Spending less: Kids’ birthday parties on a budget


A Birthday That Won’t Break The Budget

Spending less for a kids’ birthday party while still having fun is easier than most people think. You don’t have to spend like the “Party Mamas” (yes the Slice TV program) and have the event catered in with the entire circus, Justin Bieber and custom-made attire for your child to make memories that last a life-time.

Budgeting for your kids’ birthday party is something you can easily plan into your monthly budget so you don’t have to dig into your emergency savings or put the birthday party on a credit card.

We recently celebrated my daughters’ 3rd birthday this past weekend and to save money I planned a private party well in advance. We had friends and family over for the afternoon to enjoy a backyard barbecue and no birthday is complete without cake and ice-cream.

I had planned some outdoor activities for the kids but unfortunately there was thunder and the threat of rain all day which put a hold on any outdoor fun. I still grilled burgers and hot dogs but we ate inside. The kids ended up playing on the new scooter my daughter received for a gift. They took turns going from one end of the house to the other and had a blast. I know, scooters are not to be used indoors, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a turn.

My son was recently invited to a birthday party for a boy from school to play at Chuck E. Cheese. This is only the beginning so I’m preparing ahead of time and learning ways to save money budgeting for kids’ parties as invites come in. The kids had an excellent time and enjoyed some pizza and cake at Chuck E. Cheese. Each kid also received a treat bag on the way out. It was a great opportunity for the boys to have an out-of-school social experience.

I’m also on the hunt for frugal things to do for  my upcoming birthday boy and his gang of friends that won’t break my budget. I have to admit I was curious about how much it would cost to host a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. After a little investigating I figure the parents spent at the very least $300.00 on the party. My son has since been hinting that he wants a cool party too! My budget does not allow for a $300.00 cool birthday party, sorry kiddo!

If you’ve ever had to plan a birthday party on a budget you know that it’s not as difficult as it seems as long as you are prepared to do some of the work yourself.

How to plan to a fun, low-cost party

Party invitations

Forget spending money on invitations especially with the popularity of social media at our fingertips. Some people like to print party invitations but you might spend more money on ink then you would at Dollarama or by using a social invite on-line. You can easily set up a Facebook invite page or just as easily send out email invitations for a birthday party.

Either way is acceptable to let your potential guests know that you would like to have their presence at your child’s birthday party. If you don’t have the internet a phone works just as well.

Party venue

Depending on the time of year and age of your child consider having the birthday party at a local park or your backyard where you can easily set up lots of fun activities for kids. Save the cost of paying for a venue, bring your own activities and create your own entertainment.

If the party is in the winter you could have the kids visit a free open skate in your community or create fun winter activities on your property provided there is snow. (no that does not mean who can shovel the fastest either) The best part is the hot chocolate with marshmallows that the kids will devour after playing in the cold snow.

Some frugal kids activities to organize in the summer might be to play a game of soccer or baseball or play at local water-park or splash pad. These are all activities that encourage exercise and will keep the children active after they gobble down the sugar-filled cake and ice-cream.

If you play an instrument or have a friend who is coming you could set up some free live entertainment and singing with the kids. A scavenger hunt is always a favourite for the kids because it gives them motivation to find what they are looking for on a list.


Home-made cake

Making your own home-made cake vs. store-bought is not only cheaper but it adds a sentimental touch to a special day. Making a themed cake is something I have always done for my children. I am far from a professional cake decorator but I enjoy doing it and the kids have liked them all so far. It’s fun and creates some lasting memories for them.

I like to bake from scratch but I was pressed for time so I used a boxed cake mix for my daughters’ cake this year. Between the cake mix, cream cheese I purchased for the icing and Smarties which I used to decorate (all other ingredients I already had) her cake cost me just under $6.00.

There were plenty of leftovers after serving 11 people perfect for breakfast the next day (OK, maybe not breakfast but it sure can be tempting). A comparable sized Dairy Queen ice-cream cake is $38.99 and most grocery store cakes are in the $20.00 range.

My son can invite all the boys in his class to his party if he’d like and we may spend an afternoon tobogganing then enjoy some hot chocolate and cake afterwards. There will still be lots of entertainment for the kids but at no cost, a home-made cake and I’m hoping a good time had by all.

Skip the meal

There is no rule stating that you have to feed the party guests a meal. Hosting a mid-afternoon party with some snacks, drinks and cake can save a good amount of money.

