Save Money on Birthdays

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This post was originally published on May 30, 2008

Birthdays are meant to be a celebration of the guest of honor and a time to thank God for him or her. But, children’s parties can take on a life of their own if you aren’t careful. Being on a budget has forced me to calm down around birthdays.

This is a very. good. thing.

Not only does my pocket book thank me, but so does that little me that gets run ragged trying to make a theme birthday party into the Shindig of the Century. I’m much more able to enjoy the day and my child in the midst of “our new frugal lifestyle.”

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of the day without spending most of what you have:

  • Set a budget. When you make your monthly budget, make sure that you include birthday expenses, whatever extra you think you might need to purchase a gift, party supplies, and any special meals of the day.
  • Bake your own cake. Rather than spending a ton of cash on a bakery cake, you can make your own for very little money. Generally speaking, one cake mix and one can of frosting will do you. Without coupons, that should cost you a little over $2. The necessary eggs and oil as well as any other embellishments (candy, candles, etc.) can easily come in for another $2. For our recent Indiana Jones Birthday Cake, I was able to get the cake ingredients for almost free (after coupons), and thereby justify spending 7 bucks from the bday budget for the new action figure to go on top.
  • Make your own pinata. If you’re having a party, a pinata is a very fun addition. And they are very easy to make, especially if you already have a well-stocked craft cupboard.
  • Make a special meal. At our house the bday kid gets to choose the menu for the day. This year my four-year old chose Indiana Jones cereal, lunchables, and corn dogs. While these are, by no means, regular items on my grocery list, I’m happy to accomodate on a birthday. My sweet sister ended up shipping us two boxes of cereal from CA since our stores had sold out. (That’s what aunties are for, isn’t it?) The lunchables were on sale and with coupons were almost free. The corn dogs were a “splurge,” but between the regular grocery budget and the birthday budget, it worked out just fine.
  • Remember that your child doesn’t need a lot of toys. You probably are tripping over way too many already! That birthday budget has a way of being spent three times over. Since we had allotted $50 for the occasion, it stuck in my mind that I could spend 50 bucks on his present. Whoa Nellie! That ain’t so! That budget needed to go for extra food expenses, cake topper, and an outing. And remember $50 worth of Legos is a whole lot of sore feet in the dark of night. So, as I stood in the Lego aisle of StuffMart, I had to use some self-control. His brothers wanted to spend some of their money on his present, so we pooled our cash and for $20 got him an Indiana Jones Lego that made his eyes light up! An additional $6 got me six water pistols and some knock-off crocs.
  • Plan an outing. We chose to forego parties this year as they tend to mushroom into very Expensive Extravaganzas. Instead we invited friends to visit the local petting zoo with us. Entrance is free. Each family brought their own picnic lunch. The weather was beautiful and my bday boy was very pleased. This particular venue features an old-fashioned mining camp. They sell bags of “rough” that kids can sift in a water trough to “pan for gold” and local gemstones. This easily fit into the budget. The kids considered it a splurge, so they were super happy. The day was a full one. My boy was a happy one. It didn’t seem like much to my modern mind, but my kid was more than satisfied. I was totally surprised that we even came in under budget.

Cake ingredients and topper $9
Extra groceries $5
Gas spent trying to find Indy cereal $2
Lego, crocs, water guns $16
Mining bags of rough $8
Total spent $40

Staying Unstressed and Under Budget = PRICELESS

What do you do to stay in the black? Share your money saving idea with us!

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Write about your money saving tip on your blog and bring the permalink to that post here. If you don’t have a blog, tell us your bright idea in the comments. Can’t wait to learn some more tricks!

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  1. We did our daughter's birthday party for SO little money last year. We saved our National City points (from our debit card and online bill paying) and used them to get an Amazon gift certificate. We were able to get decorations, cute plates/cups, cake decorations, and her gift with that certificate.

    We had some out-of-town grandparents visit, so we did provide a meal for everyone. But we shortened the guest list to our immediate family. Our house was less crowded, and everyone (including mom!) got to enjoy the party.

  2. I'm not sure our kids even know what a themed birthday party is… but I KNOW they don't feel like they're missing out.

    Family (esp. cousins) come for a potluck cookout and playing at the park or in our own yard. They love it and it's low stress for me!

  3. My son had 3 friends over for the Birthday Sleepover last week. It was low cost, but I will have to say not low stress. But they had fun.
    Thanks for hosting!

  4. You are so correct in all points! I agree with you! Thanks for sharing

  5. Oops! I guess I am still asleep! I meant to say on the mr linky "use items WON (not one) in giveaways as gifts." If I win an item that I think a friend would love, I set it aside for the next time I need a gift for them. Also, I linked my current giveaway.

  6. I was surprised at my reaction the first time my ONE YEAR OLD was invited to a birthday party – and it was his cousin's 2ND year birthday party to boot! I just didn't understand why it was necessary at that age, especially since there were all her little friends invited as well. Gifts galore, cupcake mess everywhere, etc.

    I've been putting off having an actual party for my oldest child's birthday for as long as possible. I figure I'm just going to wait until he can ask me for it & be specific about what he really wants – then I'll start putting some thought into it!

    Since his birthday is mid-July we've always just taken the opportunity to get out of town & visit one of his grandparents – that way he still gets a cake, some balloons & a gift or two, but it's just celebrated with family.

    This year he's turning three & I just recently had a 2nd child, so traveling was kind of out of the picture. Since we LOVE to BBQ, I decided to throw a BBQ Birthday Bash – still only inviting family – for his birthday. He'll be seeing all of his first cousins, aunts & uncles, as well as a Great-Grandma! There will be 2 blow-up pools for the kiddies, lots of tri-tip, burgers & dogs & of course, a homemade birthday cake. Yes, it will probably cost a bit because we'll be feeding around 15 people, but I figure it's a 2-in-1 deal since we'd be wanting to see those out-of-town family members anyway & we'd probably do a BBQ if they were visiting us!

    I love your decorated cakes – now THAT'S something special to remember!!

  7. I love coming up with the theme each year for my 3 boys' combined party! And I really enjoy making their cakes – so much fun.

  8. I was talking to someone about parties of today, and was told nobody does them at home any more. Why not, I wonder? Why is there such pressure to put on, as you call it, 'the shindig of the century?' Why do parents feel they have to play 'Can You Top This?'
    My youngest just turned 19. My oldest (of 4) is 26. I had all their parties at home, and nobody complained. The kids had a great time. Frankly, the kind of parents who'd turn up their noses at a stay-at-home party wouldn't have been of 'my crowd,' anyway.
    So if anyone starts to feel that little twinge of guilt for not throwing the party at Chuck-E-Cheese's, remind yourself you're doing your kid a favor by not setting the bar too high. In the future, she won't end up embarassing herself with a screaming fit on "My Sweet Sixteen Overdone Showoff Party" when she doesn't get the right color BMW!

  9. My post for the week fits perfectly with yours – a simple homemade gift that would also make a great inexpensive party favor.

    Happy Frugal Friday!

  10. Great ideas. We just celebrated my son's 4th Birthday and I really let it get out of hand. I keep telling myself that next year I wouldn't do as much but so far each additional year has been bigger than the year before.

  11. If you're having a party – make your own fun invites! You can save tons of money this way … and if you make them postcards, you can save on postage as well!