Children’s Birthdays on a Budget

Children’s birthday parties can get expensive quickly. Between food, party favors, cake, and decorations, costs can easily get out of hand. My girl’s birthdays are relatively close together (February and April), so we have had to find ways to get creative with our party planning. Both Hubby and I would rather put extra funds into our children’s gifts, a birthday outing, or the kiddo’s college funds, rather than into a huge elaborate party. That said, both our kids enjoy getting together with their friends to celebrate. Below are ways that I’ve kept costs low, while still providing a fun birthday party experience for my girls.

Set a Limit

This applies to both spending and the guest list. Before you even begin party planning, you need to set a budget. Be realistic about what you need and how much those items cost, but also be realistic with what you can afford. Next, set a limit on the guest list. A long guest list generally translates to more money. Keep your expenses lower (and chaos to a minimum), by setting a limit on the number of guests your kiddo can invite.

Avoid Meal Times

One of the easiest ways to keep costs low is by avoiding meal times. Parties around 12:00 pm or 6:00 pm generally come with the expectation of a meal. Start the party around 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm to avoid this. Then set out an array of small snacks and beverages, with cake and ice cream as the primary focus. You can also set an end time to the party by stating on the invite that it will go from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm (or 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, etc). While this doesn’t mean that the party will actually end right at 3:00 pm, it does make it clear that it won’t be running into the dinner hour.

A kitchen island with a red tablecloth filled with food - popcorn, chips, cake, watermelon, and lemonade.
For Baby Girl’s Paw Patrol birthday, we avoided meal times and instead provided a plethora of snacks – watermelon, jello, a veggie tray, a meat and cheese plate, popcorn, puppy chow, potato chips, and of course cake and ice cream.

Keep it Simple

After ironing out the birthday party basics, get to the fun part and hit Pinterest! Most likely your child already has a theme in mind and Pinterest has thousands of ideas for every theme under the sun. While you’re browsing, look for ideas that you can easily replicate at home for little to no money. Invent cute names for snacks and set out little placards with those names. Create a photo collage with pictures of your child. Scour ideas on Pinterest and then determine which items you want to tackle and how you can execute the vision affordably. Whatever you do, do not try to keep up with the Joneses. Many of those Pinterest parties cost a small fortune and took A LOT of time. Save yourself both and keep it simple. Check out my Pinterest board on children’s birthday party themes for more inspiration.

A heart garland with photos of a child clipped across it like a banner.
The heart garland was just $1 at the Dollar Store and we printed the pictures from our own computer. We had another one hanging on the other side of our fireplace as well, giving us Valentine’s Day themed decor for just $2 (for Love Bug’s 1st birthday)!

Use What You Have

Use items you already have both for supplies and to fit your child’s theme. For Love Bug’s 2nd birthday this past weekend, it was really tempting to run out and buy plates and napkins that fit her theme (her theme was horses because she is obsessed with them right now). Rather than do that, I simply used the plates and napkins we already have on hand. Did they have horses on them? No. Did they serve the same purpose? Absolutely. Did anyone care that their plates weren’t related to the theme? Probably not. The point is, don’t spend money on items you don’t need if you already have items on hand that serve the same function. People are going to remember whether or not they had a good time, not how cute the plates were.

Kitchen island with food set out on it, as well as a boot vase and a galvanized tub for beverages.
The boot vase and galvanized tub were items we already had and they fit the horse & western theme perfectly!

