Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

5 Ways to Save Money by Simplifying Birthdays

Guest post from Chelsea of Stay-At-Home{MADE} Mom

Planning a birthday bash every year for every child can be exhausting, hard on the budget, and leave us with cluttered boxes of party supplies and toys. So in order to simplify, my husband and I adopted the birthday tradition he grew up with. We have chosen to throw only four large birthday parties for each of our children – 1st, 5th, 10th, and 16th.

During the years that we don’t throw a large party, we will have a simple cake and ice cream celebration with family. We also plan to implement a couple more traditions (like their favorite dinner or breakfast in bed) to make their day more special.

So whether you choose to throw an extravagant party every year or not, here are five more ways you can save money and simplify.

1. Simplify the Theme:

Instead of buying princess everything, buy one princess product to branch off. For example, you can buy a princess cake, but choose to buy paper products in a solid pink. Or, buy princess plates, but make a simple cake at home and decorate it inexpensively.

2. Simplify the Decorations:

Make a birthday banner by hand with pictures you scored for pennies. Sprinkle color-coordinating confetti on plain table cloths. Blow up balloons that double as décor and a game. Save leftover decorations for future parties or donate them to a family who can’t afford their own.

3. Simplify the Guest List:

While it’s tempting to invite everyone you know, it’s best to have enough space and food for everyone. It’s important to figure out how many people you can realistically afford to host and stick to that number.

4. Simplify the Party Favors:

In my opinion, party favors aren’t even essential, but if you want to provide them, keep it simple! Kiddos don’t need an entire bag filled with trinkets and candy. Some of my favorite ideas are cellophane-wrapped chocolate-dipped Oreos, a boxed cupcake, or some fun pencils tied with a ribbon.

5. Simplify the Gifts:

If family members or close friends come to you for gift ideas, consider suggesting that they “go in” with you on a bigger gift. A new bike, zoo memberships, a telescope, or something else that you know would get a lot of use. I find that most people are very open to this idea since it saves them the hassle of finding and wrapping a gift.

However you decide to celebrate, when it comes down to it, there are only a few things a child truly wants on his or her birthday:

  • To feel loved.
  • To know that others are blessed by another year with them.
  • Something fun — because it is their day.

If you accomplish those three things, whether frugally or elaborately, it will be a memorable day. Find what works best for your family, and enjoy celebrating one another!

Do you have any other ideas to save money on birthdays?

Chelsea is a blessed wife, mommy, and child of God. In her free time, she loves crafting, cooking, and blogging at Stay-At-Home{MADE} Mom about her budget-friendly creations.

photo source

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Brandy says:

    I love this! My kids are 2 and 4 and we have only had “family only” parties so far. However, since we are blessed with a very involved extended family, their birthday parties usually consist of 50-60 people! One thing I have learned is to really remember what will be important the birthday kid. For example, my kids love having special outfits for that day, so I will put money into custom made shirts or outfits for them that are with their theme, but not birthday specific so they can wear them after their birthday (if only I were crafty enough to do them myself!) But, they seem thoroughly unimpressed by having the theme on each plate, so we stick with a color theme from Dollar Tree!

    • L. B. says:

      Special shirts have become a birthday tradition around here, too. Even my 10 year old wanted one for her birthday, I thought she might be outgrowing having one. 🙂 I love the personalized iron-on printables you can find for around $5 on Etsy.

  • Sarah says:

    I Love the list of something to give being this:

    Something to wear
    Something to share (a game or a movie)
    Something to read (or a gift card for a book)
    Something the birthday child needs
    Something to eat ( a favorite junk food item or candy)
    Something that they would really like to have (put a small dollar on it or combine this gift)
    (For a child age 5 it could be that they have been wishing for a swing set for the back yard/ so we had a budget for every dollar given and some went in the gift fund and when the kids reached the amount the item was purchased / even if off of craigslist so the need could be a donation to the big item)
    I use to have cards printed with these ideas on them so that the children did not end up with a room full of toys that break in 6mo.
    If someone only wanted to give one dollar it was welcome if it was going towards the gift fund. In the child’s eyes they were that much closer to the really big gift!

  • A Mom says:

    While it may not be considered ‘frugal’, what we have started doing is taking our kids somewhere to celebrate the child’s birthday rather than having a party with friends. This year we went to a local water park for the birthday.

    • Andrea says:

      It depends on the outing and what a normal birthday celebration looks like in your family. It could be really frugal compared to an elaborate party.

      We mostly don’t do parties. Our kids are happy with immediate family only or sometimes a relative or two.

    • Beth R. says:

      We had a camping trip for our daughter’s first birthday. We invited a few people to meet us at the campsite for a picnic/cookout, hiking (Jade was in a backpack carrier). It was cheap and fun and Jade loved to look at the bugs.

      Since then, we’ve reserved the gym of our church and invited our son or daughter’s friends (those in their classes) and their sibs (since the younger have older sibs and vice versa). When we do this, I plan the party from 1-3 and let parents know that snacks are avail. This keeps from having to serve lunch or dinner. I also encourage that the parents stay to keep my sanity. (Jade is in Aug and Dallan is in March – weather is unpredictable for both birthdays and our house is too small, and the church is free)

    • Meredith says:

      This is what we do too. This year, we are going to take her to chuck e cheese and let her bring a friend (that we will pay for). While this isn’t a cheap place at all, it will end up being cheaper than a party. Plus, a lot less stress for mom and dad. Not having a blowout won’t bother her at all.

