I love to host birthday parties! The cake, the balloons, the coordinating table settings, the treat bags…I love planning it all. What I don’t like is spending a ton of money on a few hour celebration!
- I want the focus to be on the birthday celebrant.
- I want my party guests to have a memorably good time.
- I want to show my creative side with tasteful decor and thoughtful party favors.
- But ultimately, I want it to be cheap!
Here are some ways that I host birthday parties. I’ve included ideas depending upon how much you’d like to spend, how much time you have and how creative you’d like to get. Keep in mind, the more time you invest and the more creative you are, the less money you’ll have to spend!
Party Location – If you are budgeting this is obviously not the time to book an ice skating rink or take your child’s entire class to the movies!
If you don’t have a location and booking a venue is a must, ask friends and family first if you can “borrow” their home or yard, in exchange for a favor of course. The local parks are free to host a party and if the weather is good, that can be your best bet. Our kid’s birthdays are in November, December and March so we often get rained out and require an alternate inside location in case of rain (like Grandma’s house!).
Check your local Groupon website first if you’d like to get a bounce house or hire entertainment, they often have specials for 50-70% off.
Invitations & Guests –
The invitation really sets the theme in my book. I’ve made them myself before with scrapbook paper and stickers. I love the invites from Tiny Prints (affiliate link) with the photos on them and if you buy in quantity they are only about a dollar each.
Or save a stamp and buy invitations that can be emailed, like the beautiful ones from Paperless Post. There is a way you can track RSVPs as well, which is handy if you are too busy to call and follow up with your guests.
Every child wants to invite all the kids in class to their parties but with budget and space restrictions, this isn’t always possible. If you’d like to have a more elaborate party, keep the guest list to under 5. If you want to invite the whole group, keep the celebration simple with cake and punch.
Birthday Cake or Cupcakes –
- Make it yourself from a boxed mix
I have made many-a-boxed-cake in my party days and believe me, nobody turns them down! I recommend following Tidy Mom’s tip on doctoring up a boxed mix. You could get canned frosting or whip up your own quite cheaply with a bag of powdered sugar. I usually go for plain vanilla or a cream cheese frosting and add gel food coloring to decorate with.
I recreated the clock face from the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland for my baby’s first birthday party. For the pink and green cupcakes below I just divided a tub of white store-bought frosting and colored it with gel food coloring. Simple but bright and colorful!
- Buy it from the store, pre-made
I hosted my own birthday party last weekend and simply didn’t have the time to be baking (also, it was over 100 degrees and I didn’t have it in me to turn on the stove!). I bought these cupcakes from the grocery store for less than 70 cents each and they were delicious. I chose carrot with cream cheese frosting and chocolate with a caramel whipped topping. You could certainly dress these up with some store-bought sprinkles, fondant toppers or royal icing flowers but I kept it simple for an adult party.
Add your own creativity – FREE!
I took a boxed white cake mix and designed this amazing rainbow cake for my baby’s first birthday, which had an It’s a Small World theme. I was as easy as dividing the batter into separate bowls, adding gel food coloring in a variety of colors and then plopping a cupful of batter one color at a time on top of each other into the cake pans. Ultimate impact for no extra cost!
For my stepdaughter’s 6th birthday, she loved Tinkerbell so I simply baked her cake in a Pyrex bowl to create a little “grassy” hilltop and then added plastic play figures to the top. See what toys you have that you could clean up to use for decoration.
My son made the request for this birthday cake: Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Darth Vader playing soccer. Okaaayy…here it is! I added the Lego Stormtrooper at goalie for good measure. He was thrilled to see his idea come to life!
Party Favors – I like favors that fit my party theme and are fun, practical items that won’t end up at the bottom of the toy box (ie: trash). Aim for quality over quantity. Shop early and with your theme in mind to find the best bargains.
- Home baked Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
This one is not going to cost you too much but they are definitely time consuming. I pace myself over several days when I make these, baking the cookies one day, icing another day and adding details on a third. I follow the recipes and techniques from Sweet Sugar Belle. Practice makes perfect, my decorating skills have improved over the years!
For my stepdaughter’s Alice in Wonderland themed 7th birthday I made little pastel flowers and mushroom shaped cookies. For the baby’s It’s a Small World party I used the same cookie cutter but added colored candies to accent the center of each whimsical flower.
For his second birthday we had an Elmo theme and I made “Elmo-breadmen” out of Sweet Sugar Belle’s gingerbread recipe and only frosted the faces and added small details. They came out so cute (and the gingerbread was yummy!).
- Hand painted wooden toys
I found these little unpainted wooden peg dolls on Etsy (cost about $1.25 each). For my baby’s It’s a Small World party I painted the dolls in Disney characters from around the globe.