Do the same thing when it comes to decorating with your child’s theme. For Love Bug’s birthday, I searched the house for anything we could use that is horse/country/western related. The girls have boot vases in their bedroom, so I placed those on our tables and filled them with flowers. I brought down Love Bug’s rocking horse, both for decor and as an activity for the kids. Fortunately, our home decor is already a bit country, so this was an easy party theme to accommodate. That won’t always be the case, but with a little creativity, you can find some ingenious ways to incorporate items you already own into themed party decor. After you’ve done that, you may find you don’t need more. But, if you do…

Utilize Free Online Resources

There are so many resources available online. Both Pinterest and Google are great places to search. For Love Bug’s birthday, I searched online for free horse-related coloring book pages. I printed multiple copies and set them out for the kids to color. An activity that cost me absolutely nothing! You will be amazed at what you can find for free online. Just type in “free” followed by whatever it is you are looking for – templates, coloring pages, images, etc. Then use what you find to create party decorations and activities. Of course, not everything is available online, in which case…

Search on Buy Nothing

You may recall me mentioning Buy Nothing on my previous post, Easy Ways to Save Money when Shopping. It is a fantastic resource for all of your party planning needs. Just head over to your local Facebook group and create a post for whatever it is you need – party supplies such as plates and napkins, or more theme-specific items. Just the other day Baby Girl mentioned that she wants to have a mermaid birthday party this year. About an hour later I was casually browsing Buy Nothing and someone had posted leftover party supplies from her daughter’s MERMAID birthday party! We got an entire bag of supplies and decor for free! It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to gift things they no longer need when it is within their own community. It’s a wonderful gift and a fantastic resource.

Shop at the Dollar Store for Party Supplies

Once you’ve exhausted the free options, turn to the Dollar Store for your other party needs. They carry party supplies, as well as cute party decor and items that can be re-purposed to fit your child’s theme. Last year I found some adorable candle holders for my birthday BBQ at our local Dollar Store. This year I will be re-purposing them for Baby Girl’s mermaid birthday. They look like small fish bowls with netting around them, so they should fit the mermaid theme perfectly! When you go shopping, have a clear idea of what you need and what your vision is. Then peruse the store with that vision in mind and see what items you discover – you may be surprised how much you find!

Three dog bowls used as serving bowls for potato chips, puppy chow, and popcorn.
These dog bowls were only $1 each at the Dollar Store and made the cutest serving bowls for Baby Girl’s Paw Patrol themed birthday a few years ago.

Bake the Cake

One easy way to save money is by baking your child’s birthday cake. The cost of baking at home is so much cheaper than purchasing one from a bakery (a few bucks compared to $20 or more). Honestly, kids get so excited over any form of dessert that they aren’t going to care if the cake is store-bought or homemade. However, if you’re like me, and really hate baking cakes, then at the very least…

Use Your Rewards

When you shop primarily at one store, they often give rewards to loyal shoppers. At Fred Meyer, where we shop the most, we get cash back coupons. This past month we got a $12 coupon back, which we applied to Love Bug’s birthday cake purchase. That meant our $25 bakery cake only cost $13 – not bad for the time and effort it saved me!

Love Bug enjoying a piece of her $13 birthday cake!

Send Evites

I have always struggled with this one because I love the personal touch that a physical invitation provides. It’s a memento that can be easily saved, rather than lost in an online abyss. However, I am working to overcome this because online invitations are far easier, cheaper, and more convenient. Though there are many websites that offer virtual invitations, I have always used Evite. They provide hundreds of free templates in a multitude of themes, so it’s easy to find an invitation that works.

Snapshot of a virtual party invitation with cowboy boots, a lasso, and a horseshoe. The text across the top reads "You're Invited."
Sending this Evite for Love Bug’s birthday was quick, easy and free!

Skip the Party Favors

Let’s be honest. No parent loves party favors. They generally consist of cheap toys and noise makers that get broken, lost, create a mess, or induce a headache. Save yourself some money and skip the party favors. I promise you, kids won’t miss them and parents will be grateful.

Utilizing the above money-saving hacks should keep costs to a minimum, while still providing your kiddo with a fun-filled birthday. At the end of the day, it’s not the decorations or even the food that your child is going to remember. It’s the memories they make with their family and friends.

For more money saving tips & tricks, make sure you check out my other posts – Easy Ways to Save Money When Shopping and How We Save $1400 for Christmas – The Easy & Painless Way.

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