9 Cheap Birthday Party Ideas for Parents

9 cheap birthday party ideas for parents

Throwing a birthday party for a group of little kids used to be pretty basic:

  • a cake,
  • cups of bright orange drink,
  • a bowl of chips, and maybe…
  • a few hot dogs after they amused themselves by running around playing tag.

But then it somehow turned into a competition of which parent could plan the most impressive, over-the-top celebration.

Rented venues!

Themed designer cakes!

Pinterest-worthy decorations!

I’m a firm believer that you can throw an awesome birthday party without spending a fortune on food, decorations, activities, or favours.

It just takes a little creativity and a few tips...


It isn’t a party without sending everyone home fed, and that can get expensive quickly!

Luckily, I've figured out how to cut waaaay back on our food budget without sacrificing the fun...

1. Avoid the meal zones

So here’s the deal:

Parties from 11 am to 1 pm are assumed to include lunch, and parties from 4 pm to 6 pm mean supper will 100% be provided – whether that’s your intention or not.

So what’s a budget-savvy parent got to do? Trim your party’s food budget by hosting during non-meal times, like:

  • 9 am to 11 am,
  • 1 pm to 3 pm,
  • 2 pm to 4 pm, or
  • 6 pm to 8 pm for older kids.

2. Limit grazing

There are always kids at a party who will hang out at the food table the entire time.

What I’d do to go through far less food?

Keep the party guests busy until a designated snack time when they all sit down to eat together.

3. Snack strategically

If you’re not sure how much food to buy and you want to avoid waste – like having two huge trays of warm, uneaten sandwiches at the end of the party – limit the perishables and stock up on foods that will last, like:

  • bags of chips,
  • pretzels, and
  • popcorn.

They can be opened one at a time and easily brought home if you don’t need them.

4. Let them eat (cheaper) cake

There are very talented cake artists who will make a lifelike rendition of the Power Rangers out of fondant, but you’re going to pay a lot for that pretty cake.

The thing is that a professionally-decorated cake is mostly going to impress the parents – not the kids.

Bake your own cupcakes at home (mixes are just fine and the brand-name ones often go on sale for $1). And then upgrade them by making a simple homemade buttercream.

Pro tip: Don’t shell out the $7 for the party-themed cupcake wrappers because they usually get oily in the oven and lose their “theme” anyway.

If you’re having especially small kids at the party, stretch your cupcakes by baking minis (24 to a pan), instead of full-sized pans (12 to a pan). One is enough for a little appetite. And sometimes older kids just want a bite or two before they run back off to play.

Decor & Activities

It’s easy to get carried away buying “themed” balloons, streamers, signs, tablecloths, cups, napkins, plates – you name it – but none of that is necessary for a great birthday party.

Here are my favourite money-saving hacks...

5. Reuse + recycle

Make a classic “Happy Birthday” banner out of fabric, felt or foam and you can reuse it every year.

The same goes with birthday signage, cake toppers, cake platters and decorative paper poms.

Instead of buying the $2 plastic tablecloths that gets torn and thrown away after each party, spend $3 or $4 on sturdier cloths (in basic colours, like yellow or red) that can be used for years.

Some families swear by buying sets of inexpensive plastic dishes, cups, and flatware to use for birthday parties year after year.

Related: Budget Home Decorating Ideas

6. Craft your own games

Make a simple prize-punch using cardboard, plastic cups, and squares of tissue paper.

Guests get to punch through the tissue paper to reveal a prize inside one of the cups – like candy, a hockey card, or a small toy.

Set out dishes of icing and candy and have a contest to see who can decorate the best cupcake or cookie.

BONUS: This doubles as a take-home favour or as the dessert they eat at the party!


Sure, it seems like a good idea to pick up a bunch of Dollar Store party favours and fill up the loot bags…

But we’ll spend $2 on a six-pack of tiny erasers and end up needing three packages ... and that’s just one item per kid!

Pretty soon the “affordable” loot bag ends up costing $5 or $6 per guest.

Here are some creative (and less expensive) takes on the party favour:

7. Keep it simple

Instead of a loot bag, buy each guest one small parting gift they can actually use, like:

  • a headband,
  • a water bottle,
  • a cool notebook, or
  • a box of markers.

Way better than a plastic gun or junky $1 bracelet that falls apart on the car-ride home.

8. Make-your-own favours

Sometimes the activity can double as the take-home favour.

Buy the supplies for crafting simple jewellery, decorating T-shirts, painting small canvases, or making photo frames, and let the guests work together on their creations.

At the end of the party, everyone gets to take theirs home – maybe with a little note attached that thanks them for coming.

9. Doubled-up favours

If your party’s short on time because you have lots of activities planned, the guests can always take their cupcakes to-go.

Stick each one in a plastic cup, tie clear cellophane around the whole thing, and secure it with a ribbon and a thanks-for-coming note.

Related: Addictive Consumerism: The Danger of Collecting Shopkins

Your Turn

What’s your favourite budget-friendly birthday party tip(s)? Share below!

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Editorial Disclaimer: The content here reflects the author's opinion alone, and is not endorsed or sponsored by a bank, credit card issuer, rewards program or other entity.

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Miriam Kearney
Miriam Kearney's picture

When I was raising small kids (in the 70's) I read a book my Betty Crocker - can't remember the title but it was about birthdays for kids from small to teens. She recommended for smaller kids that the number of guests be restricted to one more than the age of the child. Kids, below the age of 5, for instance are often overwhelmed by being part of a large crowd and are really happy in a small group so it worked really well. I followed this until my kids were too old for 'neighborhood' parties. It was a challenge for my twins because they always wanted to have a joint party but I wouldn't double the number of kids (would defeat the purpose) so when they were 4 we had five kids, when they were 9 we had 10 kids - can't remember the activities but some of them were big muscle in a nearby park and then they watched a movie, had some snacks, birthday cake and ice cream. Everyone had a blast, didn't break the bank and no one was crying when it was time to go home.

September 12, 2017 @ 11:05 am
Susan's picture

Another tip -- watch for items that can be used as favours throughout the year. I had a pirate party for my son one year and had picked up little lanterns after Christmas for a great price. Be creative -- there are loads of ways to save money and still give your child a great party. I second Miriam's idea about the number of kids to invite -- too many kids often leads to tears, grumpy kids, and chaos.

September 12, 2017 @ 9:49 pm
Marpy's picture

With parties, thinking ahead and doing as much as you can yourself always results in savings. Yes its extra work but then you are trying to save a dollar!

Off Topic - Hi Steve and posters - The Wife and I are headed out to Halifax for a week not to long from now. Hotel is already booked at a very good rate but we are looking at any money saving ideas for restaurants and attractions in and around Halifax.


September 16, 2017 @ 9:08 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

Hi Marpy,

It's been a few years, however strolling the Halifax boardwalk is my favourite thing to do: plenty of places to eat, lovely waterfront view, and a peek at Theodore Tugboat. Also love walking around their public gardens, visiting their citadel, and chatting with local vendors at their farmer's market.

Check out this list of events this month as well: http://www.destinationhalifax.com/content/fall-events-2017 


September 18, 2017 @ 9:09 am
Marpy's picture

Thanks Maria

September 18, 2017 @ 3:16 pm
Burris's picture

keep sharing like this more

February 02, 2019 @ 6:31 am

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