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