Frugal Birthday Parties


Since having children we have celebrated over 40 birthdays at our house. Some have been big, some small, some cheap and some way too expensive. I have learned the hard way what works, what doesn’t, what was a complete waste of money, and what was worth it’s weight in gold.
The main thing I’ve learned is that your child’s birthday is for your child, not for you, your neighbors, friends, classmates, or even grandma and grandpa. Remembering this will help keep birthdays in perspective and in your budget.

Ultra Cheap Idea – Bake a cake (from a mix you purchased at the the store with a double coupon of course), reuse candles from the last kid’s birthday, ice cream is optional, immediately family only. (Okay- I am only sort of kidding here, we have actually done this and our one-year old didn’t seem to mind a bit)

Cheap Idea – Bake a cake (from a mix you purchased at the the store with a double coupon of course), reuse candles from the last kid’s birthday, serve ice cream and a bag of chips and salsa, serve iced tea and lemonade for drinks. Invite extended family as well.

These two ideas work well for young kids. They don’t remember their early birthday years anyway, they just like to look at pictures of themselves with cake all over their face, arms, head, etc….

Relatively Inexpensive Idea – If your child has a birthday that falls soon after a holiday, buy paper plates, napkins, and decor from that holiday on clearance and use it as a party theme. For example, I have two girls who have birthdays shortly after Valentine’s Day. Each year I purchase heart shaped plates, napkins, and other decor for 75% off the regular price.

I purchased a heart shape cake mold a few years ago with a coupon from Michael’s. My girls love their heart birthdays and look forward to helping me with their cake and decorations. This would work with many other holidays as well, pumpkin or spider themed birthday after Halloween, a snowman party after Christmas, a leprechaun party after St. Patrick’s Day.

Moderately Priced Idea- If you have children who have birthdays that are close together combine the party. A few years ago we had a combined birthday party for 3 of our kids at the neighborhood pool. We asked for no gifts, or gifts that could be for all three kids combined like a movie, book, or art supplies. This saved us money in that we only had to do it once, and it saved our guests money because they only purchased one gift.

Expensive Idea- Spend their college savings account on their 5th birthday by going to Chuck E. Cheese or some other annoyingly loud place that serves cardboard pizza. Invite 20 of your child’s closest friends. My children love this idea, I don’t.

One way around it is to take just your family to Chuck E. Cheese during an “off” time and celebrate. We did this last year and it was actually pretty fun considering we were only one of two families in the entire restaurant.

One of the easiest ways to save money on your child’s birthday is to keep the party small. I know some people who advocate the “one friend per year old plan” So if your child is 4 he would invite 4 friends and so on. This works when they are little, but the parties will keep getting bigger and most likely more expensive as they get older.

If you just must have a party and invite gobs of people here are a few other ideas for keeping birthday costs down.

Make your own invites.

With all the computer programs and printer capabilities available this one is a no brainer.

Skip party favors or have party favors be part of the activities.

Purchase small white bags at a craft store. Part of the party activities can be to decorate the bag with crayons, markers, paint, stickers, whatever you are willing to tolerate. Then have a pinata filled with candy, when the pinata breaks the kids fill their decorated bags with the candy and that is their party favor.

One time consuming, but really fun idea we used one year was dino eggs. I purchased a bag of little plastic dinosaurs from the dollar store. Then I made play-do and shaped it into small eggs with the plastic dinos inside. I baked the eggs on a low temperature until the eggs hardened. On the day of the party, we hid the eggs all around the yard. The kids then searched for the eggs and got to keep the prizes when they cracked the eggs.

Make picture frames.

Many craft stores sell foam kits, but you can be really frugal and use Popsicle sticks. Put together the frame, decorate, and then take a picture of the guest and the birthday kid. Print out the picture, glue it into the frame, and you have a nice souvenir for the birthday guest to take home.

Keep food to a minimum.

Don’t schedule your party around a meal unless you want to feed everybody. Cake, ice cream, and lemonade will be plenty for a 10am or a 2pm birthday. Bake your own cake. If this is intimidating to you, bake cupcakes or brownies. One fun idea is to bake cupcakes and have each child decorate their own. You won’t have to decorate anything and you have a party activity as well.

Planned activities are not required.