For my daughters’ party I barbecued burgers and hot-dogs along with serving a big bowl of macaroni salad, cucumber salad, chips and drinks. I fed 11 people for $60.00. Had I just bought some snacks and drinks I could have brought the cost for the party down to $10.00 easily.


Reusable dishes

If you do choose to serve a meal or even just for serving cake, consider purchasing a set of party friendly reusable dishes. Wal-Mart has 4-packs of plastic plates, cups or bowls for $1.00 each. Ikea sells their 6-packs of cups, plates and bowls as well an 18 piece cutlery set for $1.99 each.

Put them all together in a container and store it somewhere until the next birthday party. Not only is it a way to save money but it’s more environmentally friendly not having to throw away the dishes year after year.

Party decorations

Skip the party companies and hiring a decorator and save money by doing the work yourself. Another alternative to spending less on party decorations and games is heading to your local dollar store. If you are lucky you might even score some wild themed decorations for the birthday party as well.

You can find everything from balloons to streamers, party hats, birthday candles, invitations, loot bags, noise makers, ribbon, napkins, plates and utensils and even pin the tail on the donkey. What kid doesn’t like to get blind-folded and take their turn at getting laughed at because they pinned the tail on the donkey’s head.

The Dollar store is also a great place to pick up some small prizes for those who win the kids activities that you have planned for the birthday party. You can’t go wrong when you stock up at the Dollar store and it fits in most family budgets.

Is a loot bag necessary?

I personally think it is nice to send the kid’s something home with from the birthday party. What I would do is skip the expensive loot bags unless you can find them at the dollar store or use a small zipper bag filled with a few candies, chocolates and items that would be of educational value for a child.

With my passion for gardening and nature, involving my kids by having them plant and take care of the garden with me is important to me. I do this so I can teach them the value of growing their own food so they can teach their children some day.

Adding some gardening seeds and a plastic gardening tool from the dollar store may inspire other parents to share the green thumb experience with their children. It might just be a great way to add that educational touch to the loot bag that you were looking for. Tie a bow on it and there you go!

Keep in mind that the most important thing is to have fun and create a special day for your kids. Don’t think that you need to spend a fortune celebrating your kids’ birthday as it should not be a financial burden to your budget filled with stress.

What other ways can you save when planning a birthday party for kids?

Editors’ note: When I was growing up I can remember a game called ‘Pass the Parcel‘ which appeared at most birthday parties when I was young. This budget friendly game is basic but always seemed to be a winner with the kids. Save wrapping paper during the year from previous parties or Christmas and wrap a prize in multiple layers of differing wrapping paper. The kids sit in a circle of no specific size and pass the parcel around the circle while music is played. Once the music stops the kid left holding the parcel gets to unwrap a layer and then the process repeats until the prize is revealed.

Musical chairs is another extraordinarily cheap game that can be played indoors or outdoors. It was always a source of entertainment at many birthday parties when I was younger.

katrina cbb

Post Contribution: 

Katrina is regular contributor for Canadian Budget Binder and is as passionate about personal finance as she is gardening. Katrina is a horticulture graduate with over 10 years experience with landscaping and greenhouse production.

Her goal is to share her knowledge and experiences blogging about gardening and her continued passion for personal finance in hopes of motivating others. While being a single mom of two and an in-store marketing representative  for major retail shops she also runs her own Landscaping Services in Southwestern Ontario.


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The Celebrate Like Scrooge Christmas Gift Exchange


Now I know that old Ebenezer Scrooge has a reputation, and it isn’t as a suave investor or brilliant saver. I imagine him walking about in a house coat with a grimace and a hook for a nose. Not exactly the kind of guy I want babysitting my three kiddos. But let’s not deny that he was a hard worker who amassed a large fortune by spending very little and sacrificing where required. Besides his gruff exterior and dislike for Christmas, isn’t he just a wise spender!

There is a lesson here, I can sense it

In honour of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wise habits I am going to change my giving this year and would like to have you join me in this new tradition. I am going to cut back on non-essential gift giving, and definitely not go into debt while shopping. That’s right! I am going against the social norm to start a new tradition. No more generic $20.00 trinket or gift card. My friends and I are going to give each other crap from our basement. To participate with me, just find something hideous or broken in your basement and wrap it up in newsprint to give to some poor sucker in a Christmas gift exchange. It works better if everyone has the same idea, otherwise you might not get invited again next year. But If everyone is on board, it’s a real laugh watching people open up the strangest things that others had stored away.

