I love to host birthday parties! The cake, the balloons, the coordinating table settings, the treat bags…I love planning it all. What I don’t like is spending a ton of money on a few hour celebration! I have dozens of ideas on how to host a fantastic birthday party on a budget. When planning a birthday party this is my intent:
- I want the focus to be on the birthday celebrant.
- I want my party guests to have a memorably good time.
- I want to show my creative side with tasteful decor and thoughtful party favors.
- But ultimately, I want it to be cheap!
I’ve included ideas depending upon how much you’d like to spend, how much time you have and how creative you’d like to get. Keep in mind, the more time you invest and the more creative you are, the less money you’ll have to spend! Keep reading for how to host a birthday party on a budget!
10 Things to Consider When Planning a Birthday Party on a Budget
- Party Location
- Choosing a Theme
- Guest List
- Party Favors
- Table settings
- Games and Entertainment
1. Choosing the Best Party Location
Choosing the party location first will determine the rest of your party, in relation to party size, decorations and budget. If you are planning a birthday party on a budget this is obviously not the time to book an ice skating rink or take your child’s entire class to the movies!
- The best place to look first is hosting at your own home, backyard or clubhouse.
- If you don’t have a location and booking a venue is a must, ask friends and family first if you can “borrow” their home or yard.
- Local parks are free to host a party and if the weather is good, that can be your best bet. Some parks will have a clubhouse or gazebo at an additional cost.
- If hosting outside, have an alternate location or risk having to cancel. Our kid’s birthdays are in November, December and March. We often get rained out and require an alternate inside location in case of rain (like Grandma’s house!).
Making a birthday party more like a play date can really take some pressure off the budget too. I hosted a Disney Preschool Playdate and offering a few snacks, cupcakes and juice was just perfect for these little ones.
2. Choosing a Theme for Your Party
Having a theme allows you to pinpoint the feel of the party. A theme is also a cheap way to get more bang for your buck! Requesting that party guests wear a costume or dress in the theme allows them to be more invested in the party. Here are a few fun theme ideas that translate into budget-friendly parties!
- Doughnut theme- Invite party guests to wear their pajamas for a morning brunch-time party. Serve doughnuts, chocolate milk and juice.
- Water theme – Bring your bathing suit and towel. Either go swimming, play in the sprinklers or (if there is no water!) have a beach theme inside with inflatable beach balls to toss around.
- Craft theme – Request that party guests bring clean recycled items, like cardboard boxes and metal cans. Check out Pinterest for inexpensive ideas on making cool crafts with the addition of wrapping paper, glue, and scrap ribbons.
- Movie Night theme – Is there a popular movie being released on Netflix or BluRay? Have guests bring a pillow and blanket, then host a movie night with popcorn and the feature film.
My kids love coming up with cool themes. In the last few years, I’ve created simple budget-friendly themes like Mickey in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Nautical and Basketball.
Ask your child for input on the theme and then work with them to find perfect details that can be recreated for the party. My son was really into the Seven Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom so I created a very simple theme around that Disney attraction. Kids can really be the catalysis for some fun and creative ideas! Check out his Mine Train party ideas.
See more details on creating a Sorcerer’s Apprentice party!
3. Invitations & Guests
The invitation really sets the theme in my book. Once you’ve chosen the theme, picking the invite is a fun way to bring that theme to life!
- Make your invites with scrapbook paper and stickers.
- Create your own invitations in Canva and then print them at home on my HP printer (love HP Instant Ink and HP Card & Invitation Kit!)
- I love the invites from Tiny Prints with the photos on them and if you buy in quantity they are only about a dollar each.
- Save a stamp and buy invitations that can be emailed, like te beautiful ones from Paperless Post. I love the freebie options too, including these adorable Disney-themed invites. There is a way you can track RSVPs as well, which is handy if you are too busy to call and follow up with your guests.
Tips for Creating a Guest List
Narrowing down the guest list can be a challenge. Every child wants to invite all the kids in class to their parties but with budget and space restrictions, this isn’t always possible. If you’d like to have a more elaborate party, keep the guest list to under 5. If you want to invite the whole group, keep the celebration simple with cake and punch.
For my son’s Mickey and the Roadster Racers we hosted after school at the park. It was low key with just a few friends. And it was exactly what my son wanted – just to play at the park with his friends! Click for more Mickey and the Roadster Racers party ideas, including free printables.
4. Birthday Cake or Cupcakes
Cake is a birthday party must-have! Checking out the cake at a birthday party is my preschooler’s favorite. Putting a good amount of budget towards a special birthday cake can be worth it. Here are a few ways to save on the expense.
