Thrifty Thurston Plans a Cheap Kid Birthday Party

cheap kid birthday party


By Kate Scriven

get logoI confess.  I’m a terrible cheapskate.  When I can plan an event for pennies on the dollar I get positively giddy.  My kid’s birthday parties are no exception.  People gawk at me like I’ve lost my mind when I say I host my daughter’s parties at my home, with cake and ice cream and no goodie bags.

cheap kids birthday partyBut, when I was young, I never had a party at an expensive venue.  My cake wasn’t cleverly coated with fondant to replicate my favorite toy.  My guests didn’t expect to head home with a bag full of presents when it wasn’t their birthday.  And, yet I felt loved and special on my birthday every year.  How did my parents pull this off?  And how do I replicate this with my kids, ensuring that they feel special all day long?  Here are my top 10 tips for a successful, and inexpensive, birthday for your kids.

  1. Celebrate from the moment they awake.  Best birthday memory for me?  Choosing the food my family ate all day.  I planned the meals with all my favorite foods, balanced or not.  And yes, that could mean ice cream for breakfast.  But hey…it’s one day.  It won’t kill them.  And don’t be surprised when fruit and veggies get chosen, too.  Another tradition is decorating the doorway to the birthday kiddo’s room after they are asleep.  When they awake, they open the door to streamers and balloons knowing you remembered it’s their special day.
  2. Plan a party at home.  Bam….you just saved several hundred dollars.  Feels good, right?  A party at home need not be a nightmare.  Limit the number of guests. (I give you permission not to invite the whole class.)  Allowing your child to invite the friends they truly enjoy shows them that you believe in their judgment and honor their choice.  Or, if you need a bigger space, reserve a shelter at a local park and center the party there.
  3. cheap kid birthday partyMake the cake yourself. Ok…so you aren’t Suzy Homemaker.  I KNOW you can make a box of cake mix or cupcakes.  And although those gourmet cupcake shops are tempting, save that trip for a special time with just you and your child paying only for two, not twenty, cupcakes.  And don’t get tense about the decorating.  Hop online for some fun ideas (um…hello…I know you are on Pinterest!) or simply frost white and go crazy with the sprinkles (or better yet, let the guests do it).  Remember how much kids love sprinkles?
  4. Ditch the Goodie Bag.  Why, oh why, mothers of the world, have we created the expectation that children must return home with a bag of cheap plastic toys that will all end up in the trash or lost behind their bed?  Can we all agree to simply eliminate this unnecessary expense and let the PARTY itself be the true gift to the guests?  But, if you must send them away with something, choose wisely.  Select one larger favor at the dollar store that is a bit more lasting – jumpropes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a single plush toy.  Party activities can also act as the favor.  Decorate dollar store picture frames, make and color paper party hats to wear and take home, decorate plain sugar cookies to take home.
  5. Make your own decorations.  Nothing is more exciting than counting the days until your birthday (this is only true until a certain age, right?).  In those days of anticipation, work together to create the décor.  Cut strips of construction paper and stack on the table with a stapler.  The whole family can help add links to a colorful paper chain to hang.  Make a party banner.  Purchase a roll of craft or butcher paper, available at most grocery stores (near the foil and zip-top bags) or craft stores, and paint a Happy Birthday message to hang on the big day.  Better yet, trace the letters with black marker and have party guests color them in when they arrive, keeping them busy and involving them in the party right from the start.  Kids love to hang their banners in their rooms after the big day is done.
  6. cheap kid birthday partyUse balloons.  Cheap, colorful, and easy to clean up, balloons are a highly underrated party tool.  Nothing says “I’m havin’ a party” more than a bunch of balloons on the mailbox.  Better yet, spend a little more on helium balloons.  They fascinate kids and adults alike and you can purchase the coveted “shiny silver” balloons at the Dollar Store.  For big impact, order a HUGE balloon or two online (many vendors to choose from ) and amaze your kiddo that, yes, this balloon is theirs.
  7. Purchase supplies at the Dollar Store.  While the coordinated chevron plates and paper straws you see online may be tempting, remember your audience.  Five-year-olds really don’t care which blog you read to source the paper goods.  Head to the dollar store where they have lots of fun choices for themed party supplies or standard solid colors.  I promise the kids are not looking at the plates when you load the cake and ice cream onto them.
  8. Send the kids outside to play.  Move through your party “events” (activity, presents, cake) fairly quickly and then turn them loose.  And while they’d love a bounce house, they also will love racing through the grass, playing with balls, and generally whooping it up with their buddies.  Don’t over-complicate it.  They are kids.  They play.  It’s that easy.
  9. cheap kid birthday partyKeep food simple. Plan your party between mealtimes to eliminate serving a full meal.  They’ll be too excited to eat it anyway.  Instead, have two healthy snack options.  Yes, only two.  They do not need a smorgasbord of choices.  Offer one bowl of salty, crunchy options (popcorn, Pirates Booty, goldfish) and a platter of fruit (grapes and strawberries are always the favorite).  Serve individually packaged drinks – juice boxes or pouches.  And while individual serving drinks are more expensive, you’ll see the wisdom in this expenditure after you’ve cleaned up several cups of spilled juice.
  10. Plan a special outing.  I know some of you simply do not want a party at home.  There are many fun activities and outings in Thurston County (check out our birthday venue post for ideas) that would be special for your birthday girl or boy.  But, to keep it thrifty, have your child just invite their best friend.  An outing for two is affordable, and special, and allows you to fully focus on your child on their special day.

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County.  The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community.  If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at  For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.


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