Throwing a birthday party is hard. You want the best for your child, but you also don’t want to break the bank. As kids enter elementary school, you find yourself feeling like you have to compete with parents who can afford bouncy houses, professional entertainment, or — in some cases — gourmet food and ice sculptures.
Luckily, being frugal doesn’t have to mean giving up the fun. Here are a few tips to give your child the best birthday party ever while still sticking to your budget.
1. Pick a theme — any theme
Work with the birthday boy or girl to choose an appropriate party theme. Kids often enjoy superhero parties, fancy tea parties, Lego parties, or other parties based around a favorite interest. Adding a theme automatically makes the party more fun, even if you don’t have money for a lot of other extras. Make sure to include the theme on the invitations and invite guests to dress up as befits the occasion.
2. DIY decorations
Once you have your theme, it’s time to start decorating. The more decorations you make at home, the more money you save. To make cupcake toppers, for example, simply print out a series of colorful images related to your theme — like the Batman symbol or a bunch of Lego minifigs — and glue them to toothpicks. With a color printer, decent-quality card stock paper, and some skill with scissors and glue, you can make custom decorations to add to goodie bags, banners, door signs, and more.
3. Make cupcakes instead of a full-sized cake
It’s difficult to bake and frost a full-sized cake so that it looks birthday-ready. If you aren’t already skilled at lettering and fondant, make your life easier by baking cupcakes instead. Cupcakes are easy to frost, and you can add your own cupcake toppers or other decorations. With cupcakes, you can also make separate batches for kids with allergies or other dietary concerns. Don’t forget to make few extra cupcakes with candles in them, so your child can blow them out and make the all-important birthday wish!
4. Provide your own party games
Don’t pay for magicians, clowns, or other party entertainment — make the entertainment yourself. Traditional birthday games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey are always fun, and you and your child can create the tails and the donkey yourself ahead of time. If your child is getting a little too old for pinning tails on donkeys or hitting paper-mache pinatas, suggest guests play Rock Band together or another fun group game.
5. Ask your child what he or she wants
Often, the best way to find out how to make your child’s birthday party great is to ask him or her for ideas. An eight-year-old girl may be perfectly happy to invite her friends over to watch a movie and paint each others’ nails with glitter nail polish, and you can throw that birthday party for under a few dollars. Likewise, let the child who wants an afternoon to play video games with his best friends have that birthday party — you can still have the cake and take photos, and you aren’t spending a lot of money on stuff that doesn’t make your child happy.
6. Go easy on the goodie bags
You don’t actually have to give each child a goodie bag on the way out the door, but if you want to pass out goodie bags, keep them sweet and simple. Look for coupons on kid-friendly items like themed pencils or erasers. Buy stickers in bulk and cut them apart for the goodie bags. If you shop in advance, you can even find deals on Matchbox cars, Lego minifigs, or nail polish bottles. But if it feels like you’re going overboard, feel free to pull back or eliminate the goody bag altogether; after all, the real purpose of the birthday party is to get together and have fun, not to collect loot!
When it comes time to throw your next birthday party, think simple, think fun, and think DIY. If you have other frugal tips for party-throwing parents, let us know!