Once upon a time, kid’s birthday parties went hand-in-hand with things like piñatas and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Now, you’re more likely to hear about party planners and catering services. Everyone wants their child’s birthday to be a day filled with special memories, but what if you are unable-or unwilling-to shell out the big bucks? Here are twenty-five bright ideas to help you keep the party going without breaking the bank. – Lindsay Armstrong
1) Avoid paying for space.
If you have a large enough home or yard to host a party, have it there. This is a bit trickier if you live in a cramped apartment (although temporarily moving furniture can help). The park is a great option in the warmer months. If you’re working with a winter birthday, call your local church, synagogue, or community center. Many of them have spaces that you can use for a very low cost.
2) Limit the hours of the party.
Most kids have an attention span of approximately 6 minutes, so there is no need to throw a four-hour birthday extravaganza for a three-year-old child. If you limit the party to two hours in the afternoon, you will greatly reduce party costs. This way you don’t need to provide a meal, just some light snacks along with cake and ice cream.
3) Go retro.
Sure, we think of limbo and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey as boring, tried-and-true activities, but when was the last time your kids actually played these games at a party? Throw an old-fashioned birthday bash! Play musical chairs, Twister, and that game where kids pass a balloon around and sit on it until it pops. You can complete the retro feel with snacks like Rice Krispie Treats and Jiffy Pop.
4) Go on a field trip.
If your child has been begging to do something special, like visit that rock-climbing gym or see a Broadway show, why not do it for his birthday? Make it clear that this field trip is in lieu of a party and let him pick one or two close friends to share in the experience. Even if you spend a little cash, it’s still cheaper than a full-blown party.
5) Cook up a storm.
Kids love to help out in the kitchen, so why not combine the food and entertainment portions of the evening? Set out bowls of toppings and let kids create their own pizzas, cupcakes, or ice cream sundaes. Another option is to give each child some dough and cookie cutters and let them go to work. You can open the presents while their creations are baking and avoid paying for costly entertainment.
6) Don’t invite everyone.
Smaller parties are more manageable for you and are often more enjoyable for your child. The general rule of thumb is to invite as many children as your child’s age plus one. So, if this is a sixth birthday party, invite seven children.
7) Have a treasure hunt.
This is a great activity that can easily be geared to different age groups. For each child, make a series of clues that leads him or her to different parts of the house in search of “treasure.” If the kids are young, you can make one set of clues and do the treasure hunt as a group activity. Candy, toys and jewelry make great treasure hunt prizes and because you’re only giving one prize per child, as opposed to an over-stuffed goody bag, you’ll save money.
8) Think ahead.
The more time you give yourself to plan, the more likely it is that you will spot good deals on decorations, tableware and the rest.
9) Be sneaky.
So you’re having a “Dora the Explorer” party; that doesn’t mean that everything you buy needs to have Dora’s face plastered all over it! If you buy one pack of Dora plates, also buy a package of plain plates in a coordinating color and sneak them in the mix. Do the same with napkins, cups, and balloons. No one will be any the wiser.
10) Use technology.
Invitations can be very costly. It’s just as easy to design them on your computer and print them. Better yet, save some cash and the environment: send out an Evite.
11) Throw a costume party.
Ask all of the kids to come dressed up and have a costume fashion show. Award prizes for the silliest costume, the most colorful costume, etc. (just make sure that everyone gets a prize). If nothing else, the other parents will appreciate getting some extra use out of last year’s Halloween costume.
12) Paint on the walls.
Buy a roll of art or butcher paper and tape it up to the walls. You can let the kids get creative or make a game out of it. Make slips of paper with the names of animals, actions, and colors on them. Each child can pull slips of paper and paint whatever comes up, like a pink pig prancing.
13) Get crafty.
Making a craft at a birthday party is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. You have a fun activity and a trinket for partygoers to take home. Some ideas: paint picture frames, create personalized T-shirts with stencils and colorful fabric markers, make barrettes decorated with pennies or buttons, bead or braid necklaces. You can buy craft supplies in bulk from stores like A.C. Moore and Michael’s.
14) Save on beverages.
Buy large bottles of beverages instead of individual juice boxes or bottled drinks. You will save money and you can better control the kids’ sugar intake.
15) Bake your own cake.
Buying a cake from a bakery can set you back anywhere from $20 to whatever you can afford. Making your own cake costs about $5.00 and you can decorate it anyway you’d like. If the birthday kid is old enough, let her help decorate. If you are artistically hopeless, buy (or grab and sanitize) a few little toys related to the party theme. Voila! Fancy cake.
16) Buy in bulk.
Shop places like Costco and Oriental Trading Company for party decorations and favors. You will find amazing loot super cheap.
17) Have a carnival.
This sounds like an expensive party idea, but it doesn’t have to be. Set up a few different stations around your backyard. Use bottles to create a ring toss. Fill the kiddie pool with water and number some rubber ducks for kids to pull out; the goal is to find a matching pair. Have a beanbag toss. Ask a friend to help out by painting faces. You can give tickets to be redeemed for small prizes at the end of game time.
Just because you don’t have a pool doesn’t mean you can’t throw a fabulous water party. Set up sprinklers and have a water balloon toss. If you have a little cash to spend, buy a Slip-n-Slide for hours of soggy entertainment.
If you have children whose birthdays are not too far apart, consider combining their parties into one bash. Another option is to join forces with a close friend or relative whose child shares a birthday month with your son or daughter. Because you are saving money by splitting costs and purchasing supplies only once, you may find that you have cash in the budget for something extra, like hiring entertainment.
20) Use your connections.
Do you have a friend who knows how to dance, make beautiful jewelry, or do some magic tricks? Ask one of your friends to be the entertainment for the party. They don’t have to prepare a show, but rather teach the kids how to do something. You can pay them back by helping out at their children’s parties.
21) Get physical.
If your kids are into sports, why not play them at the party? To keep everyone involved, include some related activities that don’t require a high skill level, like H-O-R-S-E.
22) Look online for inspiration.
If you’re looking for party ideas for a specific theme, check out sites like BirthdayPartyIdeas.com, which lists advice from real parents who have been there, done that. They offer lots of creative ideas for theme-related (Backyardigans, Japanese-style, pirates). Not all of these party ideas are budget-friendly (ie: the hot air balloon), but most of them are very reasonable.
23) Become a Mad Scientist
Buy a book of kid friendly science experiments and choose your favorites. Gather the necessary supplies, which usually include inexpensive things like empty bottles, corn meal, and glue. Have the kids participate in the experiments. Some fun examples include making tornado machines using water bottles and making your own silly putty. What kid doesn’t like to shake, mix, and make a little mess?
24) Take advantage of free or cheap events in your area.
Is there a well-known storyteller coming to your local library? Does the firehouse down the street offer free tours of the station? What about the community theater: are they putting on a kid-friendly show? In most communities, there are many great, inexpensive activities for kids. Around birthday time, keep an eye out for events that your child might enjoy and invite some friends along. Host a cake and ice cream time at your home before or after the event.
25) Have a birthday parade.
This is a great way to have a big party without a huge cost. Invite the kids from your neighborhood to meet at your house or at the local park with their bikes, trikes, and wagons. Supply balloons, streamers, and ribbon. Have the kids decorate their vehicles and then take the show on the road. March your parade through the neighborhood, park or down the sidewalk with the birthday boy or girl in the lead. Gather afterward at the playground or your place for cake and presents, but keep it short and sweet.