Budget Birthday Ideas to Celebrate Well

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Want to celebrate birthdays in a spectacular way without spending a lot of money? Check out these Budget Birthday Ideas.

Budget Birthday Ideas | Life as Mom

When my first born was just a wee tot, I went all out for his birthdays. At the time I wasn’t sure I could have more children, so why not? And even once I had three or four children, the Creative Birthday Party Queen in me just didn’t know how to give it a rest.

Most sane people don’t sew 16 knight-in-shining-armor capes the night before a birthday party, do they?

Thankfully, God let Debt put the brakes on my craziness. And my husband sighed with relief. The Birthday Express had come to a screeching halt. But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t celebrate. We just searched for more meaningful ways to celebrate and give thanks for the Birthday Kid.

Budget Birthday Ideas

Here are some of the ways that we’ve downsized over the years and saved money.

1. I bake the cake myself.

My kids love my cakes, even when I think they’re total flops. It’s so sweet. The bday child chooses the theme and I try to do it up big. I have been known to go a little overboard on the candy. But, it’s the one little indulgence I allow my Inner Creative Birthday Party Queen.

Over the last year, my eldest daughter has taken on the cake baking. While I love a good cake mix, she bakes it from scratch. Either way, it’s still cheaper than a bakery cake.

Budget Birthday Ideas | Life as Mom

2. We pass on the fancy decorations.

I used to spend a lot of money buying themed party ware, but soon realized that it was a luxury we could do without. Instead of fancy plates, I opt for solid colors that work for multiple occasions. I might blow up a few balloons to celebrate at breakfast, but generally we keep the decor subtle.

3. We don’t have parties very often.

While I love the idea of a big bash, the truth is that it’s a lot of work, stress, and expense. We stopped throwing big parties all year round over 8 years ago, and the kids aren’t any worse for wear. Cake, presents, and no school are really all they care about. Sometimes we invite another family over to join our family celebration; other times, the Birthday Kid gets to invite a friend on an outing.

This year, our oldest girl is having a few girls over for a tea party. She’s never had a birthday party, and ten is pretty special, so it’s working out well as a special little celebration.

Budget Birthday Ideas | Life as Mom

4. We look toward family outings for special celebrations.

We try to give the Birthday Child some options, whether it’s the activity of the day or the menu plan, we let him choose. Everyone makes him feel special by devoting the bulk of the day to the planned festivities.

Since I teach our children at home, I have the liberty to set the school schedule. Birthdays are school holidays. We’ve gone to Legoland or Disneyland for birthdays, but in recent years, the littles have chosen pretty tame adventures like heading to a favorite park for a picnic.

5. We buy just a few presents.

Rather than a boatload of gifts, we try to focus on a few important presents that the Birthday Kid particularly desires. As the kids have gotten older, I’ve set a basic budget and buy whatever they want that fits into that amount. For the boys this has usually been a fun t-shirt and a bigger present like a requested book or video game. My girls tend to request smaller priced items.

How do you keep birthdays from getting out of hand — and over budget? I would love to hear some new ideas for saving money on birthdays.

What are YOUR Budget Birthday Ideas?

Originally published November 13, 2009. Updated November 6, 2016.

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  1. We celebrated my middle son's birthday last Sunday and just had 5 friends over. They were the people that mean the most to him. It was very nice. And although I cooked alot, we've had lots of leftovers this wk.
    Thanks for hosting!

  2. A couple of years ago I invested a little time and money into Wilton cake decorating classes. One was at my community center, the other at a craft store. The classes cost $20 each, and there was a supply kit for each. Over a year I might have invested $75. It has been some of the best money I ever spent. I'm no professional but I now have the knowledge and tools I need to pull off every theme the kids have come up with so far. Even Bakugan! The cakes cost nearly nothing to make,and taste so much better than the supermarket variety. Also, I have been able to bless some friends with cakes for their children's birthdays/births as well. It is fun to be able to create in this way and to end up with a result that I am proud of.

  3. How funny! I coincidently was posting a birthday party themed Frugal Friday today!

    We hosted an Abby Cadabby party this past weekend for our now 3YO. She had a blast.

    Reading Amy's comment, I wish I had the time to take a Wilton class. I think it would be so much fun..in the meantime, I wing it.

  4. I can't believe you made all those knight costumes! Crazy…yes…bt how fun! Glad to read about your family tips…THanks!

  5. We do things that make the birthday child (or grown up) feel special: they get breakfast in bed, they get to choose the dinner menu, I also go all out on cakes (my Grandma made wedding cakes for a living, and my cousins and I all had the most magical cakes – I try to recreate those memories). I made a fabric "Happy Birthday" bunting a few years ago that we hang up, and we have a special plate that the birthday person gets to eat off.

  6. Great tips!

    We only let the kids invite friends when they turn 5, 10, or 15. The rest of the time we have family parties.

  7. I have always made homemade "fancy" cakes. They never turn out professional looking, but I know my kids feel special because I took the time. Their friends are always amazed that you can make cakes at home.