      • Need A Nap2 says:

        We save at Chuck-E-Cheese 3 different ways. One, go to their website and play the games, there are two different games that give free tickets to print out (these are usually good for 1 or 2 months. These help add to the tickets the kids earn. Also on the website you can sign-up for e-mails, sometimes the coupons are worth it but they will send kids’ birthday e-mails worth 20 tokens (the e-mail comes really close to the kids’ birthday so you might want to plan when you go based on this). Three, we buy the Chuck-E-Cheese cheesesticks at Wal-Mart. The packages have coupons on the back – this year it says with food purchase but our location hasn’t required that so your results may vary, there are 2 coupons one good for 12 free tokens (you can use up to 3 per child). HTH.

      • A Mom says:

        I know it sounds awful, but I would rather be able to take our family out to a fun outing to celebrate the child’s birthday than mess with a big elaborate party. I have friends who will spend $50-100 (maybe more) on decorations alone. The family gets a fun activity and we sometimes come out ahead. One could easily spend $200 or more on a birthday in our area. A day at the water park would be less.

  • Sarah says:

    I remember very few birthday gifts from my own childhood other than my mom’s homemade desserts and my father always took us kids for a one on one breakfast date with him. He also always brought each of his girls flowers on their birthday. Those were the most inexpensive gifts and the most memorable.

  • My sister has 4 kids, so I spent years watching what she did for birthday stuff. I learned that a big party for a really little kid doesn’t go well for the kid. They get overwhelmed and cranky. The smaller, the better. That worked out for us, as our baby had his first birthday last week. We’re new in town and barely know anyone. We invited the neighbors behind us and my parents. (My parents ended up not coming as my dad had unexpected heart surgery the week before.) But just us and one other family wound up being perfect.

    My son is crazy about our cats, so I threw a kitty party for him. Our cats are black and white (with gray), so I did everything in black and white. I made cupcakes and frosted them with chocolate icing (Ninja cupcakes) and vanilla icing (Doogie cupcakes). I made simple cupcake toppers using paper, stamps, and paper punches I already own. I made simple (and cheap!) candy jars with pumpkin toppers made to look like cats and filled the jars with black-and-white candy. I made a t-shirt for the munchkin using a black shirt I bought at Hobby Lobby and ironing on a white cat with a black-and-white 1 on it. (All from fabric I already had in my stash.) Again, cheap. I spent the most money buying black and white paper plates and stuff of that nature, which can all be used again for some other purpose. (Pictures of all of this are on my blog, if anyone is interested.)

    For a party favor, I spent $7, which probably sounds excessive, but it was for my son’s favorite book (Busy Kitties). It went with the theme, could be shared by the sisters it went home with, and it didn’t create cheap, junky clutter for their mom. In the future when my son has larger parties with more guests, I doubt I’ll send everyone home with a book, but who knows? The English teacher in me loved doing that!

    • Beth says:

      I have a friend who does the only 4 birthday partys too. There kids are very sad every year on their birthday knowing that they aren’t going to have a party. Anyone can throw a party every year on a tight budget. You have to plan way in advance and find things on clearance. So think about how your kid feels not be celebrated. It would brake my heart to not give them a party. Just plan early, I mean months and months in advance.

      • Andrea says:

        It really depends on the child. Mine ask *not* to have big parties. They’ve chosen outings and family time over being the center of attention.

      • Kristen says:

        I know my daughter would be very upset. She loves to have one big day each year where she can be the center of attention, and I grew up having a birthday party nearly every year so I’m sure I will do the same with her. So far we’ve only done family parties, but she has lots of cousins and younger aunts to play with!

      • Suzanne H says:

        I agree with you. I grew up without a lot and birthdays were often overlooked b/c there was no $. I will celebrate every year. It might not be a crazy big party but it will be something special!

        • Karen says:

          I think some people are missing the point. Of course, do what makes your child feel special without spending money you don’t have. I’m reading lots of great ways to celebrate birthdays without big parties. My mother did the few special birthday parties for me and my four siblings. It made them even more special. There were still family celebrations the other years where we got to go with family to a birthday meal at a restaurant or go see a movie of our choosing. As for the siblings feeling badly that it wasn’t their year for the party, we learned to deal with disappointment and to be happy for others.

          Also consider the burden you place on those that are invited to your children’s parties every year to purchase gifts. I can’t believe the families I see who trot their children to one or more parties every weekend. Even with so many struggling in this economy, it’s too embarrassing for a child to decline a party invitation because their family can’t spare the money for a gift.

    • kelly says:

      I love to give books as favors. I agree with the no cheap flashy junk goodies. I find that if you pay attention to the Scholastic book orders that come from your childs teacher (obviously you have a few years to go) that you can score books for $1-2. You can easily spend $2 on junk-why not spend it on a book that can relate to the theme or season.

  • Jaclyn says:

    When I was growing up my parents only did parties where we could invite friends on the “big” birthdays- 5, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 18. If we wanted a party on our 21 we had to plan and pay for it! Ha!

    The birthday years where we got a party were always so much more exciting! I remember a conversation with a friend when I realized she got a party EVERY year. I remember thinking, well, that does not make any of them super special, then, does it?