Make It Yourself From Scratch or a Boxed Mix
I have made many-a-boxed-cake in my party days and believe me, nobody turns them down! I recommend following Tidy Mom’s tip on doctoring up a boxed mix. You could get canned frosting or whip up your own quite cheaply with a bag of powdered sugar. I usually go for plain vanilla or a cream cheese frosting and add gel food coloring to decorate with.
No need to get fancy – For the pink and green cupcakes below I just divided a tub of white store-bought frosting and colored it with gel food coloring. Simple but bright and colorful!
Buy Cake Premade from the Store
Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to be baking and store-bought is the way to go. I bought these cupcakes from the grocery store for less than 70 cents each and they were delicious. You could certainly dress these up with some store-bought sprinkles, fondant toppers or royal icing flowers but I kept it simple for an adult party.
Add Unique Details
I took a boxed white cake mix and designed this amazing rainbow cake for my baby’s first birthday, which had an It’s a Small World theme. I was as easy as dividing the batter into separate bowls, adding gel food coloring in a variety of colors and then plopping a cupful of batter one color at a time on top of each other into the cake pans. Ultimate impact for no extra cost!
For my stepdaughter’s 6th birthday, she loved Tinkerbell. I simply baked her cake in a Pyrex bowl to create a little “grassy” hilltop and then added plastic play figures to the top. See what toys you have that you could clean up to use for decoration.
My son made the request for this birthday cake: Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Darth Vader playing soccer. Okaaayy…here it is! I added the Lego Stormtrooper at goalie for good measure. He was thrilled to see his idea come to life!
5. Party Favors for Guests
I’m not big on party favors but kids LOVE them. I like to choose favors that fit my party theme. However they also should be fun, practical items that won’t end up at the bottom of the toy box (ie: trash). Aim for quality over quantity. Shop early and with your theme in mind to find the best bargains. Here are a few creative party favor ideas:
Home-baked Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
This one is not going to cost you too much but these cookies are definitely time consuming. I pace myself over several days when I make these, baking the cookies one day, icing another day and adding details on a third. I follow the recipes and techniques from Sweet Sugar Belle. Practice makes perfect & my decorating skills have improved over the years!
For an Alice in Wonderland themed 7th birthday I made little pastel flowers and mushroom shaped cookies. My baby son’s It’s a Small World party I used the same cookie cutter but added colored candies to accent the center of each whimsical flower.
For my son’s second birthday we had an Elmo theme and I made “Elmo-breadmen” out of Sweet Sugar Belle’s gingerbread recipe. To save time I only frosted the faces and added small details. They came out so cute (and the gingerbread was yummy!).
Hand-painted Wooden Dolls
I found these little unpainted wooden peg dolls on Etsy (cost about $1.25 each). For my baby’s It’s a Small World party I painted the dolls in Disney characters from around the globe.
We had Lilo representing Hawaii, Merida from Scotland, Aladdin from India and Woody from the USA among others. I painted two dolls a night leading up to the party to pace myself, using acrylic paint and a small brush. I used the dolls as part of the party decor around the dessert table and then told the kids to choose one to take home. By far, the most popular favors I’ve ever given out!
Treat Bags with Goodies
- Figuring out your theme early helps if you’re making up goodie bags.
- Keep an eye on the dollar bins or sale sections for items to include in treat bags that work for the age group.
- Save coupons for the craft store and use those 40% off offers to buy favors.
- I aim for about 3 items inside a treat bag, usually with something edible (like a sugar cookie) being one of them.
- Stickers are easy and inexpensive.
- Costume jewelry, a tube of lip balm and hair accessories are perfect for girls.
- If you have a large enough treat bag, a coloring book from the dollar store in the party theme is perfect!
At my daughter’s 6th birthday party we had boy and girl themed bags (boys got race cars, girls received bracelets). For my son’s second birthday I only handed out treat bags (filled with a package of crayons & Sesame Street stickers) to the littlest of party goers.
6. Budget-Friendly Party Decor
The decor sets the theme and it can be done simply for greatest impact. Decide on a color-scheme of two or three colors to keep the look bright and lively. I’ve included a few tips and some ideas on decorations for a tight budget.
- Choose large decorations instead of tiny ones and you’ll only need a few around the room.
- Instead of decking out your tables with every piece from a themed line, pick one item whether it be the dessert plates, the table cloth or the napkins. Complete the look by choosing complimentary colors or designs to the themed item.
- Use toys or decorative items that you already have around the house to complete the theme.
- Balloons, paper streamers and oversized tissue paper flowers add a lot of color without a big price.
I crafted simple paper pinwheels out of leftover scrapbook paper and hung them with twine. In the center of one pinwheel I taped a color print of a vintage It’s a Small World poster.
Punch out simple circles from scrap book paper. Easily sew them up on the sewing machine to make a paper streamer.
7. Themed Table Settings
Creating an exciting table setting as a focal point for your birthday party can be done in even the smallest spaces. Include a collection of foods or treats, colorful paper ware and maybe even a themed-toy.
- Solid colored plastic tablecloths are cheaper than themed ones. Dress them up with a strip of wrapping paper as a colorful runner.
- Choose sturdy paper ware and utensils. Better to pay a bit more for durable versions than have to double up flimsy plates or replace plastic forks that break tines.
- Create interesting heights by using cakes stands. Or wrap cardboard boxes in coordinating wrapping paper to use for stacking items on the table.
For my son’s Elmo party, I used red as the main color for the plates and napkins and white on the tablecloths. Then I cut a strip of Dollar Store rainbow wrapping paper to use as the table runner. A Tickle Me Elmo toy set the theme and we didn’t require any expensive themed paper products from the party supply store!
Wrapping paper came in handy again at my adult birthday party. I used a roll of black wrapping paper and layered it over a gold tablecloth. Writing with an inexpensive white Sharpie pen on the black paper looks like chalk and created a sophisticated element to the tables, for $3.50 total.
8. Feeding Your Guests
Food can easily be the most expensive part of party hosting. Depending on what you purchase you might be spending several hundred dollars feeding your guests. If you are budgeting, choose foods that are filling but inexpensive.
- For parties during cold weather, consider soup. I like to make a big pot of turkey-bean chili and pans of homemade cornbread.
- In warmer weather purchase sandwich fixings and include several loaves of bread or rolls, deli meat and a few cheese selections.
- Even pizza can get expensive, especially if you add additional toppings. Find a location with a great coupon and save!
- Steer away from prepackaged party platters because they also tend to be pricier.
- If you want to serve veggies and fruit, buy them whole and cut them yourself. This is always going to be cheaper than buying pre-cut.
Consider a salad bar! For this party, I chopped a few romaine heads and tossed in a box of spring mix. A little lettuce went a long way! Each one of the toppings cost an average of $1.50 each and I placed them in glass dishes, each with their own spoon. The most expensive item was the chicken, which my husband seasoned & grilled. I was able to feed 25 for about $50 and we had quite a few leftovers.
- If the budget is very tight, consider hosting your party at an odd hour (like 2 pm) and don’t offer food other than cake with drinks. Make sure you note on the invite that guests are joining you for dessert so they don’t expect to be served a meal.
9. Games & Activities for Party Guests
Parents often over think this and tend to plan too many activities during a party. Kids are more easily entertained than you think. If you host the party at a park, let the playground be the entertainment. The most simple things are the best:
- Pinatas are cheap enough but then you have to fill it and that can get really expensive. Use leftover Halloween or Easter candy!
- Pipe cleaners from the dollar store are fun to bend into headbands or silly glasses.
- If you have an outdoor space, Play-doh is always fun for little guys.
- Search Minute to Win It games on Pinterest and find a wealth of things you can do using things from around the house.
- Jot up a scavenger hunt list and have kids search either inside or out.
- An art project with inexpensive watercolors and paper or thin canvas boards and acrylics.
- Turn on the music and dim the lights to host a dance party.
- Gather fun accessories from around the house or costume box for a photo booth. Take pictures of the guests being silly. The photo can be printed and sent out with thank you cards!
10. Party Entertainment
Booking entertainment for birthday parties is usually very low on my checklist. I’m of the opinion that kids enjoy each other’s company enough that playing together is often fun enough!
- Characters, princesses and party clowns are popular for parties. But sorry, Elsa & Anna from Frozen probably won’t be greeting guests at your party if you’re budgeting! That is unless you can convince a cool family member to dress up and act out the part.
- Check your local Groupon website first if you’d like to get a bounce house or hire entertainment; they often have specials for 50-70% off.
- Want to include face painting but don’t want to hire out? Buy your own kit and offer simple face painting designs yourself (or ask an artistic family member or friend for their assistance).
Hosting the Best Birthday Party (Budget or Not)
The bottom line is to focus on the birthday kid and not get too wrapped up running around that you actually miss the special moments. It’s all about making memories and not the hoop-la, after all. Take lots of pictures and have fun!
Happy Birthday to you!