If it is the right time of year weather wise, have the birthday at a neighborhood or community park. Bring a cake and a cooler of small water bottles. The kids will have so much fun at the park they will usually have a hard time taking a break to eat cake. Have a pool party. The only downside to this is having too many kids in the pool. Make sure you have plenty of adults to supervise this one. If you don’t have pool, have a sprinkler party. Fill up some wading pools, water guns, water balloons and let the kids have fun. Many malls have play areas for smaller kids. I have seen many families meet here for birthdays and then have cake in the food court. Check with a mall manager before scheduling this.

We do not have huge parties at our house. Last year my five year old decided to go to Krispy Kreme for his birthday. For about $10 (the cost of a dozen donuts and some milk) he had one of the best days of his life. When the manager found out it was his birthday, not only did he get a free donut, but we also got a behind the scenes tour of the shop.

Even though our kids don’t have huge parties every year, it doesn’t make their special day any less special. The older ones are allowed to sleep in and if it is a school day they get the day off. They usually are allowed to plan our menu for the day (within reason), and we sing Happy Birthday at every meal.

Their siblings all make cards and wrap homemade or thrift store gifts. I usually make a video slide show of their life, which they watch over and over. (This is easy if you start on their first birthday, then you only need to add on another year every time) At dinner we go around the table and tell the birthday kid why we are happy they were born, and of course we retell their birth story.

Throughout the day they receive phone calls from relatives and friends wishing them a happy birthday. Since scaling back on parties, I have not heard one complaint from my children. In fact, I think they enjoy it more that the attention is focused on them and not cleaning the house, shopping, and getting ready for a party.

What do you think? Do you have a frugal birthday idea? Leave a comment and let me know.






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  1. I love buying all sorts of party supplies at those lovely discounted prices — 75% – 90% really gets my shopper blood flowing. When my kids were little, I’d pack them away in a huge box then pull them out when party time rolled around. We had all sorts of theme birthdays. Even the regular B-D supplies will be run on discount at certain times and can be picked up for pennies on the dollar.

    Personally, I love reused candles. You can actually get the candles to light without burning your fingers.

    Great party ideas.

  2. I try to hit the dollar store for most of the party supplies and candles. I got a huge thing of candles for $1 that will last us through years of partying 🙂

    We try to do the homemade kind of birthdays and we are fortunate enough that my nephew and son are so close in age that it is like he has his best friend for every event…eliminating the need for now to invite tons of friends 😉

    Great tips!

    PS- Your link on Biblical Womanhood is going to your Wordless Wednesday post. Just wanted to let you know…

  3. For our girls birthdays (for now, the oldest is only 4) we only have us, grandparents, aunts & uncles and one great-grandma over for cake and ice cream. It’s only about 15 people total. I make a cake to go along with the theme we have chosen. We have had Elmo, Pooh, Nemo and Ratatouille.
    We also use the number candles so that we can reuse them each year!! Only have to buy one new one each year. However, we buy plates, napkins, cups and a birthday banner to go along with that theme to make it more festive.

    We have known friends to spend several hundred dollars on their daughters FIRST birthday and have tons of people over. While it was fun, we thought it was a bit much for a first birthday that the child isn’t going to even remember. Just our opinion though!

    You can check out this post to see a picture one of our birthday cakes…ratatouille!

  4. Great ideas! I have two boys birthdays after v. day, I don’t think they would appreciate the pink and hearts as much!
    The funny thing is we usually only invite immediate family and it can be like 22 people since I am the oldest of 11 children!

  5. We spent about $300 per birthday party for my son for the last 3 years and then for his 8th birthday felt we should start cutting expences to pay down our debt. So we decided we would not have a birthday party and instead buy yearly passes to a theme park so that we can have free (or prepaid) fun all year round.

    Well, our son really enjoyed having his birthday with all his friends and did not want to give it up. So I decided that if it is his friends he is missing, we can do it at his school and invite his other friends who are not in his class to the theme park with us.

    We bought favors and the bags from the party store, a cake, and his birthday gifts and planned to meet in the class 15 minutes before the end of the day. The teacher knew about it but not our son. It was a great suprise for him.

    We gave him his gifts, and passed out the gift bags and the cake. The class had a great time and so did our son.

    That weekend we went to the theme park with the discounted yearly passes we purchased and enjoy going at least once a month when we want to go out and want to not spend money.

    But of course we could have saved even more money if we would have skipped the theme park passes. But I don’t regret getting them because we do use them a lot, we got an extra year for free and we don’t spend any money when we go because the parking is also free with the pass. We pack food and water to bring with us.