It puts the fun back in dysfunctional

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me. I put up a Christmas tree and decorate with lights. I enjoy watching my kids open presents (bought at a real store ), but I don’t like the pressure of gift giving to people who don’t live in my house. So for all the rest of you, we have this other exchange. I have tested it on friends and last year even my family. Long story short, it’s a HIT! It’s spreading like wildfire and coming to a town near you. For those of my family and friends we call it “crap from the basement Christmas”, but if you wanted to call it “Freeat33 Christmas” or “Free Christmas”, I wouldn’t object! LOL.

Christmas Exchange

Free at 33 Crap From Your Basement Christmas Exchange

Some of the crazy things we have seen?

  • A ten-year old tax strategy book
  • A broken clock
  • A talking Santa Christmas decoration
  • Someone’s Grandmothers kitten cookie jar.
  • A guide to bodybuilding written by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One year someone put in hockey tape and people went crazy for it. Next to crap from the basement, hockey tape was like getting a diamond ring! People were talking about how they wish they got that one.

In fact besides the hockey tape (boy I wish I would have scored that hockey tape ), everyone else spends the night trying to purge of their “present” by hiding it in other people’s purses/coats/cars etc. Sometimes they don’t know they took it home with them.

It’s a whole new kind of fun.

Suddenly getting a lump of coal doesn’t seem so bad…..

This year for Christmas instead of mindlessly buying that CD or DVD for your cousin, suggest the Freeat33 Christmas gift exchange. I guarantee it’s a blast.

Question: What is really important to you? Is it really the CD?  Or is it the company?

You might just find that this is a great excuse to forget about all the holiday stress. It’s also a great reason to go through the basement once a year and really question why you have saved something.

The Best Part

At the end of the night, everyone leaves what they couldn’t get rid of with the host. I hope you consider joining me in this Freeat33 tradition Christmas Exchange and celebrate like Scrooge!

Merry Christmas.

Thanks to CBB for this guest post opportunity.

Editors Note: Gift Giving doesn’t always have to be brand new items. The Holidays should be about spending time with loved ones. We do “new to me” gifts like a mate of ours. If someone on our list needs something and we can find it used, practically new or new still in the package on kijiji for cheaper we will do it. All of the immediate family is ok with that. Our mate is no Scrooge she’s just a smart saver who shared her smarts with us and a gift exchange like Derek suggests is brilliant.

Derek Knight Free at 33

Derek Knight Free at 33

Guest Post By: Hi, I’m Derek Knight, and I write about challenging the status quo in life and finance at Free at 33. My readers and I are part of a unique gang of Freedom Kn’ighters.  It’s always better, faster, and stronger for us.  If this sounds like you’re kind of misfits, then stop by and check us out.

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Frugal Party Planning – Let’s Party!

By Sally Pyle (aka Frugal Sally)
Frugal Party planning is easier than you think. I recently hosted a baby shower and I had to put my thinking cap on to make it a frugal baby shower and impress the guests. Some of the ideas I came up with can be used for just about any party or gathering such as a frugal back yard bbq, wedding, birthday, retirement or graduation party etc. Staying under budget all starts with the planning.  Below are some ways you can host a frugal party and not break the bank.
  • Theme

Having a colour and theme in mind will keep you focused and help you to brainstorm ideas. The theme for the baby shower was rubber duckies. You could even have a color theme, such as yellow and blue or pink and purple. The last wedding I helped with had a green and lavender theme and it was stunning. By having a theme it keeps your eye tuned to watching for ideas that have that theme. Making a list of items you need are also important so you are only purchasing the items you will use and not overspending on items you won’t use.

  • Time

If possible give yourself enough time to plan the event and to shop for it. When your time frame is longer it gives you the opportunity to shop for sales in the weekly flyers or look for deals at your local stores. You may also find offers and sales on-line and have them shipped to you without even leaving the comfort of your home.

For the baby shower I needed a bunch of rubber ducks for decorations. I found them in bulk at oriental trading company at a fraction of the price I would have paid in local stores. I also had canvas bags made for a wedding for out-of-town guests through vista print. I had the time to wait for sales and the time it took to ship them to me.
I also used coupons to make many of the table decorations such as the diaper cake and diaper babies. It took 120 diapers to make the cake and another 16 diapers for the “diaper babies”. I used coupons  together with sales to get the best deals on the diapers and stocked up little by little.
  • Invitations

You can find many on-line companies that will custom make invitations for you at a fraction of the cost. I found a great deal on-line through one of the photo companies to make my invitations. The company had an excellent sale on invitations and I had some credits to use, so I thought why not. You could also print or make your own invitations if you are the DIY type or person. I have seen scrapbook paper that you could use to make your own invitations. You could also buy a  DIY kit at a craft store to design invitations the way you want them, which are also popular.

