Bringing Fun Home: Inexpensive Home Party Ideas


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Planning a birthday party? Better save those pennies. According to event services firm GigMasters, more than two-thirds of parents spend at least $300 on their child’s big day, and nearly one in six spends a grand or more. But you don’t need to raid your kids’ college fund to plan a festive, photo-worthy fete. These four ideas for do-it-yourself home parties max out on style and fun without breaking the bank.

Whats Old is New: Vintage

Noticed an influx of retro tunes, toys and togs lately? Modern parents are coasting on a wave of nostalgia that’s bringing all sorts of vintage Americana into vogue. Nearly any party theme can take on a vintage twist for a fresh, new-again vibe, says Raleigh-based Lauren Isaacs, digital media specialist for Carolina Parent. Isaacs drew on the Little Golden Books she loved as a child to craft a “vintage kitten” theme for daughter Evelyn’s first birthday celebration.

“We’re having a throwback moment in parenting and clinging to themes and styles that we liked from our childhoods,” she says.

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How to: “Most any theme can become old-timey if you just add the word ‘vintage’ in front of it,” says Isaacs, who found Little Golden Book-styled illustrations online at Pinterest and Etsy that helped her hone in a traditional color scheme for Evelyn’s party. For your little sports nut, create a vintage baseball theme with Cracker Jacks, peanuts and old baseball trophies. Planning for a tiny bibliophile? Search and print images from vintage childhood books to use as decorations.

Get Moving: Classic Backyard Games

Got an energetic school-aged child and a large guest list? Head to your backyard or a local park for an outdoor funfest filled with classic games. Think ring toss, foursquare, capture the flag, Frisbee golf, lawn bowling, marble races and more. Bonus: Guests’ parents will love you for serving a dose of fresh air and exercise, and for giving kids a chance to burn off all that sugar before heading home. Many outdoor games can be set up with little to no out-of-pocket cost, and others that require equipment can be reused for years to come.

How to: Use yard-marking paint and a large round stencil to create a “Twister”-style board on the grass. Make smaller dots for younger players or larger dots for older kids. To create a “passing practice game,” cut several holes in varying shapes in a basic blue tarp and outline the cutouts with colored duct tape, then string the game up from a tree branch. Craft a homemade cornhole board from plywood and a jigsaw; buy or make small beanbags to throw. Hit up your local home improvement store for two inexpensive two-by-four boards to turn into a giant Jenga set for tweens and teens. If you’d like, paint the wood to match the party theme. (No need to saw them yourself, since most home improvement stores will cut purchased wood to size.)

Cinematic: Outdoor Movie

Think all kids’ parties need to be wild and noisy? Think again. If relaxed and low-key is more your family’s style, consider a backyard movie screening, complete with a favorite film, movie theater snacks and comfy lounging pillows. This theme can take on a glitzy, awards-show twist with strings of glittering backyard lights, a DIY “red carpet” made from carpet samples, parental “paparazzi” snapping pictures, an old-fashioned lighted movie sign, striped popcorn bags and classic movie memorabilia to give it a vintage vibe.

How to: A white sheet provides the backdrop for the movie, so find one that’s large and bright, and place it in a spot that won’t get blasted with rays from the setting sun. (Note: Big-box retailers also sell inflatable outdoor movie screens for less than $150.) Rent a projector from a party-rental store and do a “test run” beforehand to ensure that your party won’t suffer from audio-visual malfunctions. Search Pinterest and Etsy for coordinated printables like movie tickets, snack labels and a “concession stand” sign. Take the theme over the top by renting a classic movie popcorn popper, then buy theater-style popcorn tubs online.

Back to nature: Scavenger Hunt

If your little one loves mud, bugs and rocks, why not plan a party that combines treasure hunting with good old-fashioned dirt? A nature-themed scavenger hunt can work for children as young as 4, as long as you have other adults helping out. (Since younger children’s parents often stay for parties, there are sure to be extra grown-ups on hand, anyway). Pick your location based on the size of your group and the guests’ ages. Smaller kids can search your backyard, while older kids may want to spread out over a neighborhood or local park.