  6. Great minds think alike! I instituted the decorated bag/(homemade) pinata idea a few years ago for our parties, and it has saved a ton of money and a lot of headache! For the older kids, they now just have a sleepover with 3-5 friends. Sleepovers requires no decorating or party favors and the kids have a lot more fun than at an expensive 2-hour party.

  7. These are some really great ideas. I only have two young boys (3 and 1), and we keep their birthday celebrations really simple. For my youngest sons 1st birthday this year we took a few hour drive and took him to the beach for the first time. We packed food, and just spent the day there. The only thing it cost us was gas (I didn’t even buy him one present), and really I felt like it was perfect. He squealed as soon as I put him down in the sand and just ran and played and had so much fun with his older brother. The pictures and memory are something that I will always cherish, and something that I hope he will appreciate later on.
    For my oldest sons 3 year birthday this year, his Grandparents were in town, and we just made some fresh peach crisp, ate it, and went and played at the park. The day was filled with singing and play and he was surrounded by people who loved him. He had so much fun and felt so loved.
    There are so many ways to celebrate without having a party and buying lots of things. I think the simpler the better!

  8. I love love love your dino egg idea my son who is turning 8 next month wants a pirate party and that would be so cute but do treasure chest instead. Thanks so much for the great ideas

  9. We save money by skipping the disposables. Instead of paper napkins, plates and cups, we just use our own dishes for a birthday party at home, and stick them in the dishwasher when we’re done. We have a couple of reusable wipe-off tablecloths, and we use cloth napkins for day-to-day, so we use them for parties too. They clean up spills and wipe sticky hands and faces way better than paper napkins anyways!

    Last year we had a homemade play dough table for my daughter’s second birthday, which was a big hit. We didn’t have to organize the kids at a particular time – just let them wander and play when they felt like it. I’m thinking of a craft table this year, but might have to use the kitchen table instead of the coffee table because of small siblings who put things in their mouths. I’m also planning to make a couple of fabric banners that we can reuse for occasions throughout the year.

  10. Our kiddos get a “kid” party on their odd birthdays and then it’s cheap. We do homemade cupcakes (I can decorate those!), ice cream sandwiches (cut in half for the kiddos), pretzels, and lemonade/water. The cupcakes are homemade (usually a mix that was on sale w/ coupon), and homemade frosting. I decorate them like you do, cute wrappers and a pick. When they have a “kid” party we don’t buy them a huge gift (usually less than $20) since they are getting a bunch from friends, so that helps, too! I reuse the same “Happy Birthday” banner and balloon weight. They get to pick out a mylar balloon and I’ll fill that and a couple of latex with my helium tank (those $20 ones at the store last quite a while!). I also make it a point to buy various colors of crepe paper streamers when I find them on sale and we use those to decorate the doorways. The kids look forward to helping decorate, too, so I don’t have to worry about doing it all by myself, either. Being frugal can still be a blast!

  11. Great ideas over here! My kids are very young (3 and 1) and we have kept parties small and within the family, except for the very first one. Frankly, I just dislike the idea of a party just to bring gifts to a child that already has everything that they need and possibly want, but I also think it is important for them to feel special on their birthday… I thought that when my daughter started preschool the party craziness would start, but so far, we have been fortunate to stay off the birthday party circuit… in her preschool the parents usually bring in cupcakes and goody bags for the whole class, and I like that idea… In the future, when we might have “kid parties”, we might look into a party for charity, asking for donations to a chosen charity, rather than gifts…

  12. Up until a month ago, my 2 kids were the only kids in my family. We used to do big (but fairly cheap) parties with a certain number of friends AND family… too much chaos. We have started doing something with a set number of friends depending on what my kid wants for their birthday. Example: My daughter wanted to go bowling for her birthday. I had found a coupon for $30 for up to 6 people to bowl for 2 hours including shoe rental and a pitcher of soda. I told her she could invite 5 friends. They came back to our house after (only about 3 minutes away) and had cupcakes and pizza. Then a few hours later family came and they all pitch in potluck style so we can have a big meal to celebrate along with a cake! We’re getting ready for a dragon hunt in our backyard in a few weeks!! My baby turns 5!

