It’s only natural for moms to be excited about the little ones’ (or no-so-little-anymore ones’…) birthdays. These annual milestones are a reminder of the amazing people our kids are turning into and how much they’ve grown, learned and changed since the last birthday. And that’s certainly a cause for celebration! But…it’s all too easy to let the festivities get way out of control.
Does it really take a bouncy house, pony rides, popcorn machine, full suite of coordinated printed products, character appearances, a magician and overflowing goody bags to mark the passing of another year? Here is some advice for throwing a fun birthday party on a budget.
Pick a theme.
Having a central idea to build the party around keeps it fun and exciting and also helps you to focus in on a few special ideas in a “sky’s the limit” world. This also helps make the party more personal when the theme is something your child loves. A few ideas:
- A favourite pastime such as soccer, baseball, dance, gymnastics or swimming.
- A beloved character from a TV show, movie or video game.
- A fantasy theme such as princesses, fairies, pirates, cowboys & cowgirls, outer space or mermaids.
- A theme centred around the party activities – movie night, camp-out or makeover party.
Find a free location.
The party hot spots can get very pricey, especially if your child wants to invite his or her entire class. It can certainly be easier to show up at the gymnastics centre, theme park, arcade or museum and let the party pros take it from there. If time is an issue and you’re not overly concerned with the cost, go for it – but if you’re focused on the budget it’s generally much less expensive to host the party at home.
Don’t have a large enough home, or are worried about the havoc a group of pint-sized party goers all hopped up on cupcakes can wreak? Have the celebration at a local park, playground, beach or campsite. This can even be fun in colder weather – for older kids have a campfire and roast birthday s’mores!
Decorations, food, cake or cupcakes, entertainment – these are all generally less costly when you go the homemade route. Look for projects and recipes to fit your theme that you can make ahead of time to cut down on party day stress. Don’t feel the need to create an elaborate meal – a spread of kid friendly finger food will be a big hit. Some suggestions:
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut in fun shapes with cookie cutters
- Veggies sticks of carrots, celery, peppers and cucumbers
- Chicken nuggets – look for the ones in cute shapes!
- Fruit skewers
- Cubes of mild cheese
- Popcorn and pretzels
- Big pitchers of juice and water (less expensive and less waste than juice boxes)
For decorations, a few rolls of streamers and a bag of balloons is all you need to transform your location into party central for less than five dollars. No need for helium – use painter’s tape (comes off easily) to tape bunches of blown up balloons in different spots.
Keep it simple.
This is by far the most effective way to save money. Rather than inviting a huge crowd, stick with a few close friends your child will most enjoy celebrating with. Instead of planning tons of activities, have two or three organized elements and allow time for the kids to just play. As a favour, choose one small inexpensive item over a bag loaded with little toys that will break within hours and lots of candy. Think a foam ball for a sports party, sparkly necklace for a princess party or a squirt toy for a pool party.
You can also help make your party less costly for your guests by adding “please, no gifts” to the invitation. This can be a little controversial…some parents worry their kids will be disappointed, that it could be insulting to other families who didn’t ask that guests not bring presents to their children’s parties or that it could be awkward if some friends bring gifts and others don’t. If you don’t think it will work for you, by all means skip this – but I find that if you start this at a young age the kids don’t notice the difference and are generally already overwhelmed with toys and other surprises from grandparents, aunts and uncles and mom and dad. It can also be contagious – allowing you to save on gifts for the parties your children attend throughout the year.
Anna writes for the popular personal finance blog, Good Cents Savings, which helps you save money, stick to a budget, and live well on less. She is also the mother of a five year old daughter who is worth every penny!