This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here
How To Actually Plan An Amazing Kids Birthday Party On A Budget:
Party ideas and tips to cut costs. You’ll wish you knew these sooner!
Do you remember your milestone birthday’s growing up?
Cake, streamers, balloons, and pin the tail on some random animal. Who was there with you to celebrate? What was your favorite gift and who gave it to you?
Do you remember the amount of money spent to celebrate or the memories made?
Chances are, the memories are fuzzy, and you have no clue how much your parents actually paid to host your birthday party. They may not even remember if you asked them now.
I can recall my most costly birthday.
My mom had me and a few of my close friends enjoy a tea party at a local place. Getting dressed up, eating tiny cakes and we all felt really fancy. It was a pretty great memory since my friends and I talked about it for months afterward.
Most of my childhood parties were not this extravagant, which is why this one stood out so much.
A huge majority were as simple as a family dinner and store-bought cake. We didn’t do too many big parties, which puts us in with the frugal crowd.
Of all my birthdays growing up, the one that stands out the most was my 14th birthday.
We bought movies and had a sleepover at my house. For our entertainment, we took cardboard and wrote “honk to save the rubber ducks” and went outside with my rubber ducky collection.
Cars honked as they passed by, and we could see the driver’s moods lift as soon as they saw us. We felt great making them happy, and in turn, it made us happy. It didn’t cost much to make it feel special.
Party planning on a budget-
I wanted to get some real numbers to work with and see what party budgets are the “norm.”
To get a better understanding, I asked a bunch of moms what they normally spend on birthday parties for their kids and I honestly didn’t expect the results.
I thought that most people celebrate parties on a smaller cheaper scale, like my own childhood experiences. After looking at everyone’s cost’s I realized I had an abnormal childhood.
Many of these women were paying over $200 per party, and the highest number I saw was someone paying $3,000 for a party!
Yes, a single party!
I am having such a hard time visualizing what happens at a party that costs THAT much. In fact, I feel celebrities might be in attendance popping up for custom song to the birthday child.
I’m that parent that Google’s for freebies for adults or free stuff for kids on their birthday, just so I can save a few bucks while making special memories with my family. So spending enormous amounts of cash is pretty much unfathomable.
On average, the cost these ladies were paying for birthday parties totaled $383.83 per party.
For those of us with smaller budgets, I can see where the stress of parties can become overwhelming. Trying to compare your $50 tight-budget party to someone’s $400 party can have you feeling inadequate or like a failure of a parent.
First of all- you’re not a failure if you can’t afford a more expensive party. What matters most is the memories and the experiences, not the material items that will get thrown away as soon as the party ends.
Secondly, an amazing birthday can be had no matter what your budget is, and in this post, I am going to share the BEST ways that you can cut back on costs and still have a fabulous day.
Several key points we will cover in this post include:
- How to set a party budget
- Planning the right time/dates
- Several things you should include on your “to-do” list to stay organized
- Find a venue, and book it (if needed)
- Select a theme and color scheme that your child loves and how it can save you more money to choose wisely
- Create a guest list
- Determine a budget-friendly menu
- Prepare the invitations (and when to send them out)
- Party favors that don’t look as cheap as they are
- Free/Frugal Entertainment/Activities that don’t suck
- The non-expensive back-up plan
- How a minimialist approach can give you a frugal party that cleans up after itself
- Plus super simple ways to celebrate frugally and to cut costs so you don’t go over-budget!
How to set a party Budget
Setting up and determining a party budget should be incredibly similar to setting up a grocery budget or a regular bill payment budget.
First, determine how much money you can set aside for the party without going bankrupt. Being able to pay cash, and not use a credit card is a smart choice. You don’t want to go into debt for a single day or weekend.
If you are good at planning ahead, you can set up a sinking fund several months in advance, and pay a little to it every month to cover the cost of the party in cash. This is a great way to stay on budget and not feel the sting of the money leaving your wallet all at once.
Most importantly, write down the budget amount on a blank piece of paper so you can keep track and not lose sight of it.
Planning the right times and dates
Believe it or not, the time of day and the day of the week that you host the party, really play big factors in your costs.
For example, if you plan a party during a mealtime- you can expect hungry guests wanting a meal. Meals cost more than a few appetizers, and therefore you can determine to spend more money this way.
Weekends are great for parties and kids are more likely to attend thanks to school not being in session. Church on Sundays, holiday weekends or sporting events can make the attendance more limited.
Even a virtual birthday party requires a specific time and date so everyone can gather around their electronic devices at the same time.
Keep all these things in mind when selecting your dates and times so that you can have a great guest list turn out and still not need to break your party food budget.
