Budget Birthday Party Planning Ideas

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Looking for ways to celebrate a birthday that doesn’t break the bank? Try these on for size.

Blindfolded boy with stick to strike a pinata, with text overlay: Budget Birthday Party Ideas.

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Over the years our family has thrown a number of birthday parties. We don’t do them every year nowawadays, but there was a time when every child celebrated with a large friends party. Overtime and through much trial and error, I’ve learned what works for our family and how to make it fun as well as budget-friendly.

Here’s what I’ve learned about planning a budget-friendly birthday party:

Consult the guest of honor.

Ask the birthday child what he or she would really like to do to celebrate. I think some parents spin their wheels dreaming up the big celebration that they think their child wants when they might really be surprised at some simple requests. Most kids just want time to play with their friends, eat cake, and open presents.

They don’t need or want all the bells and whistles you might be scheming about.

On the flip side, just because you’re asking, doesn’t mean you have to meet the child’s every whim, either. But, do have a conversation about what’s most important versus what they’re happy to give up.

Cardboard boxes turned into green pigs for Angry Birds game.

Angry Birds Party Targets

Choose a theme.

I love themes because they help limit and give direction to the celebration. They also fuel creativity. A theme ties elements together that a child loves, like Legos, princesses, hockey, or Hobbits.

If you find the theme so limiting, however, that you’d have to spend more money to keep to the theme, expand it enough to stay under budget.

Narrow the guest list.

Keeping the guest list small is a great way to keep costs down or to spend money on a more memorable experience. Ice skating for four may be more fun for your child than a grand party of ten.

One year our son just wanted his best friend to spend the day with us and then go to the Science Museum. Since we already had passes, it made for a fun and easy outing/birthday celebration. We duded it up a bit by making sure we had dinosaur pancakes before we left and a dinosaur cake after supper.

A close up of Indiana Jones birthday cake.

Indiana Jones Birthday Cake

Bake the cake.

Baking your own cake is an easy way to have your cake and well, eat it too. For about five dollars of ingredients and a few theme-centered toys, you can create a homebaked and decorated cake that will rival any that the local bakery can produce. At least in your child’s eyes.

And those are the ones that matter.

But really, I promise that it’s not difficult. Check out these cake tutorials as well as these more recent cakes from the FishFam repertoire:

Consider outsourcing carefully.

Using an outside vendor or location as party central could be a great deal — or a money pit. Before you outsource, count the cost and see if it can stack up to a more DIY method.

Think outside the box. Maybe you take the girls for manicures and pedicures at the local beauty college or take the kids to a minor league sports game. JessieLeigh did both these things recently and they were great hits with her kids and their friends. There are plenty of ways to outsource without spending an arm and a leg. And you’ll have a great time!

A small boy ready to strike at an Icredibles pinata.

Make the pinata.

Making a pinata is super easy. Blow up a ballon, cover it in newspaper strips dipped in glue or flour paste, allow it to dry, and then paint or cover with tissue paper. Be sure to check out the easy-peasy paper bag method, too. Just ignore my very pregnant stomach in the tutorial.

The kids are going to beat it up, anyway, so don’t worry about it looking perfect. Fill it with dollar store candies, snacks, and plastic toys.

Be willing to be different.

Don’t do your party exactly the same way everyone else does it out of obligation. If you like the method the crowd has going, by all means, follow it, but don’t feel like you have to keep up with them in order to have a special celebration. Being different allows for your family’s individuality as well as your budget.

This fall FishBoy12 invited his friends over for pizza and a movie. They played outside until dark, came inside and ate us out of house and home, and then settled down for a viewing of The Amazing Spider-Man, a brand new release. It was a great time and a great reassurance as we enter the teen years, that big kid birthdays can be fun, yet cheap, too.

A boy at Disneyland in front of Jedi Training Academy sign.

Mix it up each year.

If you do a friends party one year, a best-friend sleepover the next year, and a family adventure the third year, you’ll be less likely to get caught up in the bigger, better, badder cycle that has been known to hit families. Mix it up for variety as well as for your mental health.

One family I know alternates kids. One year the older child gets a friend party; the next year the younger child does. This helps Mom keep costs and her sanity under control.

Whatever you do, don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money to celebrate another year with your child. Set a budget before you start, focus on the purpose: celebrating a life, and stick to your resolve to enjoy it without going over budget.

How do YOU celebrate birthdays on a budget?

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  1. I always decorate with streamers, ribbons, & balloons, too. My kids love coming downstairs in the morning and seeing the house decorated just for them.