  13. We had one of my daughters’ 3rd bday party at the local park, and we let the kids mix up a fruit salad. She was very into The Wiggles at that time, and they have a fruit salad song. We played the song and gave each child a bag with a certain kind of fruit in it. When the song said their kind of fruit, they dumped it in the bowl. All the kids loved it, and it was a relatively cheap food for the party. The kids liked the fruit salad more than the cupcakes.

  14. We have had two big parties for our son at our neighborhood pool. We go simple and inexpensive on food (crockpot hotdogs, watermelon and a homemade cake). We skip decorations, except some balloons that the other kids can take home. This way we are not exhausted by the time the party arrives. We invite all of the families at our church and see it as an opportunity to bless others–and not focus on ourselves. We ask guests not to bring gifts (since we are looking at a lot of people!) and then our son gets his time to open gifts from family back at home. We focus the day on thanking God for the gift that he is to us, but also on seeking ways to be a blessing to others too.

  15. Almost all of my birthday parties were just my immediate family, and I’m none the worse for wear! 😉 We’d get to pick out our birthday supper (usually it was pizza, which my mom made from scratch, of course), and we’d always have my mom’s chocolate cake (from scratch), and sometimes ice cream. On perhaps 3-4 occasions, I had a birthday party with friends spending the night (school would usually mess it up), and mom would make extra pizza.

    And this is what I’m doing with my kids, and what most of my siblings’ kids’ b’day parties have been as well. One of my sisters does big birthday parties for her two kids. When they were young, it was lots of their family friends (mostly adults) with a few kids; now, it’s mostly kids with a few adults; it was usually expensive. One of my nieces had a birthday yesterday, and we had the typical (for our family) party — homemade pizza with homemade cake and store-bought ice cream for birthday lunch. My sister remembered that she had some decorations (streamers that she had probably had since my niece was 2 y/o and balloons and left-over plates and napkins from other parties), so she put those up. My oldest niece, who just turned 13 and always has the big, expensive parties asked, “If you’re going over the top like this for her 12th birthday party, what are you going to do for her 13th?!” Her younger brother, who likewise has big, expensive parties, also seemed to be jealous of the streamers and “party atmosphere.” Isn’t that odd? They’ve had parties at the skating rink, bowling alley, local lake, and elsewhere, with my sister providing food for dozens of people, including probably at least 10-15 of their friends… but they’re jealous of their cousin who has 10-y/o streamers at a family party??

  16. TheHappyHousewife says:

    What a cute idea Lindsey! And I remember that song… fruit salad…. yummy yummy….

  17. Another inexpensive way to do favors…

    I just attended a four year old’s birthday where the mom requested that everyone bring a wrapped book in lieu of gifts. As soon as the kids walked into the party, their book was given a number, and they pulled a number out of a cup as they left. *voila* Instant favors!

    The other bonus is that many guests didn’t have to spend as much on gifts, and birthday boy’s mom wasn’t left with a pile of toys to contend with. Plus, who doesn’t love leaving a party with a new book? 🙂

  18. For my daughters birthday parties, she is now 21, we did what was done at parties when I was a kid…pin the tail n the donkey, drop the clothespin in the bottle, musical chairs..Then since it was Dec., I would put together grahm cracker houses the day before so they would be dry, the girls would get to decorate them and bring them home..the most popular was ice cream cone trees that they decorated. They still bring those up..they loved it and requested the party include that activity, even at 13..very little money, lots of fun, and still being remembered now.

  19. We have four kids (3boys and a girl) when we realized we wanted to have more than just our first we went into money saving mode. We do a BIG birthday on milestone yrs such as 5, 10, 16. They don’t mind they get just as much attention and have just as much fun on the less expensive birthdays. They get one big gift from their dad and I and then one smaller gift from each of their siblings. We have over family only and do mommy made cakes and ice cream. Their favorite part of their birthday is they get to pick one thing they don’t have to do during there birthday. Usually it is chores or stay home from school(if their bday falls on a school day) they think about it for days before their bday and it is one of those traditions they love. We all get up before the birthday person and sneak in their room to sing happy birthday to wake them up and they always get a special time on their birthdays where I alone spend a few minutes wit

  20. with them and we go over that special moment in my life when they were born. I always make sure to do this the exact minute they were brought into this world. I always want my kids to know how special they are but I don’t believe spending major money every birthday is the only way to show it.

  21. Thanks for the memories… and all the useful tips you have given us these last 4 years!


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