Fab Family Fun: Birthday on a Budget

family fun

We got an email from reader Rena asking for tips on how to throw an inexpensive birthday party.

We are having my daughters birthday party this weekend at a park we also rented a bounce house and for food we are just doing hot dogs, pasta salad, and cake. I got soda and hot dogs at Albertsons when they had the special and I had a $1/2 coupon for the hot dogs. But I am still ending up spending about $250 and I would like to not have to spend soo much next year.  Any ideas would be helpful!!

Here are Some Ideas for a More Frugal Party!

Buy It When You See It on Sale

Like Christmas, birthdays come so quickly every year!  If you see party supplies or a present your child would like, get it while it’s cheap.  My son turned 4 in January and we had a Pirate Party.  I bought Pirate supplies at 70% off a few months before and only spent about $15 on decorations, invitations, party bags, etc.

Use What You Have

For activities, we played Giraff-a-laff Limbo, which we already had, and played a cute little game of pretend called “Go to Sleep” my son learned at preschool.  Finally, we had a treasure hunt where the kids searched for their party bags.

Inside the party bags I put juice boxes (free), fruit roll-ups ($.30 a box), crazy straws ($.25 ea.) and pirate rings from the 70% off sale.

The Food

For lunch we had homemade pizza, which costs about $3 per regular sized pizza.  I made cupcakes with cake mix I got for $.25 and homemade frosting.  Compare that to a $20 cake from Costco and you’ve saved a lot!

The food does not have to be out of control.  Kids just like to be together, be fed, and have fun!

A Few More Ideas

Michael’s has 15 ct. glow sticks for $1.00, which make great party favors!  I also saw them at Target this week in the $1.00 section.

Play the fish pond game and buy little candies or prizes at the dollar store for kids to fish for.

For a girl: Makeover Party!  Have some older girls help paint fingernails, do hair, and put on a touch of make-up to help the party girls feel grown up.  Then make a music video and let them watch it when they’re done.  They’ll feel so special!  Or you could do a photo shoot after they’re all made up and make a simple back drop out of a brightly colored sheets and glitter.  I’m just rambling off ideas here…

I spent no more than $40 on my son’s entire party, probably less!  What are your frugal birthday success stories?


  • Anissa

    Last week we celebrated my son’s birthday by going to the Discovery Center on Friday when it was free, and then going across the bridge to the park for cake and Capri Suns. I got the Capri Suns on sale at Albies, and I was going to make a cake using the pile of cake mixes in my stockpile, but my parents bought one to save me the effort. My son is 11, so we didn’t bother with goodie bags.

  • Jen

    I’d love to hear some other ideas (boys AND girls), esp. for older kids. We have a 12 year old daughter and LOADS of extended family!

  • jane

    I threw 2 parties this year and my prices are pretty cheap. The first one I did was a mad scientist party. The party favors were the science experiments we did along with safety glasses or sunglasses that were cheap ($1.00 a pair). The cupcakes were topped with magnifying glasses. I think total spent was under $30 dollars and the kids had a blast.

    The next party was a Toy Story party. We went to “Pizza Planet” and cooked our own pizzas. We then had a moon rock pick up (easter eggs that I bought on clearance all with toy story characters on them) and then we played defeat Zurg. (wet sponges thrown at my husband who had to stay in a hula hoop. Cupcakes were topped with army men. It was probably under $30 dollars too. Cost to make pizza, Easter eggs with cheap candy on sale :), dollar store sponges cut up, a bag of army men, and next to nothing cupcakes and ice cream!!!

    I took pics and posted on our blog if you want to see a visual!!!


    • Sherry

      Great pics! I think my daughter would love the mad scientist party. Where did you get the magnifying glasses for the cupcakes? Thanx for the ideas!

  • jane

    BTW I like looking at theme parties from http://www.familyfun.com.

  • Susan

    This may seem obvious, but definately look for party favors when they’re in season. My daughter’s birthday is in July, and we have a tradition of a swim party. July is a great time for a swim party, but not a great time to buy luau/swim stuff. After a few years (I’m slow!) I figured out to buy party supplies in the spring when they’re cheap and plentiful. One year my daughter wanted an Asian theme, so I picked up somethings around Chinese New Year.

    I don’t care for goodie bags, personally. Instead, we do a little craft of some sort that the kids can take home. One year I bought some clear beach balls that I found online and the kids decorated them with Sharpie markers, and they all signed each other’s balls. Another year we did something similar with those foam noodle floaties. Look for white ones tho — the colored ones are harder to color on. When my daughter was younger, we just did a pinata. Each child got a party-theme paper cup to fill up with pinata loot, and that was their take-home goodie.

    If you’re inviting a lot of family and friends where the party will be more of a family event than a kids party, I see nothing wrong with having a potluck. I wouldn’t do thisit the party is just for kids and you’ve not having adults over, but if it’s a family get-together with other parents and adult guests to be fed, then it’s a good way to lower the expense. I’ve hosted such parties, and I’ve attended such parties, and they always went over well. I supplied a main dish (a big box of fried chicken, for example) and asked others to bring a side dish to share. I’ll have a beverage of some sort available (like lemonade) and indicated to my guests that they’re free to bring their own beverage of choice, if they choose. And of course I supply dessert, birthday cake.

    You can save a lot of money if you serve just birthday cake and not a meal. But — if I may say this — if you don’t plan on serving lunch or dinner, don’t hold a party during “regular” lunch or dinner times. My daughter was invited to a birthday party recently that was scheduled for 5:00-7:00, pm, and they did not have anything for the kids to eat other than a small piece of birthday cake. In my humble opinion, it’s perfectly fine to just serve cake at a birthday party, but hold the party at a time of day when kids don’t normally eat a meal. Like 2-4:00 in the afternoon, perhaps.

  • Kristy

    For my daughters 6th birthday..I bought wooden keepsake boxes at the dollar store, colored flat marbles, and paint. Each girl made a bracelet or necklace (or both) with beads from Michaels (using a store coupon of course!)..then painted the boxes, then hot glued the marbles..and PRESTO..each girl was so excited with their craft and they got to take it home to keep. These girls were so content doing a “girly” craft and taking it home, then we just had hot dogs, mac n cheese, jello salad, cake (homemade)..very inexpensive!

  • Suzanne with Laughing Wallet

    It’s probably a safe bet that the biggest cost at Rena’s party was the bounce house. While the kids love those (who doesn’t??), you could lop off a big expense by avoiding bounce houses and similar type entertainments – petting zoos, clowns, etc. By coming up with activities the kids can do (such as the beach balls and other crafts mentioned in the comments), you keep the kids involved in an activity that’s much cheaper than the paid entertainments AND sends them home with something, which is always nice!

    One of the best ideas I’ve heard lately for kids’ parties is to make your own themed playscape using boxes. The one that got my attention was a castle the parents made in the living room for a princess-themed party. It was all made with boxes they collected in the weeks before the party, and they didn’t do any extravagant painting, decorating, etc. They didn’t have to! Just by creating tunnels the kids could run around through and the basic structure/look of a castle, the kids’ imaginations could do the rest. And if the castle ended up getting destroyed during play, it didn’t matter! It was just boxes and hadn’t cost anything.

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