Children’s Birthday Parties for Less Than $25

Like most kids I know, our girls really enjoy birthday parties.  Especially their own.  It seems there are few things more fun than eating copious amounts of sugar, playing silly games, and receiving cool gifts–all in the company of a few good friends.

Yay! Cake!
Yay! Cake!

Between all three of our girls, Todd and I have successfully pulled off over two dozen birthday bashes over the years.  A couple of those events were a little over the top, like the year that we rented out the kids’ gym at the YMCA and had over twenty kids in attendance.  That party was fun, but it was a fair amount of work.  And it got expensive.

As the girls have grown older, their preferences have tended to lean more towards quiet parties at home with just a few friends.  Truthfully, we’ve really learned to enjoy these experiences.  Our children seem to appreciate their friends and gifts more when there are fewer of both.  And as an added benefit, our smaller parties have been very easy on the budget.

Here are my favorite ways to have a fun, child-pleasing, budget-friendly birthday party:

Keep the guest list small.

This might seem obvious, but I think sometimes it isn’t.  In an time and culture where we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, many parents feel pressured into inviting their child’s entire kindergarten class to a birthday party.  If our family did that, our guest list would have over twenty kids on it before we even started thinking about cousins, neighbors, friends from activities, and Sunday school classmates.  The idea of that many small people running wild around my home sends serious shivers down my spine.  I can’t even imagine what my bill at Chuck E. Cheese’s might look like after that kind of experience.

Painting jewelry boxes with friends.
Painting jewelry boxes with friends.

Instead, we think about who our children really want to invite.  We pay attention to the names that get mentioned most often in conversations around our home and the friends that are their favorites.  Usually we end up with five or six names on our list.  We discreetly give invitations (to parents whenever possible).  Todd and I also remind the girls to minimize birthday party talk at activities and school as much as possible so that other kids don’t feel left out.

Do what you know and use what you have.

Pinterest intimidates me.  Really, it does.  I do intend to get involved in the Pinterest scene soon for the sake of the blog, but I don’t use it a lot in my personal life.  There are many talented parents out there who can concoct birthday party decorations, treats, and games that rival Martha Stewart creations.  I am not one of those parents.  At the same time, I don’t want to embarrass my kids with gross cake and boring games.  I focus on food and activities that kids will like, I can pull off without feeling like a failure, and can be acquired without breaking the bank.

Prepackaged party craft from Alex toys.
Prepackaged party craft from Alex toys.

When it was time to play games at the latest party in our household, we kept it simple: a search and find game in the backyard, Yellow Minion/Purple Minion (a variation of duck, duck, goose), and time with bubbles and sidewalk chalk.  The first game was an adaptation of something we already have in the house: Melissa and Doug’s Block Balancing Games.

Melissa & Doug's Block Balancing Games.
Melissa & Doug’s Block Balancing Games.

The game contains several large foam blocks in a variety of funky shapes.  Each shape has a corresponding picture card.  You can play it at least ten different ways.  For our party, we had the guests take turns hiding shapes around the backyard.  Everyone was given shape cards and told to run and search for the shape that matched their picture.  The kid with the most shapes at the end of the game was allowed to hide them for the next round.  We bought ourselves almost a half hour of entertainment out of this free to us game, and it just might be the most popular party game we’ve ever played with a crowd of young elementary school kids.

Make the cake yourself.

Store bought cakes are really cool.  They taste good.  The decorating, especially when it comes to popular characters, is pretty impressive.  A cake large enough to satisfy a room of kids can easily set a person back twenty dollars, though.  Our homemade cakes are not fancy, but we like them.

Minion cupcake, anyone?
Minion cupcake, anyone?

This year, from our youngest daughter, Jocelyn, we received a request for Minion cupcakes.  She also wanted to make them herself.  We opted to compromise on this one.  Our oldest daughter baked the cupcakes, but on party day, Jocelyn and her pals decorated their own Minions.  They each received a “kit” with a plain cupcake, some yellow frosting, two eyes, and a party hat.  If they wanted black Minion goggles or blue Minion pants made out of icing, they received help from someone older than age ten.  The cupcakes were cute, and no one cared about imperfections because they were excited to do the work themselves.

Party at home.

Enough said.  Kids can wreak havoc on your house, but you can easily save over a hundred dollars if you stay away from party destinations.  Put the breakable stuff away.  Designate areas of the home as strictly off limits.  Weather permitting, spend as much time as possible outside.

Become friends with the dollar store.

We are blessed with a Dollar Tree store in our community.  With very few exceptions, everything we purchased for our most recent party came from the dollar store.  The paper partyware section is much more limited at the dollar store than it is at other locations.  If you have a child whose heart is set on a specific character-themed birthday party, you might have to choose between perfection and frugality.  For our kids, the color of their paper plates has always been more important than whether or not a cartoon character is displayed, so selection isn’t a huge deal.

Favor bag a la Dollar Tree.
Favor bag a la Dollar Tree.

In addition, if you choose to share favor bags with friends, there are all kinds of possibilities to be found at the dollar store.  We found all of our selections in the school supply and summer-themed areas.  You can also find balloons, decorations, frosting, and cake mixes at the dollar store if those are things you need to complete your party.

The $25.00 Budget:

Are you curious to see how the budget worked out on our last party?  We invited six guests.  Five were able to come.  We made and shared favor bags with everyone, including the friend who was unable to join us.  We partied for two hours at home on a weekend afternoon.

Invitations and Thank You Cards:

free (we used art supplies already on hand)

Food:

$3.98 (frosting, icing, & cake decorating supplies)

$2.74 (1/2 gallon ice cream)

free (lemonade & baking supplies already on hand)

Activities and Games:

$2.00 (craft project supplies)

$2.00 (bubble jars for everyone)

free (all other games and activities)

Paper Products:

free (used real dishes or items already on hand)

Favor Bags:

$12.00 (bags, headbands, pencils, erasers, glow sticks)

Grand Total: $22.72

Woot, woot!  We even ended up with room in the budget to spare!  I’m curious.  How do you save money on kid parties?  Please feel free to share your ideas and strategies in the comment box below!