How to Throw a Birthday Party on the Cheap

Birthday parties have evolved since the time when most of us were growing up. Simple family celebrations have been replaced with over-the-top, themed bashes. While no one doubts you would love to spare no expense when celebrating your kid’s birthday, the truth is that you may not be able to afford such extravagance, especially if you have several children. And if you did splurge on such a party, you might have to scrimp on gifts. But what if you could throw a birthday party that covers all of the bases… fun, games, food, gifts, and friends… that doesn’t break the bank? You can! We have gathered some great tips for cutting costs while building traditions and memories, as well as some low-budget party theme ideas so that you can do just that.

Save Money on Party Supplies


Skip This…
Pricey themed plates, napkins, cups, balloons, invites, and decorations. One of the easiest places to save some real money is by keeping the party decorations and supplies simple. Yes, we know the Internet is bursting with amazing custom themed party decor, but do you really want to bust your budget on paper products that will only be enjoyed for the duration of the party, and then go promptly into the trash? Going to the big party surplus stores can get pricey too, when you have to shell out extra cash just for Elsa’s face on a plate or napkin.
Instead…
Hit the dollar store and grab solid plates, napkins, and cups, and opt for basic balloons and crepe streamers instead of the licensed merchandise. If you are really struggling with the idea of skipping out on your child’s favorite character, buy one pack of the licensed goodies, and alternate them with the solid ones when you’re setting out the supplies. One mylar character balloon in a bouquet of color-coordinated basic balloons will help sell a theme without costing too much. You can also grab a package of invitations that are basic, but will still get the job done. Or, if you have an artist on your hands, you could buy these blank postcards and let them create their own invitations!
Better Yet…
Save a tree by simply using your real dishes and sending e-vites. Yeah, it means you’re going to have to run the dishwasher after the party, but hey, you already own the dishes, so zero dollars spent! And as for your themed decor, you can raid your kid’s toy box for all of the action figures and accessories they have that match the theme, and sprinkle the toys around the party table, or you could simply create a theme around the birthday boy or girl by displaying a collection of your favorite pictures of them as the party décor.

Save Money on the Cake


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Multi-tiered, fondant covered, custom cakes designed by a professional. Yeah, they’re a show-stopper for sure, but a custom cake can cost a fortune, and most kids really don’t love to eat fondant anyway.
Instead…
Have a local bakery or your grocer’s bakery make a pretty sheet cake, which you can have them customize with the colors of your party’s theme, and many times even the characters you’re using. And just think of how nostalgic it will feel to see your kid’s name spelled out in icing on the top of the cake. If you want to add some pizzazz, you can decorate the cake with figurines found in the toy aisle… you were probably going to grab those anyway; now they serve a dual purpose!
Better Yet…
Make your own cake or cupcakes! Sure, they’re going to look homemade, but they’re going to taste delicious! You can get fancy by putting the frosting in a gallon-sized plastic bag and snipping the corner off to make a pastry bag. And what a fun opportunity to create a new birthday tradition… let the birthday boy or girl pick out their own cake mix and frosting, or make everything from scratch if you’re awesome like that, and spend time together in the kitchen baking and decorating their cake.

Save Money on the Guest List


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Inviting every kid from your child’s class, plus all the neighborhood kids and church kids and sports team kids and…  The more kids that are invited to the party, the more money you’re going to spend. More kids eat more cake and drink more juice and need more entertainment from more activities that cost more money.
Instead…
 Choose a small number of guests, and allow your child to choose who will receive those invites. A smaller group of kids will allow your child to be thoughtful about who he invites, and he’ll get to spend quality time with each of his guests. If you’re worried about classmates or teammates feeling left out, perhaps consider talking to your child’s teacher or coach about bringing a sweet treat for the other kids to share on your child’s birthday or after the next game.
Better Yet…
Give your child the option of inviting one or two very close friends to accompany her on a very special playdate.  Think outside the box a little, and give your child an experience instead of a party. Depending on your child’s age, this could be a trip to the bowling alley, arcade, zoo, laser tag, movie theater, aquarium, children’s museum, amusement park, or any number of other super-exciting destinations that are usually a special treat. If your little tribe frequents all of those places so often that the novelty has worn off, take a trek to a neighboring city for the day and visit an attraction there.