    My husband and I are planning to do the same for our children. We will do something special every year and still give gifts to them, but not in excess. 🙂

  • Laurie B says:

    Wonderful ideas! One way we’ve saved a ton of money is by cutting down on food served at parties. We used to think we “had” to serve lunch and a full dessert. Now, we do dessert only and make sure it’s homemade. Better for your health, and for your pocketbook!

  • Erin says:

    I will confess to spending excess money on my kids parties – and it’s really unnecessary. However, I have no plans to stop as long as I can afford it. It’s one day a year for that child to feel really special. I did cut back on gifts this year – but the party is so fun for them I would hate to stop them.

    To each their own though…

    • Lisa-panaMOM says:

      I’m of the same school of thought. I LOVE big birthday parties, and so do my kids. I don’t buy my kids elaborate gifts, but I do spend some money on their parties. We enjoy all it!!

  • Amy R. says:

    My daughters birthday is Monday. She wanted a hello kitty party. I learned some basic cake decorating that will allow me to make her cake. (I made my son’s Elmo cake in May and it was a huge hit!) We bought solid pink paper products. I bought a hello kitty coloring book from dollar tree. She colored the pages (ever-so-carefully) We’re going to string them from twine and use them like a banner. I cut out from a sheet of posterboard the silhouette of hello kitty’s head and cut a pink bow from paper. These will sit on the solid pink tablecloth and her cake will go on top. I happened to find hello kitty balloons in the clearance bin at party city! SCORE!!! For party favors for the five friends I allowed her to invite…I bought the same hello kitty coloring book and will be giving them a box of crayons I got for $.25 in August. We will be bringing her friends home from school with us, and their parents will pick them up at 5:00. No meal necessary…just cake ice cream and tons of girlie girl play!!

  • Jen says:

    With our parents and siblings all living in the same town, we feel obligated (and can afford to) throw a party every year. On their 1st birthday, we throw a big party with a meal and all so that everyone can visit, but our families are always offering to bring a dish to pass so it is very reasonable. On all the other birthdays, we only do cake and ice cream. I almost always make the cakes to keep the cost down. Since our son has started school, we also let him bring a few friends home on the actual day of his birthday for a play date after school and I make cupcakes for them to snack on. Friends of ours who have 2 children throw each child a big birthday party every other year so they only have to host 1 big party each year, and that seems to help simplify things. Now that their girls are older, they have also started requesting a book (their girls both love to read) or the local zoo (which they buy a yearly membership for each year) instead of a bunch of gifts that will just get pushed aside after a short amount of time.

    • Anna says:

      I like the idea of buying passes for something to do together. At Christmas last year my husband’s parents got us tickets to an amusement park, the kids were free with a special deal the park was running, and we’ve all gone as a big family group three times this year.

  • Jen says:

    My favorite birthday growing up was a surprise trip to the roller skating rink with my 3 closest friends in 4th grade!

    Also, we had to eat school lunch most days, but on your birthday, my mom would make our lunch (usually a lunchable by request) and gift wrap everything before she put it in the lunch kit. It was fun to “open your lunch” in front of your friends at school!

  • I just wrote a similar post about a month ago! You can read it here:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas! I’ll have to add your ideas to my list! My kids are little, but for older kids you could also just have a slumber party with a couple close friends. Pop some popcorn, show a movie on your TV, and maybe have a special breakfast (pancakes or waffles, etc) in the morning…if you can wake them! 🙂

    • Whitney says:

      I so agree! This only works with summer birthdays (or if you live in a warm climate) but I loved my best friend’s outdoor birthday party when she turned 8. All of us (maybe 6 girls?) played in the backyard, had an cookout, and then slept in a tent. In the morning her parents brought us breakfast burritos. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. No decorations, just some outdoor games. I have to imagine the cost for her parents was minimal.

  • Wendy says:

    For kids, the most important part of the party is getting to play with their friends. Don’t bother doing the “invite the whole class” thing if you can avoid it – chances are you’ll spend a lot of money on kids your child doesn’t really even know or like. Instead, look into free/cheap venues – hold a picnic party at a local playground, make a pirate-themed “treasure hunt” at a local park, etc. You’ll only have to spend money on the cake and on the plates/napkins, and the kids will enjoy playing with each other much more than they’d enjoy 45 minutes of ice skating or bouncy houses or whatnot. Of course this is easier for times of year and parts of the country where you can hold parties outside 🙂 but I bet you could come up with an indoor party solution even in the winter.

  • Kara says:

    My 4 kids all have summer birthdays so a few years ago we did a carnival party in the front yard. It was big and not very frugal for one party but when I considered that it was actually for 4 kids it was actually pretty reasonable. We’ve done family parties the past few years but will likely do another big party next summer!

  • Rachel says:

    I smiled when I read the beginning of your post because we have the same exact birthday party rule in our home-1st, 5th, 10th, and 16th. We have 5 that all have spring birthdays, so it helps me stay somewhat sane. Also, I agree that the simpler, the better.