How to: Create a simple printable chart with pictures of items the kids will search for — a blooming flower, a beautiful rock, an interesting leaf, a pinecone, an acorn, a chestnut or a twig, for example. Tape or glue the charts to simple brown lunch bags, and include a pencil or crayon so kids can mark off treasures they find. Set a time limit, and don’t forget prizes for guests who collect every item. Inexpensive dollar store magnifying glasses add a nice touch and serve as a useful take-home treasure for young naturalists.

If you plan and take advantage of the vast party resources the Internet and local shops offer, your child’s next birthday party may be his favorite, and your least expensive.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published journalist and mom of three.

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September 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Cost: $5 suggested donation

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Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Cost: $10/person

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Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Cost: free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Cost: Free

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Garner Performing Arts Center
125 Avery St.
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Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Clayton
E. Main St.
Clayton, NC  27520
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Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

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PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
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Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Cost: $2/child

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Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
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Cost: $12-$57

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PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
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Cost: $4/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Do you have what it takes to be a History Detective? Come to Yates Mill and find out! Solve puzzles, hunt for clues, and investigate the mystery of milling with real historical artifacts inside the...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages16 & under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Ages 1-5 and caregiver discover nature on a morning stroll. Register online. Choose course #117285.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Jack Smith Park
9725 Penny Rd.
Cary, NC  27606
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
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City Market
306 Parham St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
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Cost: $12-$57

Where:
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120 Country Club Road
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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Cost: $15/person

Where:
Mordecai Historic Park
1 Mimosa St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Website »

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Cost: $1/Person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Contact Name: Ashley Martin
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Join us for Scrappy Hour at The Scrap Exchange! This month at Scrappy Hour we will be upcycling mason jars! Join us to create useful and decorative items that will spruce up your space! We will be...

Cost: $25

Where:
The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Road
Lakewood Avenue
Durham, NC  27707
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Telephone: 919-213-1278
Contact Name: Anna Graves
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Take the family to see a movie by the lake. Movie begins at dusk. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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Americana powerhouse vocal trio Red Molly has graced stages from Denver to Denmark. The "Mollies" bring audiences to their feet with their gorgeous harmonies, crisp musicianship,...

Cost: $24

Where:
Garner Performing Arts Center
742 W Garner Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Heartwood Montessori
Telephone: (919) 465-2113
Contact Name: Virginia McCollum
Website »

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The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

More information

2018 marks 300 years since the notorious pirate Blackbeard roamed the Carolina coast and lost his life – and his head – in a fight with British soldiers. Learn more about the history of...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

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Cost: $5 advance tickets; $8 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Hollow Rock Nature Park
692 Erwin Rd
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Ali Wolfe
Contact Name: Ali Wolfe
Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Hope Valley Farms YMCA
4818 S. Roxboro St.
Durham , NC  27713
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Sponsor: Hope Valley Farms YMCA
Telephone: 919-401-9621
Contact Name: Kelly Johnson
Website »

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Cost: $10 for ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Project Enlightenment
Telephone: 614-783-2507
Contact Name: Caitlin Howison
Website »

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Cost: Free for general admission

Where:
The Hub Farm
117 Milton Rd.
Durham, NC  27712
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
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Cost: Free

Where:
J. Ashley Wall Towne Square
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Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

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Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Cost: $10 advance tickets; $15 at the door

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Get great bargains on gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equip & more at the twice-yearly Kidz Stuff Consignment Sale. From strollers to jumpers, bikes to wipes warmers-if a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

In celebration of the 151st anniversary of emancipation, MOJAA Performing Arts Company presents a theatrical experience that leads guests through Mordecai Historic Park to experience plantation...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
Mordecai Historic Park
1 Mimosa St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $2

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve
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More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
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120 Country Club Road
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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