  8. We don't do big parties either. If our boys want to go somewhere special they can pick one friend to come or they can have 3-4 over for a party. Great tips!

  9. My 6 year old is so jealous that your boys went to Legoland this week! He knows where on the globe Legoland is :-), but I doubt we'll make the trip from MI anytime soon.

    Til then, he can obsessively create Lego rocket ships!

  10. This is a GREAT post. We are getting to the age where my daughter sctually cares what we do. So, I am going to use some of these tips:-)

  11. We get our helium balloons from the Dollar Store as they are soooo much cheaper! They also have cheap cards, bags, etc., too. 😀 I also make the kids' birthday cakes. I try to make their birthday special without spending a lot.

  12. I don’t know that my ideas are seriously “frugal” but they are things we do to make the day special. We have high ceilings with 3 dangling lights in our “living” spaces area. I buy colored streamers (like for my most recent 1 year old’s birthday I did a Rainbow theme, so all 6 colors were bought) and hubby and I hang them up the night before the kids birthday. When they wake up, they all see the streamers hanging from the ceiling and really enjoy them. We leave them up until doors are starting to bump and pull on them, and when I pull them down I drop them on the floor and let the kids roll around and play with them for the day! They really enjoy that (much like the same with the cardboard box idea!). I make all my kids cakes homemade as well, and try to avoid buying “molds”. Instead I find some way to make the desireed cake with existing cake pans (i.e. butterfly cake with two heart shapped 9″). This year I’m going to make a wipe off “Menu” sheet for my oldest, and I’m going to let her pick whatever she wants for the entire day (breakfast to dinner) for her actual special day. Than that same wipe-off menu will be used for all the other kids on their days. I don’t do kid parties until they are 5 years old, I figure before that a family party is all that’s necessary. And as my oldest (who will be 8 next month) chooses to do things that are more costly, or more involving (slumber party etc) we will narrow it down to just 1 friend.

    I am doing the big party this year and we are doing it at the pool. I spoke with the manager at the pool to determine what was the best deal/package to get for this party – and he advised me to skip the “pool” packages, and to instead have the party on one of the evenings when the pool only cost 2.25 per kid (vs the normal 3.75). The pool packages offer a lifeguard to play games with the kids, but the manager told me he has rarely seen any kids enjoy playing the games with a stranger! Plus the kids usually just want to entertain themselves for the duration. As well, for only $15 we can reserve two tables and chairs for the party!

    I have other issues when it comes to parties: We have 3 sets of Grandparents in town, plus our family of 6 – which makes already for a big sized gathering for EVERY KIDS party. It’s a lot, and can be overwhelming to add in a friends party, buy my Dd does have her friends (even though we homeschool too!). Last year I through 2 seperate parties (1 for the kids, 1 for the grandparents a week later) and then in the middle of that was the actual birthday (which I prefer to make really special then). It was like a full week of birthday bonanza! And crazy! But I’m at a loss for what to do for the parties….either I combine all of them into one big party (cause my friends tend to stay and hang out with their kids!) Or we end up with party week all week long! Tips or ideas on how to handle all of that, and what other people do to handle giant families plus any friend! All of my friends – don’t have that much family in town (or any!) so they just do the 1 kid party for their kids! Not sure what to do!

    1. I have the same issue. My husband and I both grew up in this area so we have lots of family. We also have friends we invite to parties. I started with their first birthday being huge. It was immediate family, extended family, and friends. That can be 50-60 people if some can’t come. I only did that for their first bitlrthday. Then I started doing family parties and friend parties separate. That was a lot too. I was cooking and cleaning a lot. Now we have settled on this formula. It may not be the cheapest but it works and saves my sanity. We find a time to go out to eat with my husbands family if time allows around the birthday (if not they just swing by when they have a chance with a gift). We then find a time to out to eat with my family. No one minds going to eat since each family usually goes out to eat at some point each week anyway. They all insist on buying their own. We have offered at times to buy but no one will let us. The kid loves that they get some say in the restaurant and lots of restaurants have some special treat for the birthday kid. We then try and get together with our friend group sometime around the birthday. If their are other kids in the group with similar birthdays we work together to make food. We make the kid feel special at home on their birthday. It might take us weeks to get all the dinners in but it is not a stress anymore like to was before having to make a meal and clean all the time.

  13. We do a special birthday breakfast, the birthday boy or girl picks the meal, we use our special dishes to set a pretty table. My daughter loves flowers and her birthday is in August, so I pick her a big boquet from my garden. I also decorate the cakes myself, and our local party store rents out Wilton pans for only $5, which save me from investing in pans that I will probably never use again!

  14. My daughter’s 15th birthday was yesterday and I gave her several options on to spend it – zip lining, theme park, paintball, etc. She chose to have 8 friends spend the night. She just wanted to have her friends around her giggling into the wee hours of the night. We got her a cookie cake and I made a nacho bar which included a cheese fountain using my chocolate fountain. Everyone had a great time!

    P.S. She started the day by passing her Driving test for her learners permit. Here we go!