    • Need A Nap2 says:

      We do something similar but it’s at age 6, 12, 18. So far we’ve had three 6-year-old birthday parties. We try to encourage family involvement so we invited families to the birthday parties. Our first one we did at the park with a cookout, I think it was the most expensive b/c I bought so much food and we had to reschedule when it rained (we were able to save some of the food). The second one we did at Chuck-E-Cheese, not an “official” party but meeting there, we paid for each kids’ pizza and gave them some tokens then offset the cost of other adults’ pizza. The third we did at the park in a water zone area, it went the best – we just did all kinds of desserts: cupcakes, chess bars (similar to ooey gooey cake), brownies, rice krispy treats. Our fourth will be next year and I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet. Kids and parents get overwhelmed with a big party. With 4 kids, we tried to simplify and make things more frugal. We waited until age 6 b/c the child is old enough to remember it, be involved in planning, and have real friends to invite (and my husband decided it!). 🙂

  • Lindsey says:

    How did we ever get to the place where we are giving gift bags to the kids who attend the party? I have never/will never do that.

    • Christy says:

      And as someone who attends a ton of parties, I hate getting them–candy and more plastic, cheap, little toys to clutter the house!! ARRG! Hate giving them; hate getting them!

    • I’m 26 and we did goody bags when I was little. It was never anything over the top, just a little trinket or piece of candy in a fun bag. I guess it’s like favors at a wedding–just a thanks for coming.

    • becca says:

      Remember to be sensitive to other cultures as well, as this is a part of some.

      We have a piñata every year at our small family birthdays and the kids get to invite a friend. All kids go home with a very small bag- inside being the toy/candy they collected from the piñata. I personally try and do school supplies like fun erasers, pencils I find on sale as well a thank you note and the few pieces of candy.

      You can always have your child who attended the party trade the items for something they enjoy from you at home if you want to get rid of them later. For my culture it is very important to us to teach our children to be grateful and give back, always being thankful that someone took time to come and share with us. I hope this makes sense! At least it might give you another perspective. 🙂

    • Whitney says:

      A million times yes! Even at the most elaborate parties I attended as a child, we never walked away with a goody bag. I think the majority of parents are in favor of ending the “cheap bag of trash to take home with you” tradition, but are afraid of being judged – especially by the children. I know of too many spoiled kids who would loudly proclaim “where’s my stuff?” if they weren’t bestowed with a gift for attending.

  • Ashlee Wolfe says:

    My kids are young and are almost exactly 2 years apart. With their birthdays and ages so close we have a nice big birthday for both of them. At least for now I think they like sharing the day together. This year we had a Where the Wild Things Are themed party since they love the book and I call them my wild things when they are bad.

    Etsy has several shops that sell personalized themed party printables. I bought a really nice package that was $20. It came with custom invitations, a super cute banner, a door sign, water bottle lables, cupcake toppers, buffet tents, thank you cards, favor tags and few other things. The lady just emailed the PDFs and I printed them at home on card stock. Even buying the etsy package, card stock, printer ink, a few table cloths, cups and food we probably spent $100 for their party total. It does take some time to print and cut out all the things, but I got so many compliments on the party.

  • ClareC. says:

    Make sure you make these decisions with your first child so you can be consistent. It’s a great idea to pick which ages, if any, you plan to have friend parties.
    One of my favorite birthday ideas was the year that we did a book exchange party. Each child brought a new copy of a favorite book, wrapped, to the party–no other gifts. We did a game to exchange the books and each child got to open one book and take it home. My child did not end up with an overload of gifts and I bought no party favors. Win-win.

  • Kate E. says:

    We just do simple parties for our kiddos with a homemade cake and whatever they want for dinner. I’ve made a rainbow banner/pennant to hang up that we bring out only for birthdays and very special occasions. I also went to the dollar store and bought some rainbow-colored decorations and some birthday gift bags that are used over and over again. My kiddos are still little (5 and 3), but they get very excited about getting out the birthday banner and decorations. Its eco-friendly too, since we are reusing the same decorations. 🙂

    • becca says:

      Love it!! We do this too. 🙂 Helps you focus on the person more and not the “theme” anyway. You would be amazed at how excited my 5 year old is to get out the Birthday Box! He asks about two weeks before his birthday if we can get it out just so he can keep peeking and know his birthday is coming up. 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    We have a small neighborhood with tons of kids. We have all gotten into the same birthday tradition-we do an after dinner or lunch cupcakes with all the neighborhood kids. It is about 15 kids, so the kids feel like they have had a party, but we do NO gifts, and cleanup is minimal!

  • Michelle says:

    We have decided to have “friends” birthday parties for our children every other year .. and only when they turn 6 and up.

  • Anitra says:

    We JUST had a party for my daughter last weekend (she turned 4). We are blessed that we are able to have her parties outdoors in September (so far). This year, I think I spent less than $40 – I got all our supplies from the dollar store (plates, napkins, cups, paperboard for signs, crepe paper, and goodie bag toys) and got 2 dozen helium-filled balloons from a party store (we do this every year). We had cake (homemade) and ice-cream and a few snacks; we invited folks to stay for burgers afterward, but no one took us up on it.

    The guest list is small – some family (all adults), and a few friends (with parents). So far, the most kids we’ve hosted is 7 – totally do-able by simply providing balloons and art supplies to play with, along with some wagon rides around the yard.

    I know the parties will get a bit bigger and more involved as the kids get older, but I think we can handle it as long as we keep it low-key.