We had Lilo representing Hawaii, Merida from Scotland, Aladdin from India and Woody from the USA among others. I painted two dolls a night leading up to the party to pace myself, using acrylic paint and a small brush. I used the dolls as part of the party decor around the dessert table and then told the kids to choose one to take home. By far, the most popular favors I’ve ever given out!
- Treat Bags with goodies
Figuring out your theme early helps here. Keep an eye on the dollar bins or sale sections for items to include in treat bags that work for the age group. Save coupons for the craft store and use those 40% off offers to buy favors. I aim for about 3 items inside a treat bag, usually with something edible (like a sugar cookie) being one of them. Stickers are easy and inexpensive. Costume jewelry, a tube of lip balm and hair accessories are perfect for girls. If you have a large enough treat bag, a coloring book from the dollar store in the party theme is perfect!
At my daughter’s 6th birthday party we had boy and girl themed bags (boys got race cars, girls received bracelets). For my son’s second birthday I only handed out treat bags (filled with a package of crayons & Sesame Street stickers) to the littlest of party goers.
Party Decor – The decor sets the theme and it can be done simply for greatest impact. Choose large decorations instead of tiny ones and you’ll only need a few around the room. Instead of decking out your tables with every piece from a themed line, pick one item whether it be the dessert plates, the table cloth or the napkins. Complete the look by choosing complimentary colors or designs to the themed item. Use toys or decorative items that you already have around the house to complete the theme.
I crafted simple paper pinwheels out of leftover scrapbook paper and hung them with twine. In the center of one pinwheel I taped a color print of a vintage It’s a Small World poster. I don’t have an image of this but I also punched out simple circles from scrap book paper and easily sewed them up on my machine to make a paper streamer to hang from a tree outside.
- Table settings
For the Elmo party, I used red as the main color for the plates and napkins and white on the tablecloths. Then I cut a strip of Dollar Store rainbow wrapping paper to use as the table runner. A Tickle Me Elmo toy set the theme and we didn’t require any expensive themed paper products from the party supply store!
Wrapping paper came in handy again at my birthday party. I used a roll of black wrapping paper and layered it over a gold tablecloth. Writing with an inexpensive white Sharpie pen on the black paper looks like chalk and created a sophisticated element to the tables, for $3.50 total.
Food – This can easily be the most expensive part of party hosting. Depending on what you purchase you might be spending several hundred dollars feeding your guests. If you are budgeting choose foods that are filling but inexpensive.
For parties during cold weather we like to make a big pot of turkey-bean chili and pans of homemade cornbread. In warmer weather we purchase sandwich fixings and include several loaves of bread or rolls, deli meat and a few cheese selections.
Even pizza can get expensive, especially if you add additional toppings. We steer away from prepackaged party platters because they also tend to be pricier. If you want to serve veggies and fruit, buying them whole and cutting them is always going to be cheaper than buying precut.
For my girls-night birthday party, I hosted a salad bar. I chopped a few romaine heads and tossed in a box of spring mix. A little lettuce went a long way! Each one of the toppings cost an average of $1.50 each and I placed them in glass dishes, each with their own spoon. The most expensive item was the chicken, which my husband seasoned & grilled. I was able to feed 25 for about $50 and we had quite a few leftovers.
If the budget is very tight, consider hosting your party at an odd hour (like 2 pm) and don’t offer food other than cake with drinks. Make sure you note on the invite that guests are joining you for dessert so they don’t expect to be served a meal.
Games & Activities – Parents often over think this and tend to plan too many activities during a party. Pinatas are cheap enough but then you have to fill it and that can get really expensive! Sorry, Elsa & Anna from Frozen probably won’t be greeting guests at your party if you’re budgeting.
Kids are more easily entertained than you think. If you host the party at a park, let the playground be the entertainment. The most simple things are the best:
- For little ones – I bought several bags of $1 pipe cleaners and guests young and old spent the afternoon bending and shaping the wires. If you have an outdoor space, Play-doh is always fun for little guys.
- Elementary School Aged – Face painting is popular and if you enlist the help of an artistic friend, it will only cost you the paint. Search Minute to Win It games on Pinterest and find a wealth of things you can do using things from around the house.
- Older kids – Jot up a scavenger hunt list and have kids search either inside or out. An art project with inexpensive watercolors and paper or thin canvas boards and acrylics would keep them busy for a while too. Or simply turn on the music and dim the lights to host a dance party!
- Families – I’d love to do a photo booth at our next party and have fun accessories. I’d take pictures of the guests being silly. The photo can be printed and sent out with thank you cards!
The bottom line is to focus on the birthday kid and not get too wrapped up running around that you actually miss the special moments. It’s all about making memories and not the hoop-la, after all. Take lots of pictures and have fun!
Happy Birthday to you!