Think outside the box and you can come up with unique ways to ask guests to attend a party or event. I designed a wedding invite for a beach destination wedding that was very unique and worked out well.  I started by locating some small bottles that I filled with a little sand a few tiny seashells. We then printed invitations on parchment paper and either ripped on burned the edges. We then rolled them up like a scroll and placed them in the bottles and sealed them with a cork and wax. This was going to be a small wedding so we only had to make 12 bottles so the cost was minimal but the impact was huge. You could also do e-invites. There are several sites that offer them including Facebook.
  • Timing Is Everything

What time you plan the event is also very important if you are trying to stay within a tight budget. If you plan an event or party at noon or mid-evening, people are going to expect to be fed a meal. If you plan the party for mid-afternoon, say around 3:00 pm then you can get away with finger foods and snacks. A wedding would be around 2 o’clock and you could do a cake and appetizer reception. Always put that on the wedding invitation too so guests are not disappointed that it isn’t a meal (example: A cake and punch reception to follow). If you are on a tight budget then you always want to plan for a time of the day that the food will not take up the bulk of your budget.

  • Let Them Eat Cake

Food is usually the most expensive part of any party. It is wise to plan ahead and plan well. Call in the talents of friends and relatives to help with this. Do you have a friend or can you decorate cakes.  If not try something a little easier like doing cupcakes instead. Maybe you or someone you know loves to cook or bake. It is always worth asking for help, even if you have to pay for it.

We did a beautiful fruit basket that was shaped like a baby carriage all the way down to the baby (made of fruit) inside. We found the idea on-line. You could easily make a fruit bowl or basket from a watermelon. Use in-season fruit to make it less expensive. Finger sandwiches are also a big hit at any party. You can use cookie cutters to cut them into shapes or simply cut the crust off and cut them into 4 pieces. We were lucky enough to have my son-in-law who has a small BBQ business furnish us with BBQ sliders for the party.

I stocked up on candy after Easter for the baby shower. Pretty pastel candy to put out in bowls on the table. I also found some cute little foil wrapped ducks that were perfect for the party….all half priced!! We did the same for my daughter’s wedding, we stocked up on candy after Valentines day. Heart shapes and the pretty reds, pinks and purples were perfect for her wedding candy buffet that she wanted.

Going to big warehouse stores is another great place to find deals on food like appetizers, rolls, prepared salads, candy, baked goods and on and on. If you don’t have a membership, ask a friend who does to take you as a guest. This is also a fantastic place to purchase bulk serve ware, disposable plates, napkins, cups and utensils. For larger functions (such as weddings) we also use the warehouse stores to purchase the aluminum trays for cooking and serving. Keep the food and drinks simple such as Tea, punch and/or lemonade covers just about everyone.

  • Decorations

With time you can search sites like Pinterest and come up with all sorts of ideas that you can do yourself. Take the theme or color scheme and start a notebook of ideas. I know that each week in the paper there are coupons for a craft store that I shop at. I can buy 1 item at a discount (if it isn’t already on sale). So little by little I stash away the things I need for decorating the party including table centerpieces and flower arrangements, all at a discount.

Check out YouTube also for instructions and ideas on just about everything. Don’t be afraid to try to make something you have never done before. Even if it isn’t picture perfect, the guests will never know and will likely be just as impressed. My daughter made huge tissue paper puffs that we hung from the ceiling for the party. It gave the impression of lanterns swaying in the wind. It was the talk of the party, yet she didn’t like the way they turned out. I thought they were wonderful.

  • For Family Gatherings

My grandmother taught me that you never attend a  party or gathering empty-handed. You always bring a hostess gift, a gift or a covered dish. For the family gathering, it is always best to bring a dish. If we are hosting a party we cover the main dish and ask everyone to bring a side or dessert.  Everyone now has “signature dishes” that are expected at these family dinners or a get-together. One of these days I want to put together a recipe book of all our favorites and give it to the family as a gift.

Well, I hope this helps you plan a frugal party and keep it within your budget. A party is a celebration of friends and family…it should never be a strain or stress financially.  Let’s Party!

Guest Post By: Follow Frugal Sally on Facebook or her blog Being Frugal Sally.

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