    • MamaBat says:

      Well, we’ve had a party every year for D, my son, who turned 3 in March. And his sister, Little Miss, had her first birthday party in July. The last two parties (D’s 3rd, baby’s 1st) were both Bring Your Own Lunch Picnic parties! I have friends that are vegan, or gluten free, or allergic, or on and on, so this is just easier. I provide water and juice and some fruit, my bestie made the cakes, and then I just had a pinata to worry about! I’m thinking D’s 4th will be at a fun location since he now has friends of his own in preschool. We may just do a small Chuck E. Cheese party using coupons, or maybe meet up at the zoo or do te picnic again. We’ll see how he feels and how many kids are involved. =D

  • michelle says:

    Just started planning my daughters 5th birthday in November, this post is perfect! We had our most frugal birthday last year – we actually moved from Texas back to our hometown in Louisiana the same weekend, so it was very thrown together. Our town has a great park with picnic tables and a playground, and its basically first come, first serve. We just bought a tablecloth, drinks and snacks, and the kids played and then we did cake and presents. Easiest party ever, she got to invite however many people she wanted, and I didn’t have to worry about cleaning the house.

  • Julie says:

    It’s nice to see people suggesting simplifying the birthdays. Where we live, everyone has a party somewhere such as Chuck E. Cheeses or another venue like that. We, as a family, have chosen not to do that. We usually have a birthday at home. Our children do not have friend parties every year either. We have them every third year or so. When they have friend parties, it seems that they get more presents than they do at Christmas (we prefer to keep Christmas simple as well). We did not want that to happen every year.
    I have never been a huge fan of the goodie bag. Most of the things inside either get lost or clutter their bedroom until they’re thrown away. I prefer to send something more meaningful. One of my sons had a superman party one year. I found some very inexpensive material (I think it was $1 a yard from Walmart) and made super man capes for everyone. Then, spent a very modest sum for a superman mask for each guest which I found at a party store. They ran around the yard pretending to be superman and we didn’t even need to get to the games! Another year, one of my other children had a pigeon party (from the Mo Willems books). I bought plain white T-shirts and made my own pigeon shirts with iron transfers made with my inkjet printer and special paper.
    Additional ways we have saved money and simplified: We have borrowed movies from the library to show along with the theme. I limit the number of children my kids can invite and I make the cake. One of my friend’s sons chose to have a robin hood party. He invited the guests to dress as their favorite Robin Hood character. The same friend had another party that was a pet party. They were invited to bring their favorite stuffed animal and the children were sent home with goldfish (with prior permission from parents of course!)
    One of the things that we feel strongly as parents about is that our children understand that they are extremely blessed. As bigger and bigger birthdays occur they become less and less special. We want to make sure that it is something they are excited about year after year and that it isn’t expected.

  • Abby says:

    For my son’s second birthday next month, we decided to do a Little Einsteins theme. I did a Google search for “Little Einsteins birthday party theme” and found a great blog post by a woman who threw a similarly themed party for her daughter. The blog post included links to free printables for invitations, a birthday banner, cupcake toppers, decorations, and more. The blogger created all those things especially for her daughter’s party, and then put them online for anyone to use.

    I downloaded the documents and then ordered them from Staples, so I could get higher quality images than my own printer could produce. For less than $10, I now have everything I need for the theme of my son’s party. I’m sure there are similar resources out there for just about any theme you could imagine.

  • Jen says:

    We enjoy setting up an obstacle course in our backyard for my son’s bday. We’ve done this now for 3 years, now it’s something his friends llok forward to. We also combined 3 of our kids bdays one year and rented the city pool. They could invite as many friends and their whole families could come too since we had the pool to ourselves.

  • Jenn S says:

    Having a party where our child gets a million gifts was/is a little scary for our already overflowing (blessed) toy box. And, I wanted people to come and enjoy themselves without the pressure of having to spend their $$ on a gift. So we did a “no gifts” rule. Instead we asked people to bring something small to donate to a local charity (like baby wipes or blanket). In the end, we had a big box of things to donate and a few special gifts for our child from family members.

  • Lynn says:

    When it comes to birthdays, I have learned to really listen to my kids. I can be guilty of trying to give them what I would have wanted and often, because we live an overall simpler lifestyle than when I grew up, the kids choose something smaller. My daughter’s birthday is Jan 12 and that is always tough because they are just back in school and many people are really “spent” from Christmas so I try to be considerate about what we choose. This year my daughter said she just wanted to share cupcakes with her classmates at school. I called her teacher and that is what we did – I did buy special cupcakes but that was really my only expense. We did an at home cake and dinner out with family and she was very happy! We would have done much more if it had been up to me! Also, when we have had at home parties I find the kids NEED something to do at almost all times or they will begin to roam and make an even bigger mess of your house, so while the kids are waiting for me to get the food or cake or whatever I put crayons and printable coloring sheets in whatever the party theme is out on the table for them to color and they love it. For example, my son had a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse party and I printed out coloring sheets from the website and the kids love it!

  • Tonya says:

    The biggest way I have saved money over the years with parties is the party favors. I try and find a little gift under a dollar to hand out. I search clearance. I scored big time last year with finding sidewalk chalk for 50 cents each. I grabbed a bunch for party favors!!! Always a big hit. In other years I have done bubble wands and kites. It is so much cheaper than buying bags, candy and trinkets!!!

  • Susan says:

    My daughter turned 12 late last summer. She had a swim party at a local hotel where they show movies on the wall in the pool area. It’s quite cool. She picked the new American Girl movie, and she and her friends layed on their floaties in the pool and watched the movie. Not exactly frugal, but the price is competitive to other party venues in the area.