  2. We are hosting our birthday event at a park in late afternoon so we won’t have to serve a big meal. The venue is free and we’ll bring a bakery cake and a few decorations, silverware and plates from the dollar store. It’s actually a surprise. My son doesn’t even know yet. I’m hoping to come up with some cute inexpensive party games.

    1. A homemade pinata is pretty fun as is the Angry Bird targets. I reused cardboard boxes and they threw water balloons at them. You could also use bean bags or small balls.

  3. What we’ve done, with 4 kids, is to do a friends party when they turn 5. They get to invite 5 friends, with a theme of their choosing. We’ve had a superhero party and a monster party so far. this year is a cupcake baking party. Our intent is to do a friend party every 5 years or on “milestone” birthdays as they get older. The rest of the time, they get a cake, a favorite foods meal (which can get quite interesting), with family in attendance. A couple of times we’ve had a friend or two over for playtime also. there is NO WAY we could do 4 big parties a year! 🙂

  4. Great ideas! My baby’s got a bday coming up and I was fresh out of ideas! But we usually do cupcake or tiny cake (there’s only 4 of us) the day of the birthday and then invite family over for dinner and games/activities on the weekend. One idea that I’ve seen but always forget, is decorating her bedroom floor with balloons while she’s sleeping…she’ll be surprised when she wakes up!

  5. Love this post! Ironically, I had recently considered some of your suggestions as I wanted to keep my little guy’s first birthday low-key. His birthday is close to Christmas and I just couldn’t handle a large guest list :). Like the piñata suggestion–just noticed how expensive those can be to buy!

  6. Such great suggestions– I love that there are so many DIFFERENT ways to save some coin. So, for example, if getting a bakery cake is important to you, you can save elsewhere. There’s something for everyone here. I will say that the manicure/pizza party I threw in December was a huge hit and got rave reviews. It was super simple and the girls felt so FANCY. The whole thing also came out to $80, with (generous) tips. The hockey party will happen on the 27th of this month– five boys, two adults, cupcakes, ice cream, a picnic of sandwiches, and all sorts of perks (tossing the first puck, high-fiving the players as they come on the ice, etc.). That one will come in well under $100 also. Outsourcing definitely doesn’t have to break the bank! 🙂

  7. We have really only done big parties for big birthdays.

    First birthday for my oldest (January baby) we rented our community’s clubhouse and cooked. Invited a TON of family. For the youngest (Memorial Day baby) we rented a gazebo at a local park and had tons of family.

    Every birthday after has just been pizza or barbecue at home and cake with just immediate family, until this year which was my oldest’s 5th birthday. This was her first party with friends (it was this past Saturday) and we invited her whole class (just 10 kids plus my 2). We ended up with 9 kids total at a Paint Your Own Pottery place. While it was $225, each child got to paint a piece to take home (no goodie bags needed) and it included lunch, the place for an hour and a half. No set up, no clean up and I baked a My Little Pony “Rainbow Dash” sheet cake with a one her pony toys on top. Inspired by you! It was totally worth it. The kids all sat at one table (even though there were three tables to choose from) and painted together, helped each other and encouraged each other. It was a special time for all of us parents watching. You could tell they were all so used to being together and worked well together. It was awesome and easy!

  8. We were doing a party every year for every kid. But by the time we got to child number 4, I was tired from constant birthday parties (and even at home they always seemed to cost more than I expected). So we’ve started alternating, 2 kids on and 2 kids off each year. I agree, you don’t have to be over the top to make the kids happy! Something simple is usually enough to make them feel special on their big day.

    1. I did parties for all the boys that wanted one last year after several years off. Not sure what we’re doing this year. I heard whispers of party planning from at least one of them. The girls are due for parties, though.

  9. When children are older 14 through 18 make it truly mixed up. For my daughter’s sweet sixteen I served a tea sandwich snack lunch and we had pizza for dinner. I had the girls bring the prom dresses and I took photos of them in the prom dresses all around the city after hours of primping.

    For the boys I had them bring a change of clothes and packed meal each (in this way they did not eat me out of house and home) I served one small meal and the cake. We had an adventure and when they were dirty they jumped in the pool and had spare clothing for after.

    For the girl it was a tea party for the boys it was called an adventure party and yet it was very low key.
    It is all about being together and making a day of it. Do not be afraid to ask party guest to bring things besides a present to the party.

    1. Those both sound like great parties. I would have totally gone for the tea party at that age, especially with the prom dress bit.