Fun Birthday Parties on a Budget

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Birthday parties celebrate our children’s lives and create memories for our kids — and us. However, if the party breaks your budget or gets too complicated, then it causes unnecessary stress for the parent. With some planning you can put on a fun-filled party that easily stays within your budget, and everyone will enjoy the day.

Set a budget

Magazines and websites are great resources for birthday party ideas. However, they can look a little intimidating, and expensive, when everything matches and is picture-perfect. Look at the pages for ideas, but use your imagination and create a version that matches your budget. Kids’ parties do not have to be costly or color-coordinated.

“In our culture, we’ve become conditioned to equating special occasions with spending a lot of money, but the truth is, the amount we spend has little to do with how much the kids will enjoy,” says Lynn Colwell, coauthor of Celebrate Green.

Idea: For a young child, have a color party where you decorate with only items that are “the” color. Choose your games, activities and food by the specific color.

Brainstorm ideas

Talk with your child and ask him what he wants to do at his party. Kids have clever ideas so let them help plan. See what you and your child dream up if you could not spend any money or if you had $10 or $20 for the entire party. You will be surprised at the many possibilities.

It’s also healthy modeling for your child to see you present the challenge of how to have fun on a budget and come up with ideas instead of buying the solution. By inviting her to participate in the planning, it tells her you like her ideas. Your child may want something at her party that fits the budget, but she may need to compromise on something else she wants.

Think about what you already have on hand instead of simply buying something for a party. “Many parents purchase items but later realize they can go without, so know the return policies of the stores and keep receipts,” says Corey Colwell-Lipson, coauthor of Celebrate Green.

Idea: Throw a PJ party sans the sleepover. All guests can dress in pajamas and bring pillows and blankets. The kids can watch an old movie or the latest kid’s movie and eat treats. Depending on the age of the kids, at 9 or 10 p.m. the parents can pick up their sleepyheads.

Plan games and activities

Kids have the most fun when they are active at a party. Colwell-Lipson suggests combining party elements for ease and cost consideration. “Activities that double as take-home gifts, food that doubles as decor or activities that double as food will help out the budget,” Colwell-Lipson says.

For example, bake cupcakes or plain sugar cookies before the party, and the party activity can be kids decorating their own cupcake or cookie. The guests can take home, or eat, their creations.

Another idea is for kids to decorate picture frames or paint flowerpots. Or provide guests with recycled materials such as boxes, bags, toilet paper rolls and plastic containers. Have tape, yarn, scissors, string, glue and markers available and let them create. Yes, they will make a mess, but they will have fun doing it.

In our party culture, we usually hand out goodie bags filled with small candies and junk toys. “Give the guests a good time, not a bunch of junk that will be tossed in the toy box or just tossed,” Colwell says.

Idea: Turn your backyard into a water park. Just add squirt guns, wading-pool games, a slip-n-slide and water balloons and turn on the sprinklers. Crank up the Beach Boys’ Surfin USA music and let them play.

Remember to think through activities in advance.

Be sure your room or backyard can handle all your guests. Before the party, pick up important papers and anything breakable that a guest may knock over. Also check with parents for any food allergies.

As a parent, you want your children to have special memories of their birthdays. However, kids love to participate in planning their own party and will have more fun if you aren’t stressing over it. With simple planning, you can have a memorable celebration and enjoy the day, too. n

Jan Udlock, mom of five and freelance writer, admittedly was not good about letting her kids make a mess at parties. But she’ll be a “messy” grandma.


Other Ways to Cut Costs and Add Fun


  • Invite other families over to celebrate a child’s birthday. All the guests enjoy themselves because the adults can visit and the kids can play.
  • Use a homemade piñata and fill it with candy.
  • Have a scavenger hunt in your yard.
  • Start a tradition of having a real birthday party for a child every other year. It builds the anticipation for the “party year,” and it helps kids learn appreciation.
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