    But … here’s where having a good relationship with my local Walgreens store manager paid off. DD wanted her friends to all have a lounge-type floatie to movie-watch in the pool. Even the $3.97 ones from Walmart would have been more than I wanted to spend because I needed eight of them. I found some at Walgreens that were on clearance for about half that. I started sweet-talking the manager into discounting them a little more. When I told him about the party, he laughed and put all 8 floaties into the bag without charging me at all. Free swim floats, and those were our “party favors.”

    In a past year at a swim party, we got white noodles for everyone at the dollar store. I took a bunch of Sharpies and the kids decorated their noodles however they wanted.

    I always throw a party for my daughter. I think every child deserves a special something for their birthday. It does not have to be big, expensive, or fancy.

  • Heather says:

    We have, and plan to continue to have big celebrations for EVERY birthday.
    We have 2 boys and a baby on the way and no matter our financial situation, we will always make a big deal out of birthdays.
    We celebrate the birthday month, the birthday week, the birth day, and usually two parties, on for friends and one for family.
    It’s how I was raised, my mom always made such a big deal about us and I loved it an plan to do the same.

  • jess says:

    We start at 2 and do a venue party. Not all that frugal but it is great fun for ME and the kids 🙂 One thing I will agree with is the party favors. I hate those things. We usually throw them away before they even make it to the house
    We’ve had huge gift bags stuffed full of junk at parties! I think I will not do party favors any more too!

  • Marie says:

    For me, I don’t really remember my birthdays being celebrated. I’m sure we had cake and the family sang but that was it. Those years were painful for many reasons.
    Becoming a mom was truly a miracle for me!! Now we are blessed with twins and another little girl. We decided that we will ALWAYS celebrate their birthdays and it will be a BIG DEAL but not spend a fortunate! Every year for the past 5 years I have done a theme party. But I use many of the same tips as on this post. Dollar Tree and the Target $1 spot are my friends!! This past birthday was Dr. Seuss and we watched Horton Hears a Who and the kids had popcorn! I found Dr. Seuss containers for 70% off at Target for the popcorn! (.30cents each!) Then we just served water and cupcakes.
    If your in the camp that likes to give goody bags it doesn’t need to be junk. For the Dr. Seuss theme I found stickers, pens and notepads. I’d much rather my kids have that then little trinkets or candy. But again all the items were .30cents or less.
    For us we have no family where we live and even if we did they don’t celebrate the kids. So we will have friend parties and we will make our kids feel special. But I strongly believe it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Our party for the twins is a little large but we are celebrating 2 kids at the same time! And for now they have the same friends and want to celebrate together.
    My kids birthdays are in Jan. and March and we live in the Mid-West so it is hard to plan for outside.
    I think each family should do what is comfortable for them. I love reading all the other comments and getting ideas.

    • Chelsea says:

      I agree! I am so glad your kiddos will have those happy memories of their birthdays, I’m sure they will always cherish them. Thanks for sharing your ideas. 🙂

    • Llama Momma says:

      Marie – I can relate! I don’t remember many happy celebrations when I was a child either, which is painful. I think celebrating in an affordable way is a great way to go!! We also do friend parties every year, and the budget usually varies. My kids are so creative with what they want to do.

      My kids and their friends have been to some AMAZING parties over the years, but it warms my heart when one of their friends talk about going sledding and having hot chocolate and cupcakes at my house as one of their FAVORITE things ever!

      One year we hosted an outdoor water gun / slip and slide bash at the end of summer, and my twins each invited one friend over. I was talking with the four kids while they sat in the backyard eating hot dogs. I asked, “What has been your favorite thing this summer?”

      One of the boys looked at me and said, “This. This is the most fun I’ve had all summer.”

      I knew this kid had been to disney world that summer and done some pretty cool things, so I was honored to top the list for “fun!”

      Good old fashioned fun is hard to come by these days. My friends all say I’m “old school” and I guess I am…

      There’s nothing like a good “old school” birthday party to bring smiles to everyone’s faces…including mine!!!

      Many blessings to you as you give your children the childhood you didn’t have. It’s a powerful and healing thing.

    • Suzanne H says:

      I know just where you are coming from and agree completely. I will celebrate each and every year but I won’t break the bank. I just plan ahead, get creative and search for months and months to put everything together! Oh, and I also ban junkie toys/candy from my goodie bags. They have to be items I would want in my house – bubbles, crayons, paint sets, etc. Luckily, my on is a September bday so I always can get things like crayons for $0.10 with a sale and/or coupon!

  • Sandra Mosolgo says:

    My clever daughter, mother of 2 boys & 4 girls, made a reversible birthday banner, with girly fabrics on one side & boy type on the other.It is a series of triangles,pennants with Happy Birthday letters glued or sewn on both sides.It adds color to their kitchen six times a year and will last for a long time.