Planning your “to-do” list for the party
Taking a blank piece of paper with your birthday party budget written on it, make a list of everything you wish could happen at this party. Write down all the games, activities, foods, drinks, etc. that you wish could happen or that you think would be fun.
From that list, take and think about everything that is actually possible within your budget. Those are what we can work with, and try to squeeze more money savings out of.
Important things to include on your to-do lists is a timeline of what to do and when. Like sending invites out a few weeks in advance, following up with guests, buying food for the party and prepping it.
Staying organized with your party planning can be just as useful as grocery shopping with a written list. This helps to stop impulse buying and keeps us held accountable for our actions. Giving up a plan to follow through with.
A big thing to remember is to not try and “do it all.”
If it looks like your party plans are becoming too time-consuming or overwhelming, stop and cut some things from your list or share some of the responsibility with someone else.
Often times, people attending a party will ask what they can do to help. Let them help you. It’s so much easier to graciously accept help than it is to reject it and find a reason why. (I learned that from my sister when she was a state leader in our youth group and found it to be so true!)
Lowkey parties can be just as much fun as a big fancy one!
In this case for kids, a low key party could possibly be better than some formal gathering. Just plan the party to be packed full of loved ones and great activities and you’re good-to-go!
Finding a venue for the birthday party
This part can get tricky, and as my research has shown, this is where moms usually spend the most amount of money.
I did receive feedback from several who swore that $400 to rent a place to themselves was money well spent because they knew the area would be more secure with less stranger-danger. This is great reasoning, in my opinion, but not always the frugal option.
When you’re throwing a birthday party on a budget the cheapest option for a venue is usually your own home.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out. Some people live in RV’s, small homes or an apartment without a community center. There’s a lot of reasons why a home wouldn’t work when you have a giant guest list.
Choosing a budget-friendly birthday party venue for a crowd can become expensive. Consider looking on Groupon for discounted locations to host a party at. Signing up with this link will give you a $10 credit. You can find a ton of great local attractions and restaurants on Groupon, offering discounted services, so it’s always worth the look!
Some cheap options for birthday party venues include:
- The park
- An indoor pool
- Hotel room
- Movie theater
- Bowling Alley
Picking the theme and colors for the party
When you’re planning a birthday party for a kid, getting a theme could come pretty easily when they’re old enough to have likes/dislikes.
Something to keep in mind is to try and keep a simple enough party theme that you can make it work on your budget.
For example– My son’s first birthday party was monster themed and I used rainbow colors. I was able to find rainbow and solid colored items everywhere. This made it easy to assemble everything I needed for the party. Different colored paper plates, utensils, streamers, and a couple of monsters. Boom. Done.
Choosing harder to find colors like aquamarine, opal, and champagne can make your price on decoration go up. So sticking with primary or seasonal colors is a great budgeting tip for birthday parties.
[Bonus Tip] You can buy solid colored items, or plain things and make them customized to your theme, or even personalized with the use of printer sticker paper.
Buy a pack of sticker paper, designing an image on your computer, and printing it out. Then cut it using scissors or a Cricut machine. Now your party is unique and frugal!
Creating a guest list
Guest lists can become overwhelming. A small list of close friends and family can be much more budget-friendly than inviting every person you know. While it’s common to invite the entire class, consider just inviting your kid’s best friends to the party and keeping the family limited to close relatives.
Determine a menu
One of the biggest budget breakers is usually the food portion of a party. Determining a good food budget and menu are vital for staying cost-friendly.
A few food ideas to feed a party on a budget are:
Have guests all bring a dish to share and not only do you get to cut costs on not buying so much food, but you also get to try new recipes and not have to do so many dishes afterward!
Host a food bar
Some of the easiest ways to fill a guest’s tummy on a small budget is to have a food bar. These are tables set out with toppings and a main dish, allowing guests to fill their plates buffet style.
Popular food bars include tacos, chili, hot dogs, burgers, and breakfast/waffles or pancakes. I’ve also seen it done with yogurt and fruits, banana splits and baked potatoes.
Have the party at a non-meal time
Choosing to have your party in the middle of the afternoon or late at night can help to avoid lunch and dinner time zones. This gets you out of having to feed too much food to the guests and can give you an “easy out” for simply providing light refreshments.
Prepare everything yourself
Instead of buying expensive veggie or fruit platters, save money on fruits and veggies by buying them whole and preparing them yourself. You can also get more product for your money this way!
Items that are “party-ready” cost more than things that need some work. Bricks of cheese cost more per ounce than the shredded variety. Diced onions are more than a whole onion, and so on.
If your budget is really tight, consider squeezing more savings out of it by dedicating more time to the preparations.
