9 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Birthday Party


We've all been to one of those fabulous birthday parties thrown by a super-crafty mom who has loads of time and energy to spare. The decorations are to die for. The cake is homemade. The entertainment is endless - a bounce house, face painting and pony rides.

You think, one year I'm going to throw a party like this ... but, this is not the year! This year you're swamped and on a budget. The good news is that it doesn't matter if you're not channeling your inner Martha Stewart. The whole point of a birthday party is for your little one to have fun celebrating with family and friends. Here are nine tips for planning an awesome party on a budget.

1. Relax and pick one area to focus on.
The first step is to relax and realize you don't have to do it all. Pick one area to focus on - something that will let you put your personal stamp on the party, but won't overtax you. If you enjoy expressing your creative side, make handmade decorations. If baking is your thing, go all out with the birthday cake.

2. Consider electronic invitations.
Electronic invitations, such as those available through evite.com, are a great way to save time and money. Enter the email addresses of your invitees, and the site will automatically send out invitations, track the RSVPs and send out reminders before the party. Most busy moms appreciate receiving electronic invitations - there's no invitation to lose, and you just click a button to RSVP.

3.      Pick a theme.
A theme will help set the mood of your celebration and focus your decorations and entertainment. Get creative with your little one - think about his or her favorite activities, books, TV shows and movies. Picking a generic theme instead of a character-specific theme can be easier on the wallet. For example, if your little princess wants a princess party, you can hit the dollar store in search of anything pink and sparkly, instead of spending big bucks on Beauty and the Beast plates and napkins.

4.      Remember that timing matters.
When you pick a time for the festivities, remember that the time will dictate the amount and type of food you'll need to serve. A party from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday usually involves serving lunch, which adds to food costs. If the party starts later, you'll have the option of just serving snacks and cake.

5.      Chose a location and entertainment.
The location and entertainment will have a big impact on the amount of time and money you spend. If you pick a venue that does all-inclusive birthday parties, you'll spend less time but more money. Many venues offer cheaper rates on weekdays, so be sure to ask. If you hold the party at your house or a park, you'll invest less money but more time preparing. At-home parties can be tons of fun, and there are plenty of entertaining and inexpensive party games that you can put together quickly such as musical chairs, scavenger hunts, freeze dances, obstacle courses, etc.


Find great ideas for locations in our Party Places Directory.


6.      Decorate. Plan your decorations around your theme.
Save a few dollars by using things you already have that fit the theme - lawn chairs, towels, sand pails and a colorful umbrella will help set the mood for your "beach" theme. If you're little one picked a character-specific theme such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo or Barbie, find a few character-specific items. Then, buy cheaper generic items in a solid color that fit your theme. If you're on a tight budget, keep it simple with paper streamers and balloons. Both are a great, inexpensive way to bring a lot of color and fun to a room. Many of the all-inclusive venues supply the decorations, so be sure to check before you buy anything.

7.      Simplify the food.
Does your theme lend itself to any specific type of food? Ballpark food such as hot dogs and popcorn is perfect for a baseball-themed party, not to mention inexpensive. Pizza is always quick and easy. If you opt for pizza, ask the pizza place to "double cut" your pizzas. You'll end up with smaller, kid-size pieces and less will go to waste. And, don't forget to use coupons when you order.

8.      Streamline the goody bags.
The cost of all the little goodies that go into the gift bags can add up to big bucks, not to mention the time they take to put together. Consider giving a single item - a coloring book, sand pail, race car, or big bubble wand and bubbles. Or, plan a party activity that incorporates an end-of-party gift. If you decorate cookies, wrap a decorated cookie in a cellophane bag, tie it with a bow and present it to each party guest as they leave. Or, have a treasure hunt where the "pirates" take home all the booty they find.

9.      Accept help if it's offered.
You don't have to do it all yourself. If family or friends offer help, take advantage of their talents. Having someone else bake the cake or help with face painting during the party will be a big help. Be sure let your helpers know their assistance was appreciated with a small token or a thank-you note.

Jessica Baldis is a freelance writer who lives in San Diego with her husband and three sons.

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