  • Catherine says:

    I am probably the only person who will admit to spending close to $1000 on my kids party. We are on a cash budget and plan accordingly. My kids are 4 (August) and 6 (September) and we do one large party in September/October. We didn’t have any parties until they were 4 and 2. Since they go to the same daycare/preschool and they change classes when they change ages, we decided to invite the 1, 2, 3 and 4 year old classes. We had it at our house and made it a fun family day for everyone. We have a trampoline that we filled with beach balls, cut some shapes out of plywood And had paints and brushes for the kids to paint the shapes, a neighbors artsy daughter to face paint, and our playground and sand (pebbles) box. We created a cute invite that rhymed and included the phrase, “if you must bring a gift, though not necessary, please make it a book for our local library”. Since we knew how many people we were inviting and since the party was for two childrwn, we dis not want nor need 100 gifts. We ordered two cakes from Costco and had beer, wine, sliders, grilled portabellas, hot dogs, chips, potato salad, macaroni salad, fruit salad. We made lemonade and ordered cups printed with, “this cup belongs to: ” and, “thanks for having fun with us” on the other side. We put out markers so everyone could write their name in their cup. We also got the lids and straws for the cups for the smaller kids. We used hay bales as seats and placed large wooden crate lids over hay bales to act as tables. I bought a bolt of muslin and tie dyed it and wrapped the bales in it so they weren’t pokey and also used it to cover the tables. We had 85 people at the first party an had so much fun that we did it again last year. That time we had 130 people. Some people brought books which we read and then donated to the library. The party favors were the cups and the beach balls. It is kind of a combo party for the adults and the kids. We had it start at 4 and the last person didn’t leave until after 11. After we had the first no gifts party, a lot of the other parents started putting that on their invites as well. For the child’s actual birthday, they pick dinner and the type of cake they want me to make and they get one or two small presents that their sibling picks out and one bigger present from us. This year, the other sibling got to pick $5 worth of decorations from dollar tree and decorate the basement as a surprise for the other one. They have a blast on their birthday and at the big party with all their friends.

    • Chelsea says:

      I think that’s really neat that you were able to do that for your children, I’m sure they will remember it for years to come. I love your perspectives on gifts and how you asked for books for library, and also that you allowed budget to cater to the adults attending the party. It sounds like everybody had a great time! Thanks for bringing your ideas to the table even if they felt against the grain of the post. 🙂

      P.S.-Love the children decorating idea too- I need to start taking some notes here. 😉

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks for not being too critical 🙂 I should have clarified that we spent that much the first time but were able to reuse many things the second time around. I coupon and look for great deals on everything but, we love to host and buying beer and wine and organic beef, etc. for that many people is where most of the budget went. I went with the tie dyed muslin so i could get any color plates, baloons, etc and it would work. We won’t always do this kind of party – next year will probably be our last since our children change schools then. Well, maybe we will still do it, we just won’t claim it’s for the kids ;-).

        The second year we cut out shapes and painted them with chalkboard paint – WAY less messy and chalk is cheaper than paint and brushes (even when bought weekly at michaels with a 40% off coupon)

        • Susan says:

          Catherine, I love this. And I appreciate your willingness to share your family’s traditions even though they may be different from that of many MSM readers.

          Up until my daughter (now 12) was in school, I hosted a big party. I’m a single mother, we have no extended family anywhere near us, but we have a wonderful network of friends. I used my daughter’s birthday as an excuse to celebrate these friendships. They were family functions attended by not only my daughter’s little friends, but their parents and siblings as well.

          I did in our backyard a couple of times, but it really wasn’t big enough for the number of guests, so I reserved a shelter at a local park. I catered the meal because I had no time or desire to cook for a crowd. I usually had a theme of some sort, but nothing fancy, and I never planned any specific kid-party games. The kids just ran around and played, the adults visited, and all was good.

          Once DD reached school age, she had more of an opinion about a party venue, theme, and guests, which was fine. Her birthday is in the hottest part of the summer, so we frequently did a swim parties, but we’ve also done bowling, ice skating, and other things. This past year, the guest list was just her three closest friends for swimming and a sleepover, which was really fun for her and all she really wanted.

          We have some dear friends who host a large get together similar to what you describe every October. They have two children with late September / mid October birthdays. We love their parties and look forward to it every year. No one tries to top it — we just all go and have fun.

        • Susan says:

          I should add that I’ve never gone into debt for a birthday party. I plan for the expense and spend within my means.

  • Susan in St. Louis says:

    We’re doing something really similar, though we’re doing 1st, 5th, 10th, 13th, 16th and 18th birthdays, so a few more than you mentioned. Especially since all three of our kids thus far have summer birthdays (and my hubby’s in there too!), it really, really simplifies things for us to only have one or two (or none!) “big” parties each year.

  • Anna says:

    We have not done any big parties for our kids. They’re still really young, and don’t have many friends outside of cousins. So a friend party is the same as an extended family party. We do almost the same thing every party: hotdogs with sides and homemade cupcakes. My kids love helping make the cupcakes and then decorating them with sprinkles. Simple, and it works for us!

    When they get a little older, I like the idea of craft birthday parties. Family Fun magazine always has cute crafts, like tie-dyed t-shirts which double as a party favor.

    • April says:

      It’s interesting so see how different people celebrate birthdays. We gave our children one “big” party each (around age 3 or 4, depending on the child) and don’t plan to do any more. We also don’t do presents for our children for their birthdays – they have plenty already, and get too many gifts from extended family anyway. For us birthdays are a homemade cake, a special plate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the birthday child gets to choose what I make for dinner and a family activity like a picnic or a movie night. Low-key, inexpensive, and it fits in with our family values.

  • Ann says:

    My kids are 3, 8, and 10. The parties have gotten bigger every year, mostly as their social circle has grown. The two older ones happen to have close friends with birthdays either on the same day or within a week, so we’ve shared parties. This allows us to have “bigger” parties without additional cost. I prefer to make homemade cakes which also brings down the monetary (but not time!) costs.

