This is the BEST age to save money – because the kids are so young they don’t even notice if you skimp! In fact when our oldest kids were in this age group we didn’t even to birthday parties for them. But typically birthdays are themed around (expensive!) characters or ideas because it’s fun to plan for. Although I’ve found it much cheaper to do themed parties like popsicles, polka dots, farm, transportation, etc. Here are some ways you can save money on a preschooler’s birthday party:
- Plan the decorations on solid colors – regardless of the character. For example, if you are planning an Elmo party, instead of buying Elmo decorations, have 1 small Elmo plush and use red balloons, red table covers, etc. Thomas the Tank Engine? Use blue and green balloons, blue table cover, etc. Party planning gets expensive when you start buying character decor! Solid colored streamers, balloons, table cloths, etc. can go a LONG way to looking really festive!
- Check the Dollar Tree for $1 mylar (floating) balloons! They ALWAYS have birthday balloons on hand and if you’re REALLY lucky you might even find one to match your party theme – they are always a huge hit!
- Incorporate items you already own. For our train parties we used tracks we already had to decorate the tables with. We played Thomas movies in the background, etc. Make a playlist on YouTube and keep it running for the party!
- Print your own invitations! It’s totally acceptable these days to just print some simple invitations online and thanks to Pinterest and simple photo editors like PicMonkey it’s super easy to find or create what you want for free. Invitations alone can add up if you’re inviting a whole class!
- Make the cake as easy as can be! When you’re running around with little ones trying to prep the house for the upcoming party the last thing you want to stress about is buying an expensive cake or baking one that requires a lot of work. We’ve made paw print cakes (a circle cake with several smaller circles for the “toes”), built a robot out of square cakes, stacked cake pieces up and frosted them for a volcano cake with dinosaur toys, etc. There are a LOT of really creative and simple ideas out there when it comes to birthday cakes! It’s even easier to just bake a regular cake and place a few small toys on top in the theme of the party!
- Plates, silverware, cups, napkins – go to the Dollar Tree OR if you want to splurge for something a little nicer I order my party supplies from Oriental Trading when they have free shipping!
Elementary Aged Children
- PRE-PLAN! I can’t say it enough! About 4 or so months before my kids birthdays rolls around I try to get them to nail down a theme for their birthday. This gives me plenty of time to keep an eye on clearance, free shipping deals, etc. to buy for. I also find that this allows me several “seasons” of supplies at the Dollar Tree and eventually they will carry what I want for the party.
- Make the party favor the party focus. What I mean by this is don’t bother with little bags of candy and trinkets at the end of the party. Instead incorporate something that can use or make AT the party to take home with them. For example at our bug parties we’ve bought $1 bug nets for each child. Center the party around creating their own jewelry to take home. Pirate parties get eye patches to take home and use for games. Dinosaur parties got to take home the DIY dig kits we made. Camping parties got $1 binoculars to use and take home. Etc.
- Order when Oriental Trading has free shipping! This is my favorite place to buy those specialty items that are hard to find – cauldrons for Harry Potter parties, rubber ducks, luau gear, etc. When I want extra special plates and napkins or favors for the party this is my #1 spot to go. They also have CHEAP craft supplies, jewelry making supplies, etc.
- Make your own decorations. Since my kids pick their theme 4 months out it gives me time here and there when I get a chance to put together a few decorations for the party – thank you Pinterest! In fact my kids have even made some of their own decorations for their parties! It really is fun to make it a whole family ordeal and everyone gets excited about it.
- Don’t serve lunch. This one can get a little tricky on timing but we keep our parties short and sweet. Just enough time that all the kids can come over and have an intensely fun time – but not long enough that they need more than cake to eat! Although I do usually have little buckets of fruit or candy out to snack on if the kids get hungry.
Middle/High School Aged Kids
- Live by Groupon! My kids at this age just wanted a way to feel special and celebrate their birthday without a whole party. So we pick a special activity to do as a family (and maybe with a friend or 2). Groupon has saved us a TON of money and really helped give my kids a special day by finding activities half off. Things like horseback riding, zip lining, go-karts, theme parks, paintball, mini golf, the zoo, a concert, painting class, etc.
- Buy something that can be used later! This is more of a practical splurge perhaps! Consider planning a birthday activity where you may need to purchase something but it can be used over and over again. For example invest in a tent for a birthday camping overnighter with friends. Buy some fishing poles and head to the lake – let the birthday kid pick out some lures and gear. It is a gift, expense, and complete activity all wrapped into one purchase.
- Plan a trip! More than likely this will run you a bigger expense than a party will but you can combine all of the birthdays and do something exciting. Last year each of my boys got special nice sleeping bags for their birthdays and we took a mini weekend road trip to get away and celebrate. Since we were camping it only cost $15/night instead of the hotel price but we rented paddle boats and kayaks for $10/hour and let them enjoy the lake and make memories! One year we used our credit card points to get a free night at the Mall of America and took them to the indoor theme park for the day.
- Create a Scavenger Hunt they won’t forget! This idea certainly requires some pre-planning but can turn into one pretty epic birthday adventure!
- Host a Murder Mystery dinner! I don’t know any teenager who doesn’t love a good adventure and you can really carry the ambiance of a murder mystery dinner far! The meal can be an easy pizza ordered in or a crock pot meal. Hit the thrift stores for some in character outfits and have a ball!
- Plan a party theme! If you’ve read this entire post you’ll notice I’m pretty big on themed parties! They are fun to plan and easy to keep the kids occupied. Have an art painting night, a baking night, jewelry making night, movie night, etc. Glow sticks are also a really cool item for this age group.
- PLAN AHEAD! Did I say PLAN AHEAD?!
- Buy character decor secondhand (try Ebay or Craigslist).
- Look for balloons, plates, napkins, cups & streamers at the Dollar Tree.
- Make your own birthday cake or go for something non-traditional like dirt “cake”, rice krispies, etc.
- Make your own invitations or send e-vites online.
- Make your own decor with coloring sheets & online printouts.
- Shop around for party favors & buy in bulk.
- Buy plain solid colored balloons, streamers, plates & napkins.
- Make your own pinata! Fun for kids and cheap too!
- Have the party at home or a local park instead of at a destination.
- Make up your own games instead of buying games for parties.
- Keep the guest list small!
- Plan the party between meals so all you have to provide is cake.
- Instead of buying cans of soda or bottle water make your own beverages.