Inexpensive Ideas for Kids’ Birthday Parties

by Kelly · 15 comments

in A Frugal Family


Today is my oldest son’s birthday. He’s six, and it seems like only a few days have passed since I was celebrating his birth in an entirely different way! This is the first year that’s he’s really been aware of his birthday- counting down the days, planning his party’s guest list and so on. We had his party last Sunday, with friends, and will celebrate as a family this evening.

Here are some ways we saved money while planning his party.

Set your budget

Deciding how much you are going to spend, that’s pretty obvious. But if you start planning the party a few months in advance, you can pay for it in advance as well. I bought all his presents a few months before his birthday (we’re giving him three things) and I paid the deposit on his party last month. That means that this month, I only had to pay the remaining party fees, which were less than รขโ€šยฌ20.

The guest list

Don’t invite the whole class, that’s for sure! We limited my son to five friends, and I even found that to be a lot of kids. I have found that if I give my son a set number from the beginning, he willingly respects the limit. You might want to invite just one good friend and ask them to spend the whole day celebrating. Or, have a large family party, but make it more informal. We often combine my second son’s birthday with a big ‘start of summer’ potluck.

Invitations and Thank You notes

Of course you can buy invitations to fill out yourself, but your child would probably have a lot of fun making his or her own. I called some parents, and told other by email, and my son wrote two invitations on his own. I’m going to have him write a thank you note to each of his guests, drawing a picture of them together at the party, or of him playing with his gift.

Where to hold it?

Are you going to have the birthday party in your house, or will you go somewhere else? Our house is very small, so we’ve always needed to go elsewhere for our kids’ parties. This choice is further complicated by the season; January is not a good month for parties in the park! On the other hand, it would be perfect if you wanted to go play in the snow for the day, followed by hot chocolate and cake.

We shared his party this year with some good friends, and so were able to rent time at a local play area for about half as much as it would have cost us otherwise. We’ve also held parties at McDonalds (without paying the party package) or had lunch at a restaurant.


The time of day obviously influences the food you are going to serve. Try finger foods, or something like pizza and quiche, if you are hosting the party yourself. Otherwise, plan your party for late afternoon, and the only food you’ll be responsible for is cake. One of my favorite cake recipes is endlessly adaptable: apple, carrot, lemon, chocolate…. and easy and cheap to make. An even more frugal alternative is cupcakes; the perfect size for children and you usually get quite a few from each cake recipe.

Party Favors

I am not a fan of party favors; I don’t like the idea of buying something cheap just to fulfill the formality of giving something away at the end of the party. That said, the mom with whom we shared the birthday party had a great idea: present each child with a picture from the party. I have some inexpensive magnetic refrigerator frames, and I think that will be a gift both the parents and children can appreciate.

I feel like we achieved a good balance of frugal and fun when planning and celebrating his birthday. He was happy with his party, and I was happy because I didn’t go over budget.

How do you save money when planning your child’s birthday party? What are your tips for keeping the fun in frugal?


1 Tomato Lady January 23, 2009

Great ideas! I love the picture favor, and it is good to know someone else thinks those favor bags should be on their way out. Kids parties have been getting out of hand for years now. Whatever happened to just cake and ice cream and running around screaming? Good times.

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2 Craig January 23, 2009

Growing up when I was in elementary school my parents always had my party at my house. I have a summer bday so we would always have a games party where we would split teams, have picnic games and have fun in the backyard. As kids, we loved it. Another idea that I had was have a soccer tournament. We went to a local park, divided teams, and had a soccer party. A free party other than food and goodies, but very cheap.

3 Kelly January 23, 2009

@Craig- Summer birthdays are always easy and yours sound like lots of fun!

4 Melodie January 24, 2009

This is a great post. I agree about birthday favours however I find it hard not to do *something* too. In the Fall my daughter's party had a nature theme. We gave out flower bulbs for the children to plant with their parents (it was bulb planting time). Then when the bulb turns into a flower they can remember the party.

We always send out invitations via email through

Locations usually include the beach or park. But inside the house is good for Winter parties too. I am a January baby and I never felt like my party's lacked anything. Whatever happened to the old fashioned pin the tail on the donkey and other group games? Older kids can rent a movie.

For food, for the young ones anyway, sometimes my mommy friends and I do potlucks. When the party is for young children generally the parents come too. A potluck is a great way for the parents to mingle and get to know each other if they don't already.

