Birthdays on a Budget: Roundup of Savings Ideas

By Carol Band

Don’t just blow out the candles and wish that you could save money. Here’s a roundup of penny-pinching party ideas that can add up to big bucks:

BirthdaysIf the party is at home …

Embrace technology. Check out the Web for free e-vites, printable decorations and banners.

Shrink the guest list. Keep the guest list small and the budget will follow.

Keep it real. Use real plates instead of disposables, or opt for generic paper products that you can decorate yourself instead of those with copyrighted (and expensive) characters.

Play outside. Consider having the party at a local park or playground and play whiffle ball, kickball or capture the flag; hire a teenager or enlist an older sibling to help keep the chaos under control. “For my son’s seventh birthday, we had a pirate party at the beach,” says Mary Horgan. “There was no charge to park because we went late in the afternoon.”

Employ your guests. As they arrive, recruit party guests to make paper chains to string around the room or create a mural that supports the birthday party theme.

Be on the lookout for bargains. Shop at discount stores for after-holiday sales on streamers, balloons and paper goods.

Recycle and reuse. Use colorful wrapping paper instead of buying a tablecloth; recycle gift bags as goody bags. Look around your own house with a fresh eye. Do you have a bedspread that would make a perfect tent for a jungle party? Are there bathtub toys that could top the cake? Don’t forget to save the hardly-used candles for the next party.

"My daughter had a 'Christmas in July' birthday," mom Chris Tomlinson says. "We already had everything. I just dug all of our decorations out of the attic."

Smash the expense out of your piñata. You don’t have to shell out perfectly good money for a piñata that will be ransacked by 7-year-old boys with baseball bats. Make your own – without the mess of papier-mâché: fill a paper grocery bag with goodies, roll the top few inches down and staple. Decorate the filled bag with tissue paper and streamers. (Sanity Tip: Instead of filling the piñata with loose candy, put the treats in small individual plastic bags inside the piñata. Now, each child gets a bag with the exact same amount of candy and trinkets. No hogging!

Do double duty. Buy cheap beach balls, toys or posters that support the birthday theme. Use them for decorations and, ultimately, for game prizes or in lieu of traditional goody bags. Or blow up balloons to give the party a festive note, and then have a contest to see how long it takes each child to break one by sitting on it! If you don’t fill them all the way up, they won’t burst easily.

cakeLet them eat cake. Plan your party for 2 p.m., and keep the food minimal. Make your cake from scratch or use the money you’ve saved from cutting back on other accessories to splurge on a beautiful bakery cake.

Homemade popcorn is incredibly economical and kids (over age 2) love it. Make pink lemonade from concentrate or create a punch with fruit slices and a few scoops of sherbet floating on top. Then watch as the kids crowd around to serve themselves with a ladle from your huge “punch bowl.” Tres chic and tres cheap.

If you are serving a meal, keep portions small and eliminate waste. Hot dogs (cut in half if the kids are under age 7, but old enough to handle this food), quartered grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks and watermelon are popular, thrifty menu options.

If your party is at an attraction or party destination …

BYOC. Ask if you can bring your own cake or cupcakes, which are especially easy to serve away from a kitchen. Many venues include the cost of a cake in the party package, but some allow you to bring your own, at a considerable savings.

Time it right. Check out off-peak hours. Find out if having your party during the week – instead of during prime-time weekend hours – will save money.

Do your research. Look for online admission deals to museums, zoos and other attractions, and check with your local library for free passes to these places.

Plan a “two-for.” Share the party and split the cost with a friend.

BFFs only. Consider a special activity with only your child’s closest friends. Pre-teens are often happy to invite one or two special friends to a sports event or an afternoon that includes a manicure and sushi lunch.

More: Birthdays on a Budget

Resources" class="featuredlink">Putting on a Party: Adventure Parties for Kids, by Lori Bonner; Gibbs, Smith, 2004.

The Ultimate Birthday Party Book: 50 Complete and Creative Themes to Make Your Kid’s Special Day Fantastic!, by Susan Baltrus, Cook Communications, 2002.

Birthday Party Ideas for Kids – Themes, games, decorating ideas, cool party favors and everything else you need to know in order to host the best birthday ever.