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Birthday’s can add a lot of stress to a tight budget, and throwing birthday parties can really mess things up.  There are some great frugal birthday party ideas to help you celebrate and hopefully keep you on budget!

In the past week, I had a conversation with a friend whose daughter is about to turn two. She told me that she was torn on what to do—should they have a big party for her, because they had one last year? Or should they do something more low-key and have a bigger party every other year?

I shared with her what I hope to share today: You can make a child’s birthday special without spending a lot of time, energy, or money on it. The key is to tailor the celebration to the actual child and to let go of your own emotions and expectations about birthdays. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gotten sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole of kids’ birthday party ideas. If that brings you and your child joy, great. But today I’m going to share some frugal birthday ideas for kids if you’re looking for way to simplify.

Frugal Kids Birthday Party Ideas

Set A Budget & Save Up

Long before you pick a theme and send an invite, you need to decide how much you are willing to spend on the party.  Set that number in stone and for older kids make sure they know the amount too!  Take the amount you are budgeting and start saving now (even better is to decide on the amount, divide by 12 and save all year for it).   One mom had a great idea to give her son a budget for his party and let him make most of the decisions about how to spend the money.

Skip Paper Invites

Paper birthday invitations are only something to go in your scrapbook, no one else keeps them for other people kids… So skip the expensive invites and stamps and go with free online invites through evite, Paperless Post, or just call/text the parents. Hand written and hand delivered always work too.

Ditch The Party Favors

Another thing you can skip completely is party favors. Most kids won’t notice, and parents will likely be glad to go home WITHOUT a bag fall of candy.  If that makes you feel a tad too frugal, then work party favors into the activity.

We had a group of 12 year old girls over and made bottle cap magnets and decorated flip-flops.  What they created was their party favor.

The Time of Day Is Important

Choose a time of day like mid-morning or mid-afternoon. This frees you from the need to provide a lot of food—just have cake and ice cream.  Also consider how long you want the party to run, as kids will want snacks eventually…

It’s Okay to Set a Limit on Guests

While no one wants to be left out, it’s okay to set a max limit on the number of friends that can be invited.  This is a great time to teach your kids one of many lessons on being the host.  Have them start with a list and then help narrow down if needed.  Also encourage them that we don’t need to discuss the party in front of people that aren’t coming and other great life lessons like that.

Tip: If you are having a party at a venue, look at their package prices and let them be the “bad guy” if you want.  If the package is for 5 kids, then that sets your limit!

Use your home

This tip may not work for everyone—it didn’t for us when we lived in an apartment—but even in a small home, think about using your house as the starting point for the birthday celebration. You can cut down on the cost of renting a space or paying an arm and a leg for activities.

Here are some idea for a great party at home:

  • Invite a bunch of friends over, fill up 500 water balloons, and buy a bunch of cheap water guns from the dollar store. For younger kids, fill up a baby pool with water and some soap for a bubble pool.
  • Pick an activity your child enjoys and centering the party around that.
    • Have a painting/art party and provide small canvases, paints, and other art supplies.
    • Maybe your child has some favorite video games? Order a few pizzas and invite some friends over for a few hours to play them together.
    • If your child is into cooking or baking, have a make-your-own-pizza party or let the child and guests decorate their own cupcakes or cookies to eat as part of the celebration (my favorite sugar cookie recipe and icing recipe).
  • Have a game night and have each attendee bring their favorite group game.  (Ours is Happy Salmon which you should definitely add to the agenda).
  • If you are going with a theme, then get creative and have a scavenger hunt, a super hero training game, a paw patrol rescue mission… the possibilities are as big as your imagination.
Celebrate at a park

If your home isn’t conducive to having a group of kids over, then celebrate at a city or state park. (This may not work if your child has a birthday soon and you currently live in Wisconsin!)

One year, we celebrated a birthday at 10 a.m. with donuts at the park. This kind of party is great if you have a lot of people to invite. There’s little-to-no mess or clean-up, and there’s plenty of space for kids to roam free.

Note: If your park has covered areas they make require you to reserve them.  You can always hope for good weather and skip that, but you may want to consider it for peace of mind.

Spend Money on An Experience

If your kid isn’t clamoring for a party, then consider spending money on an experience instead of a gift or the cost of a party. You could even allow your child to invite a friend or two. Here are some ideas:

  • Bowling
  • Arcade/fun park
  • Go on a hike and pack a picnic
  • Go to the zoo and then go out to eat
  • Spend the night at a hotel with the child and a friend
  • Use a Groupon for cheap access to a special location in your city
  • Take a friend or two to paint pottery

If you do spend the day doing some kind of fun outing, then save money on eating out by cooking a favorite dinner at home—maybe something you don’t normally make due to time or expense. For one of my kids this year, it was chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes!

First Birthday Parties

Most parents want to celebrate that first birthday as a special milestone. That’s great, but remember that your child will absolutely not care what you do (or remember it). For us, celebrating our kids’ first birthdays has been about thanking the friends and family who supported us throughout the ups and downs of that first year! Make a cake and a small batch of cupcakes so you can use a cupcake for your baby’s first cake. Ask a few close family members or friends if they’re willing to bring a finger food or two, or grill hot dogs and just have chips and fruit for a side dish. For decorations, hang a line of string and print out the best pictures from the first year (because in the age of smartphones, I know you have pictures!).

Skip Presents or Go Cheap for Young Kids

It doesn’t take expensive presents to make you an amazing parent.  Rather than getting caught up on trying to get amazing gifts, remember that 1 year olds don’t even know what a present is.  They won’t help unwrap and they will love the box and bow much more than whatever you put in it.  We skip presents for our kids until they turn 3.  Even for their third birthday we focus on things they will enjoy, but don’t spend much money.

This was Ada (my youngest) on her 3rd birthday last year.  The bunny ears were on Easter clearance for 10¢ and the sunglasses were from conference swag.  They were her favorite gifts that day… total cost 10¢.  It’s not all we gave her, but it proves my point.  I don’t even remember what other things she got.

Other Thoughts

Just remember that you should spend energy and resources on what’s important to your child, while also teaching them about wise choices and balancing wants and needs. 

Ask your child what he or she really wants, then see how you can use your budget and resources to make something happen. Maybe it means a lot for your child to take cupcakes to school, or maybe they’d just be happy if you brought some Chick-fil-a and ate lunch with them.

In our family, I always ask the birthday kid what kind of cake they want (they normally want my Mammy’s banana cake). Important note: I am NOT a professional baker; so if they ask for strange shapes or types I just search Pinterest for ideas!. Come back tomorrow for ideas on how to make your own fun and frugal birthday cakes.