<abbr>Melodie´s last blog post..Why do women post their breastfeeding photos?</abbr>

5 Kristy @ Master Your Card January 24, 2009

I always had sleepovers! I didn’t get to do this a lot as my mom was not a fan of letting me go to other people’s house and she didn’t want a lot of kids at her house either…very strict parents I had. But, for me, a simple home cooked meal with cake afterward was good enough. I don’t like a lot of attention and fanfare around my birthday.

I definitely like the idea of the picture. That’s pretty cute. But, like you I don’t like the whole party favors deal. It’s just stuff that’s going to be thrown away anyway. And frankly, I don’t get the point. I mean, you’re there to celebrate someone else’s birthday, right? That means they’re the ones that should be getting the gifts. Never understood why the birthday kid was required to give little trinkets to their guests. Is it supposed to be a thank you? Then why the cards? Someone explain it to me! LOL.

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6 Katie January 25, 2009

Something we've done with both my sons' parties is to tie-dye or paint t-shirts as the take home favor. It fills some of the activity time–we have the supplies and shirts ready when kids start arriving–and it's an icebreaker for the kids who don't already know each other. And that way we're not buying cheap junk that will just get thrown away. The kids can wear their shirts again and my boys get a kick out of seeing the shirts from their parties over and over again. One year we had a bowling party and to keep our group easily identifiable at the large bowling alley we purchased green shirts from the local goodwill-type store and pre-painted the backs with a bowling ball and a motto. As the guests arrived at the bowling alley we had them put on a shirt.

7 Emma @ January 25, 2009

My own birthday and my kid's are 2 days away so we have one celebration for both of us. How's that for a frugal birthday party! ๐Ÿ™‚

<abbr>Emma @´s last blog post..Kids and pets need to learn mutual respect</abbr>

8 Vintage Mommy January 26, 2009

Vintage Girl and I went to a good, "old-fashioned" bday party yesterday and it was very fun! there were about 7 guests, and they played the traditional party games (musical chairs, etc) and there was no rented clown, or bouncy house or gourmet cooking lessons . . . it was very refreshing!

<abbr>Vintage Mommy´s last blog post..Show and Tell: A New Look</abbr>

9 Ann January 27, 2009

You could easily involve kids in sending out invites and thank you cards online and make the entire activity a learning experience. is a free online invite service . Check it out for great looking invites. Also upload party photos and videos post the event and send thank you cards all from the same place.

10 Lissa January 27, 2009

My daughter has a winter birthday. It is tricky to plan with the weather. One year I was in a local craft store and saw they had a party going on. I was able to reserve a party room and work with an associate to plan a project the kids could make. On the invitations I said we would have cake and juice. The girls had a great time making their picture frames. So no mess to clean at home, no goodie bags because each person kept their project, and in the end I spent less than $80.

11 Cathy January 29, 2009

That was an awesome and inexpensive birthday idea for your kid. He's a big boy now, and it's normal that he would want to have a birthday party, it might be elegant or simple yet very memorable for him. I also love giving party favors, in fact, I used a candy bar wrapper as party favor for my baby's birthday…. That was really cute and nice. Happy birthday to your big boy!

12 Frugal Trenches January 30, 2009

Really sensible advice!! Great post!

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13 karen April 29, 2009

I love this subject. When our 3 grown children were little we did the bounce house, clowns, carnivals and all the other birthday adventures. Well, as I said our children are adults,with lives, educations and all. Yet, my soon to be 25 year old was visiting me today and wanted to know if I would host a party for him here in his childhood home with his closest friends, girlfriend and family. I would like to have an old fashioned party with lemonaide, hotdogs, corn on the cob, watermelon, chips, cookie platter, popcorn and cake & icecream. I plan to make all of the food and maybe organize games. Even though these individual’s are adults, I think they are all longing for simplicity and familiarity. I had better go and dust off the icecream maker.

14 Greeting Card Printing April 29, 2009

These are great ideas! Food is probably one of the most expensive items to take care of in the party. Finger foods are great in the afternoons. Or have one during cocktail time so you won’t have to serve a heavy meal.

15 Jessica Whittenberg October 4, 2009

I must say I really liked your post and you really helped me throwing a party for my six yours old kid. So thanks for the tips. You might want to take a look on one of my ideas – I wrote it in my blog on the post over here:
.-= Jessica Whittenberg´s last blog ..Beautiful cheese sandwiches for your kids’ birthday =-.

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