins, noise-makers, and little gifts add up fast. So to save money, consider these creative cost-cutting suggestions.

Scour sales all year long

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.

Go digital with invitations

In a Parents survey of nearly 1,500 parents, 73% of participants said they sent paper invitations for their kid's last birthday party. So to save money next time, send your guests a free electronic one.

Avoid party-store traps

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

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 decorating 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).

You can also rely on some stickers to decorate plain balloons. Buy a few essential items to establish the theme, like a special foil balloon, then stick to affordable basics for everything else.

Order supplies online

Prices aren't always better if you shop online, but hitting the web for your favors and decorations may help you avoid in-store impulse purchases. Consider using online retailers such as Amazon, Birthday Express, Bulk Toy Store, Dollar Tree, Papermart, Party Palooza, and Save On Crafts.

Upcycle old party favors

Hate goody bags? Jodi Levine of Super Make It 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.

Streamline the swag bag

You can divide up trinkets usually sold in sets for affordable party favors. This approach can be way better than your average birthday goody bag. Consider options like:

  • Bright-colored wooden yo-yos
  • Punch ball balloons
  • Finger puppets
  • Crayons

Make your own cake

Karen Tack, co-author 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 homemade buttercream, combining milk, unsalted butter, vanilla, and confectioners' sugar (many boxes of sugar contain the recipe).

Budget-Friendly Entertainment Ideas

You don't have to hire a clown or a traveling petting zoo to keep kids entertained. Instead, consider crafts and other low- or no-cost activities to keep guests busy.

Tap into your network

For kids' birthday party entertainment, think about your connections and community resources, suggests Steve and Annette Economides of Money Smart Family. 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.

Choose crafts that double as 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 Levine. Then, she suggests you pick something related to your kids' birthday party theme—plain tote bags or white umbrellas.

Hunt for treasure

Take advantage of kids' vivid imagination, suggests the Economides. For example, they say one of their most successful party games was a treasure hunt for "gold" (spray-painted rocks) that the kids took home as favors.

Embrace no-cost activities

Instead of hired entertainment, prepare a few free activities like these birthday party games:

  • 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"

You can search for game instructions online.

Utilize your library for free media

For a free activity, borrow books, videos, and DVDs from the library that correspond to your party's theme. For example, storytime is a perfect way to calm preschoolers down after physically active games.

General Cost-Saving Kids Party Ideas and Themes

You've got the goods and saved on entertainment but what do you do now? These tips, tricks, and themes will help you save even more money.

Throw a slumber party

When most people think of birthday parties, they think of play places and roller rinks, but those aren't your only options. In fact, for older children, a sleepover with a few close friends may be the perfect option. Order a few pizzas, plan a few activities—like faces masks and manicures—and maybe order a movie and you're all set.

Host a backyard BBQ, if you have one

Another great cost-saving kids party idea is the good ol' backyard BBQ. There's no venue rental fees here (and no catering costs). And if you buy your food in bulk—at a big-box store, for example—you can really save some money. Plus, you don't have to transport decorations and gifts back and forth, which is an added bonus—and a real win-win.

Celebrate at a nearby park

If you live near a park or another outdoor space and your kid's birthday falls during a seasonably warm or comfortable month, having their celebration in a park is a great option. Parks often have areas that you can reserve, and they're typically free or low cost. The downside? You can and should have a weather-related backup plan (in case it rains, for example).

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