Kids’ birthday parties are the one time every year we make our little ones feel like kings and queens for a day. They can also cost a fortune! But with a little creativity, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to fulfill your child’s birthday theme dream. Kids don’t care if their party is an all-out circus (literally) or a homegrown affair – as long as they have fun with their friends and feel special.
How? It’s all in the details! Here are some local southeast Michigan moms’ best tips for creating fabulous pint-sized birthday parties on a budget we all can live with.
Hello, dollar store!
“I do a lot of dollar store shopping, and Michaels dollar section, for everything from decorations to party favors,” says Jennifer Jasgur, a self-professed “birthday party queen.” The Birmingham mom loves throwing parties for her two daughters – and she does it without breaking the bank.
“I did a woodland fairy theme,” Jasgur says of one party. “We had 6-foot-tall papier-mache trees. I get a lot of ideas by going online and making things myself.”
You don’t have to be an amateur Michelangelo to pull it off, either. “You’d be surprised how creative you can be,” says Jasgur. “Half of the fun is doing it – kids’ birthday parties are about kids having a good time, and if the cake isn’t perfect, who cares? I get a little more proud when I know I’ve done it on a budget.”
Think outside the box
Use a roll of plastic table covering from the party store (which costs about $10 for a huge roll) for ceiling swag, tablecloth and bows to dress up the chairs – and you’ll have more left for the next party, says Jasgur.
Instead of spending $10 or more per kid to bowl, play laser tag or go glow golfing, make something as the party activity – decorating cupcakes, for example, or making tie-dye shirts or the T-shirt necklaces
Better yet, when your child requests an expensive destination for her party, suggest that she limit the guest list to her three or four favorite friends. Whether it’s a spa party or an outing to the movies and the pizza shop, taking a few friends is an affordable way to celebrate while doing something out of the ordinary.
Note to parents: As kids get older, it’s easy to justify limiting the birthday party guest list. All-out birthday parties start to wane by the time kids hit third or fourth grade – and are mostly phased out by middle school.
A great way to cut down on costs is to hold your party between meals – 1-3 p.m., say, or 3-5 p.m. That way, you’ll provide a yummy mid-afternoon snack but not have to go all-out and feed hungry kids (and the parents who hang around) during mealtime.
Have parties at home
At-home birthday parties require more parental blood, sweat and tears than simply handing your Visa to the guy at the bowling alley – but that investment of time and effort can be money you keep in the bank. Sleepovers are common at-home birthday favorites – and you can’t possibly invite the whole class.
If you’re not eager to have kids overtake your home for 12 hours, try an un-sleepover – kids bring sleeping bags and come in pajamas, play a few games, watch a movie, have popcorn and then go home before it gets too late.
Poo-poo to party favors
“One of my biggest pet peeves is gift bags,” says Nicole Rothenberg, the Huntington Woods mom. “They come home and everything breaks or I throw most of it away. It’s a waste and they’re expensive!”
Rothenberg prefers a creative favor, like a bucket of sidewalk chalk (dollar aisle at Michaels) or packages of make-it-yourself puppets she found at the Gibraltar Trade Center and bought for her son Ethan’s last birthday party.
Jasgur sets up a candy bar for favors at her daughters’ parties. “I buy cheap things like jelly beans and put them in a vase. I decorate a jar and it looks nicer than a simple bowl.”
Jasgur also thought up a bakeshop theme, so for this, the favor becomes the activity. She bought aprons inexpensively online and the kids will decorate them at the party and take them home.
Go with the seasons
Having birthday parties outdoors keeps costs down and makes parties extra fun. In summer, parks are free (though many require reservations for covered pavilion use), as are playgrounds. “It’s good activity and exercise for the kids and not just filled with junk,” says Rothenberg.
Kids love nature walks, mini-hikes and outdoor scavenger hunts, too. A party at a local petting farm or going canoeing or kayaking at a Metropark are other low-cost options – and you can provide ice cream treats or barbecue if your party includes a meal.
In fall, take the party to the cider mill or apple orchard – let the kids pick apples to take home. Even in the winter, an outdoor party can be a great way to get some fresh air and sunshine. Take the kids sledding at a local hill, then warm up with hot chocolate and home-baked treats.
Looking for more money saving tips for birthday parties? Score ideas on saving cash on kids’ birthday gifts here.
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016