Paper invites can become really expensive when you consider all the components involved. Cardstock, envelopes, stamps, or custom card prices from places like Etsy.
The more people you invite, the more expensive these costs can become.
With social media being as big of a thing as it is, chances are most of the people you wish to invite to the party are already on your Facebook friendslist or in your cell phone/email contacts list.
Opt for sending digital invitations and not only can you save money by doing so, but you can also find free ways to make them extra special and stand out by adding features like music!
Traditionally, good manners state that invitations should be sent out 6 weeks in advance of any gathering.
Modern times have shown the more “normal” thing to do is send out invites no more than 2 weeks in advance so that people don’t forget about the event.
Cheap party favors that don’t look cheap
As a parent, I find nothing as annoying as cheap novelty toys and candy in a plastic bag for my kid to take away when they attend parties. But, as a budgeter- I understand how cheap these are and why a parent does it.
Consider not having any party favors at all included in your birthday party, especially since you’re throwing it on a budget.
If you do choose to have party favors, consider something that won’t break during the 15 minute ride home from the party.
Here are some great frugal party favor ideas:
- A cheap DIY craft for the kids to assemble (this gives them a reason to talk about the party after it’s over)
- A decorated cookie
- Or a cookie with small decorative pieces of candy and frosting that they can assemble themselves
Depending on your party theme, I’m sure you could find several great ideas for party favors that are both A.) cheap and B.) not going to look cheap.
Entertainment and Activities that don’t cost much
What’s really great about kids is that they can entertain themselves. Of course, at a birthday party, it’s really great to have some sort of a structured and organized play-time set up. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune to do either!
Some super budget-friendly entertainment ideas for a kids birthday party include:
- Pin the tail
- Water balloon fight
- Decorate a (cupcake, cookie, pizza, necklace full of cereal and candy, picture frame)
- Balloon Popping
- Scavenger hunt
- Squirt guns full of paint shot at canvas
- Ring toss
- Photo booth
The back-up plan
Always think of a quick back-up plan. You never know when the weatherman will be wrong or something will come up and cause you to have a sudden change of plans at the last minute.
[Another great tip] is while you are making your plans, and back up party plans- keep a first aid kit handy in the car or your purse. Kids are clumsy and crazy, that last thing you’d want to ruin a good party is a kid scraping their knees or an emergency room visit. Sometimes being the prepared parent comes in handy.
Decorate for less
While decorations can help tie a theme together, they aren’t the most important thing to have at a party (food and entertainment are a little more important.) That being said, decorations are a staple at birthday parties and there are stores dedicated to party decorations.
Sticking with the basics, and getting creative can help you cut more costs in this area.
For example- Look around your home, and see what you have already. Is there anything you can repurpose for a few hours to work for the party in a different way?
“Whenever I had a problem, my parents told me to look at it another way.” -James Henry Trotter from James and the Giant Peach.
When I planned my cousin’s winter themed baby shower, I took a roll of pink tulle that had been sitting in the garage for months and converted it into a photo backdrop.
A minimalist approach to birthday parties
Another great way to save money on a party is to simply take the minimalist approach. Just having some themed disposable tableware, drinks, food and a cake.
The less you have to set-up, the less you have to clean up. It also means the less you have to buy, which saves you money too! Having fun at the party is what matters most, and kids can entertain themselves with anything.
If you want a party that cleans up itself, consider these super frugal tips:
Serve food in to-go containers.
You can get foam food containers and other disposable take-out food containers from the dollar store. Offering your guests their food in these, allows you to portion food out, and not be stuck with leftovers, mess, serving ware and they take their uneaten portions home with them!
Make the party favors a part of the decorations.
Parties don’t seem like a real party unless there’s a balloon, right? Here’s a great tip to cut out helium costs and make a party awesome.
If you’ve ever eaten at Red Robin or another restaurant that offers balloons to kids, you may notice that some put the balloons on a stick. This is actually quite brilliant because it’s such a cost-effective way to save money on a large (and small) scale.
You can buy packs of latex balloons for $1 at the dollar store or at places like Walmart. Get them in your party’s color scheme. Now buy a pack of balloon sticks like these, and now you won’t need to buy a $30 helium tank for the party.
Plus, you can place a few balloons in a vase, or make a small box holder and they can become centerpieces or decorations for the party. Have guests take one home as they leave afterward and you just cleaned up without any effort!
Assuming you buy (4) 25 packs of latex balloons from the dollar store and the 100pk balloon sticks for $8, you are looking at $12 spent on favors/decor. This breaks down to $0.12 each!
The best part- You can reuse the ones that don’t get taken. Assuming you use a balloon air pump (no saliva involved) and don’t tie the balloons before putting them on the stick.