Fun Party Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank


All right, now that you know how to stretch your party-throwing dollars to the max, we have some fun theme ideas that not only cost little to nothing, but promise more fun than money could ever buy.

Backyard Water Party

Have a summer birthday to celebrate? Here’s an idea that will hardly cost a thing, but the kids will have a blast! Turn your backyard into a water park for the day. Divide guests into two teams, and hand out water guns. Have refill stations and buckets of water balloons hidden throughout the yard, and turn the kids loose for an all-out water war! Once they’re good and soaked, teams can have spoon relay races in which they try to speed an ice cube on a spoon to the finish line. You can use those big car wash sponges for a fun relay race in which the kids have to toss a soaked sponge from one team member to the next with the goal of filling a bucket at the end of the line before the other team fills theirs. If you’ve got a sprinkler or slip-n-slide, hook them up for even more waterpalooza! Fill a big ice chest with bottled water and popsicles, and you’re good to go. And here’s a great idea for clean up: make a contest out of which kid can pick up the biggest pile of water balloon bits!

Old Fashioned Games

Create an old carnival party with games that use stuff you’ve already got around the house. Anything from knocking down a tower of toilet paper rolls with bean bag animals, to trying to bounce a ping pong ball into coffee mugs. Get inventive! Pinterest is a never-ending treasure trove of fun carnival game ideas that can easily be pulled off with ordinary objects. More favorites include Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey (which can be tweaked to fit any theme), ring toss, corn hole, tic-tac-toe bean bag toss, and balloon darts. You could also have a face painting station and serve homemade caramel apples and popcorn.

Minute to Win It Party

This is an amazing party idea for the older crowd, and the majority of the games can be played with common household items. Kids can race to move small candies from one bowl to another using only the suction of a straw, or see who can stack the most pennies in only 60 seconds using their non-dominant hand. Teams can race each other to build plastic cup pyramids, or use the air from an inflated balloon’s open spout to blow a hard-boiled egg across the floor to the finish line. Again, Pinterest will be your best friend as you search for ideas, and you’ll quickly see how simple it is to conform this party to any theme by cleverly naming each game.

Arts & Crafts Party

Here’s another great idea for older kids, or for a limited guest list. Find a somewhat involved art or craft project, such as a painting, model building kit, wooden building kit, beaded jewelry project, or a fairy garden/terrarium. Have enough supplies on hand for each invitee, and be ready to walk the party guests through the process of completing their projects. There are so many wonderful painting ideas on YouTube that walk you step-by-step through the entire painting, even explaining technique. No party favors needed when each kid gets to take home an original piece of artwork!

Lego Building Party

Odds are, if you’ve got a Lego fiend, you have enough of these bricks in your house to supply this party without batting an eye. Clear off the dining room table and dump the building toys in the center, then let the construction begin. Inspire imaginations by having open-ended build time, or take advantage of competitive spirits by seeing who can build the biggest/best (fill in the blank with something your kids love). Better yet, make a ramp and encourage party goers to build cars to race down it! You can even go to the official Lego website and download instructions for an endless variety of projects, from super easy to advanced.


Let’s be real: this birthday party stuff can be a balancing act between making sure you’ve done enough, and making sure you’re not just trying to keep up with the Joneses. Chances are, our kids don’t notice any of the peripheral details that go into their parties. They remember best the time spent with their friends playing exciting games and eating cake. We hope we have given you some ideas for saving money while giving your kids the party they’ll remember well past the snuffed out candles.

Do you want to consider celebrating a birthday without a party? Check out 8 New Ways to Celebrate Birthdays!

Photo credits:  Ashley Sisk Photography, Sara Luke, JessicaN, KristenL, Ashley Wells, Cindy Haley

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Cindy Haley

Cindy is the mom to Wyatt, the wife of Jason, and a lover of Jesus. She teaches middle-school English in a tiny town in northeastern Oklahoma, and has a long list of hobbies, including photography, reading, cooking, and gardening.

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