Party Planning

Spending less: Kids’ birthday parties on a budget

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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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  1. Katrina, great tips here! We’ve been having frugal bday parties for a couple of years now, and many of our friends have joined in by throwing frugal parties for their kids as well. Kids of all ages are generally happy to be somewhere where they can play with their friends and just run. All of those outdoor games we played when we were kids still make a great time of fun for our own kids. We went from spending an easy $200-$300 on kids’ bday parties to between $20-$50 now. Huge savings!

  2. We just had a birthday party for my youngest sister actually. She’s a bit old for party favours and such, but we still saved money by having a potluck and letting the kids entertain themselves with water guns and water balloons.

  3. My younger son’s birthday is in July so it’s coming up. The year he turned 8 we did paper airplanes with help from his brother and some plain paper, and the kids were told to bring a bathing suit and a towel. We did water balloons in the backyard…..the kids had a great time!!!! Part of the loot bags going home were the paper airplanes each made as well as a few spare empty balloons, some stickers from the dollar store and some candy. I buy the big bags of candy and split it between the bags so everyone got a few pieces. Same idea worked for the older two kids as well. The older boy has his birthday around Valentines Day so that would be the theme as such for candy. Stickers were a little more boyish. Our daughter is pretty much an Easter kid…. she always wanted a carrot cake done up like a bunny face and the treat bag held Easter type goodies…. I always made the cakes……
    As hubby has always worked either afternoons or midnights I would have the party in the morning, the kids show up, do the gift thing, play for a while, fed them lunch and cake and off they go…. Hotdogs were popular……..

  4. 6-10 year old girls like a formal afternoon tea party. Get out china cups, make little tiny tea sandwiches and cake for dessert. Could decorate straw hats before and wear to have their tea. Great to take home instead of loot bag.

  5. Great ideas, Katrina. You can’t beat the Dollar Store when it comes to decorations or supplies. I know Target is a bit different in Canada than it is in the States, but they have a nice $1 section too, although it’s a just a small aisle. Last year, I had my oldest daughter, who was turning 9, plan her birthday party. I gave her the budget and let her build her dream party, which, of course, blew the budget. Honestly, that was my goal, so then we could talk about wants and needs, compromising and looking for bargains. I wanted her to have a fabulous party but to also know that she could have one on a budget. 🙂

  6. I love the caterpillar cake! I am a big fan of parties at home. For older kids, they can also enjoy making their own gifts to take home – decorated cupcake boxed up to take home, or we have done big crepe paper flowers to take home. It’s so much more fun than a pencil and stickers!

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