    And if you’re concerned about too many presents, consider doing a charity drive instead; my daughter collected materials to send with a missionary to Haiti when she turned 6 and for a missionary in Costa Rica when she turned 8. Classmates have done bring a book for the library, food for the animal shelter, etc. and that’s gone over well too.

    We’ve also said that when you turn 10, we switch to a couple of friends having a sleepover, and they’re ok with that.

    I know my mom doesn’t approve of the big celebrations, but I figure it’s my party too, celebrating the years I’ve had with my children. They’re my gift to them.

  • Julia says:

    Instead of traditional presents for the birthday girl/boy we’ve done book exchanges. We asked guests to bring 2 gently used books and then swapped around so that everyone took a pair of books home. Then we were not overwhelmed with gifts. We gave two books and got two that were “new to us.”

  • While I like the idea of simplifying birthday parties, I have to say this is one area we splurge on willingly. As the kids get older the parties will likely look a lot different, but thus far we’ve gone all out for each birthday. I don’t regret it a bit, but I know it’s not for every family.

  • Llama Momma says:

    I agree that birthday parties can easily become a runaway expense. Some of the parties are so elaborate and expensive, it’s wild!! But my boys have never really asked for those kinds of parties.

    I grew up without many birthday parties, and I throw them for my boys every year happily. Sometimes, our budget has allowed for bigger parties (jumpy places, chuck e cheese), and other years, we’ve just had friends over for homemade cake and ice cream and crafts and a few games.

    We’ve gone sledding for birthday parties…watched a movie…done crafts.

    Parties don’t have to be expensive. Ask your child what would make it a celebration for them…the answer may surprise you.

    One year, one of my boys said, “I really just want to invite (my four best buddies) over and make homemade pizza and have a nerf gun fight.”

    I think that party cost all of fifteen dollars, if that. But the memory is one my son will cherish because it’s what he really wanted to do.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting limits on parties and expense…as long as it’s an open conversation and your child feels loved and celebrated.

    • Rae says:

      Thank you for posting this! Every child is very different. When I was seven we had ten girls over for a sleepover for my birthday. It was a disaster. My favorite birthday was celebrated with two friends and family. I prefer small groups and the simple things too.

  • Linda says:

    Great ideas! One of our favorite decorating ideas for birthdays: regular colored balloons (from the dollar store!) with curling ribbons, hung upside down (so the balloon is down) hung all over our living room and dining room ceiling. It’s super cheap, makes a huge impact, and my kiddos (age 5 and 7 this year) loved it! We got a lot of compliments for it. I got a generic happy birthday sign that we hang from the fireplace mantle and reuse every year. I buy themed napkins and the rest of a solid color from the dollar store.

  • Megan says:

    My son’s birthday is the day before my nephew’s birthday, and for the past several years, we have gone together to do a party for them both. It saves us both money, and it is one less event that the whole family has to make time for. It has worked out great. We don’t bother with themes (the two boys are about 10 years apart in age), but we just get together for dinner, cake, and presents. The boys feel special, and we all have a good time.
    We will probably do some friend parties here and there along the way, but this has worked well so far.

  • Jen says:

    I really loooove planning parties, so my kids’ parties end up being pretty big. Not that we invite a lot of people, but I put a lot of thought into the invitations, decorations, food, etc. I would love to be a party planner, but I know that would not work out so well in the city I live in. So, instead of a low-paying party planning job, I just plan parties for family and friends when I can so I can have that creative outlet I need!

  • Suzanne H says:

    Something I have done with my son’s parties is to pick a theme that he has toys for. His 2nd birthday party was farm themed b/c a lot of his toys just happened to be farm related – I put out a farm puzzle for the kids to play with and used all of the farm toys as decorations. His 3rd birthday party was Toy Story 3 b/c it was his favorite movie and a friend of mine was able to send a real garbage truck to our house (his favorite thing in the world!) for free. We bought him a Toy Story 3 toy garbage truck as his main gift and I used it as a centerpiece for the party. He was so excited and didn’t care 1 bit that his gift wasn’t wrapped (or that we were “using” it during the party). This year I did a construction theme b/c he loves it and he has a real hard hat (given by an engineer friend) and tons of dump trucks, excavators, etc. Again, used them for decorations. I also scour sites like Party City, Oriental Trading, Birthday Express when promo codes come out and see if any of the sale themes inspire me so I can start planning early. I knew my theme (construction + orange/brown) months ago so when I found giant orange bottles of bubbles on clearance for $0.25 I snatched up 10 for goodie bags and printed out my own labels to personalize them! Also, think outside of the box for goodie bags. This year I used tool belts to hold the kids goodies – $0.77 from Home Depot. They matched perfectly, were really sturdy and cute and my son will use his for his construction Halloween costume. In the past I’ve baked oversized cookies and put them in CD envelopes with a cute label – there are loads of cute ideas online. Also, for kid’s activities and/or goodie bags I go online and print out coloring sheets that match the theme. You can often cut and paste into Word and personalize them to the event – add your child’s name or the name of the children in attendance.

  • I always loved giving party favors at the end but always refused to spend more than $1 per kid. If you go to Dollar Tree this is easy to achieve, buying items that come in threes like pencils & pens, pretty small notebooks, nail polish, lip gloss, etc, and placing in plastic favor bags.

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *