Every year as my kids’ birthdays roll around, I find myself asking myself, “How can I do this on a budget?” One year, before I was writing for Bargain Babe, I wrote to her for help on this very subject!
I’ve thrown many a birthday party at many a venue over the years, as well as attended more than my fair share of kids’ parties. Because most party packages require a minimum of guests, it’s not uncommon to spent $350 and up for a standard birthday package, no matter the child’s age. Go for a fancier package and the price jumps up. I’ve been to parties where the parents spent $300 just on the cake. People rent bouncy houses, snow cone makers, go karts with tracks, hire characters in costume, magicians, lizards, puppies, miniature horses…you name it. Yet some of the best parties I’ve been too relied less on the kids being entertained and more on them just having fun with their friends.
Here are 20 ways to have a great party without spending a great deal of money.
Ways to keep your birthday party budget in check:
- Send an Evite. It’s free and it’s environmentally-friendly. Plus, Evite will give you a headcount and remind people about your party.
- Print out an invitation. Gotta have it on paper? Use your word processing program to create an invitation to print out on 8×10 paper. In the past, we’ve printed out the invite on printer stationery that we had, or decorated the invitation with stickers before copying them and distributing.
- Skip the Hallmark store. If you’ve really got your mind set on traditional invitations, you can pick up nice ones at most dollar stores. And our Party City had the perfect invitations for my daughter’s upcoming party for fifty cents on clearance.
- Thank you cards. Sure, you could save money (and in some cases, a stamp) by not sending a thank you card at all. Most people don’t anymore. But in my opinion, you can’t put a price on teaching your kids good manners. Most dollar stores sell perfectly nice thank you cards that won’t break the bank.
- Reduce your guest list. When my kids were little, it was customary to invite every single kid in preschool because you knew all the kids and their parents and saw them at drop off and pick up. Now that my kids are older, I don’t know every kid in their class, much less the parents. And at certain ages, girls just want to invite girls and kids just want to invite their closest friends.
- Have a sleepover. Forget the expensive party venues – crowd the kids on the floor in sleeping bags. The only real price you’ll pay is losing sleep.
- Bake the cake yourself. You heard me! Stop spending a fortune at the bakery or at the grocery store. Mixes and frosting are not expensive! Throw in some candles and the whole thing should cost you under $5.
- Bake cupcakes instead. Give the kids frosting and assorted sprinkles and let them decorate. I’ve seen this at more than one party and the kids always seem to love it.
- Get the cake at Costco. If you’re absolutely insistent on a store-bought cake, you can’t get a better deal thank Costco.
- Say no to juice boxes. They’re meant for travel or lunchboxes. If you’re at home, a big pitcher of lemonade or juice will cost less.
- Skip the goody bags. Seriously, do our kids really need more candy? Or cheap plastic crap that breaks or gets discarded?
- Make a craft in lieu of goody bags. Target’s dollar bin as well as most dollar stores have craft kits for kids. These take-home crafts make a great parting gift.
- Print-outs instead of goody bags. When my daughter was younger, she had an Ariel the Mermaid party. I went online and printed out free Ariel coloring pages, bought some inexpensive crayons at the dollar store, wrapped the paper and crayons in cellophane bags and tied them with a bow.
- Pinatas. If you’re going to have a pinata, each child’s filled bag of its contents can serve as their goody bag. Skip more expensive fillers like chocolate candies because they melt in the heat!
- Forgo the party store. You can find terrific savings on tableware, balloons and even snacks at the dollar stores. Why pay $5 or more for a mylar balloon at the party store when you can pick them up at the 99 Cents Only Store?
- Feed the kids only. If you must provide food other than birthday cake and ice cream, I’ve found that most parents don’t wind up eating much anyway. Feed the kids only. Note: Parents always love when I provide a small cooler of Starbucks frappuccinos from the grocery store. It’s a small and welcome splurge.
- Don’t order pizza. Save money by popping in frozen pizzas. I went to a party where the parents did this and the kids were none the wiser. Frozen pizzas are super cheap at Costco, but you have to have a very large freezer to fit them.
- Make pizzas. I went to a kids’ party where the parents gave each kid half an English muffin, then put out pizza sauce and shredded cheese. The kids enjoyed making their own mini-pizzas.
- Skip the party package. Most venues have a minimum of kids you can invite and they make you pay for them whether or not they show up. Instead of a 15 child minimum, why not invite a couple of best friends out to dinner, to laser tag, or an indoor playground in order to cut costs?
- Enlist a relative or friend for help. Can’t afford to hire some guy in a superhero costume? No worries! Think of what family members or friends might have talents they can lend to your party. Our friend Steve runs a nautical prop house, so he came dressed as a pirate (Captain Jack Sparrow) for our Princess & Pirate party. And at a party that my daughter attended, the birthday girl’s grandmother was a retired manicurist. She set up shop and all the girls got manicures (and some of the moms)! Surely, there’s someone who can help apply temporary tattoos (no skills required) or do basic face painting.
What are your solutions for saving money on kids’ birthday parties?