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17 Easy Ways to Save Big On Kids' Birthday Parties

Here’s how the experts suggest keeping your kid’s birthday party on budget -- without sacrificing any fun.

17 Easy Ways to Save Big On Kids' Birthday PartiesBlend Images/Getty Images
Story Highlights
Don't get caught up in color schemes and brand name characters. Stick to a simple theme.
Forget the goody bag -- your fellow parents will thank you for avoiding the sugar rush.
Throw a backyard party! You don't need a pricey venue.
Don't feel bad about not inviting the whole class. Small parties are in!

Of course you want to plan a shindig your birthday boy or girl will love (and, who are we kidding, that all the parents will ooh and ahh over, too), but it’s alarmingly easy for a simple get-together to veer into Outrageous Kid Parties territory. Keep your party on a budget (and still have a blast!) by following these tips.

Save $25 (or More!) by Sending Invites and Thank You Notes Online

Sure, crafting the perfect paper invite and mailing it to your child’s 15 or 20 closest friends looks sweet, but buying all the paper and supplies and shelling out 45 cents per stamp can add up. So save easy cash by sending cute email invitations. Sites like Evite and pingg have fun, kid-friendly options. Another one we like: Punchbowl.com, which helps you plan all the party details, too.

Post-party, when it’s time to say thank you, it’s okay to send an email. (A generic thank-you blasted out on Facebook? Not so much.) Personalize your message by including a picture of your kid wearing or playing with the gift received. You’ll save -- again -- on the cost of the notes and postage, and your recipients will love seeing their gift being used. 

  1. Start Planning Early -- and Hit After-Holiday Sales

  2. Picking a theme early -- and keeping your eyes open for sales -- can pay off big for your bottom line. For starters, this means you won't be scrambling at the last minute (and willing to pay top-dollar, in necessary) for a Transformers pinata. So stock up on tiaras for your princess-themed party after Halloween, or raid your local drugstore after Valentine’s Day for cut-rate red and pink candy for goody bags. 

  3. Don't Invite the Whole Class

  4. It seems obvious, but don’t forget that the fewer guests you have, the more money you can save. Keeping the party limited to a few besties not only keeps costs down, but keeps your sanity in check, too. Conventional wisdom says you should limit the number of guests to your child’s age plus one, so for toddlers, don’t feel guilty (not even for a second!) about limiting the celebration to three or four close friends. 

  5. Scale Back on the Trademarked Merch

  6. We totally get that generic train swag just doesn’t compare to Thomas the Tank Engine. And random princess gear doesn’t cut it when your daughter’s got Belle on the brain. But rather than buying every single party item emblazoned with your child’s favorite character -- those trademarks mean extra bucks -- pick just a few items that showcase the main attraction. So buy the Dora piñata and happy birthday banner, but skip the trademark tablecloth and napkins. Solid colors will mix in perfectly and, frankly, look better, too. 

  7. Be Cake Smart

  8. Although many bargain hunters recommend making your own cake to save some dough (so to speak), buying an inexpensive sheet cake can be the most cost-effective option -- especially if making a cake means you need to buy supplies like cake pans, cupcake carriers and decorations. 

  9. Party with a Friend or Sibling

  10. Does your kid’s best friend (and fellow princess lover or dinosaur fiend) have a birthday within a month of your child? If so, consider joining forces for a dual birthday bash. You’ll cut venue, food and decoration expenses in half by splitting them with another person (unless the guest list goes berserk, in which case, see previous slide). Toddlers in particular typically don’t mind sharing the limelight -- especially if they share the same love of Dora the Explorer or super heroes. 

  11. Pick an Easy Theme

  12. Let's face it: some birthday party themes are easier (and cheaper) to execute than others. One we love, courtesy of Kara Allen, is the "Having a Ball" theme. It's perfect for toddlers, can work with any color scheme, and is simple to pull off: Simply collect as many balls as you can from the dollar store, friends, even your older kid's toybox. Or, host a silly party. Allen's (easy) how-to instructions: "Tell everyone to dress up silly. Find old glasses and funny ties and dresses at a thrift store. 

  13. Hire Undiscovered Talent

  14. Skip the balloon animal artist everyone is talking about, says Jennifer Sbranti of Hostess with the Mostess. Instead, post a notice in the student union of a local college seeking inexpensive entertainment or contact a local dance or music school to see if an advanced student can offer a lesson to kiddos as a fun party game. Grandpa can always don an Elmo suit, too.   

  15. Skip a Main Meal

  16. There’s no rule that says you must feed a full meal to your guests. Instead, choose a party time that doesn’t fall during a typical meal time (like between 2 and 4pm). Serve snacks, cake and ice cream -- and save money by skipping pizza or sandwiches. Just make sure your guests know what to expect, so word your invites accordingly: “Join us for cake, ice cream and other sweet treats!” or something similar.   

  17. Decorate with Wrapping Paper (and Other Stuff You Already Have!)

  18. “Shop” your child’s playroom for items you can use for decorations. Toy trains can serve as centerpieces on the tables, completed pages from princess coloring books can be torn out and taped to walls, and soccer balls and jerseys can complement a sports themed party. Both Allen and Sbranti also recommend decorating with wrapping paper: Pick up a few rolls that fit your party theme or color scheme -- or that feature your kid’s favorite character -- and use them for everything from table runners to party hats to cute wrappers for juice boxes and water bottles. 

  19. Ditch the Goody Bag

  20. iVillage already told you that 2012 spelled the end of the goody bag. Who wants all that junk, anyway? Instead, choose a party activity that creates a party favor -- like decorating cupcakes or marshmallow pops, making stretchy bead bracelets or creating custom super hero capes. 

  21. Rent an Air Pump to Blow Up Balloons

  22. Buying tons of inflated helium balloons can equal big bucks. Instead, rent a small air pump for a nominal fee, and inflate the balloons yourself for half the price. Some party stores rent small pumps for as cheap as $10, and you can buy your un-inflated helium balloons for as cheap as a buck each. Not sure you can handle a helium tank? Instead, Allen says you can inflate basic balloons the old-fashioned way, tie a ribbon or string at the end and hang them from the ceiling. So cute!    

  23. Make Games Out of Stuff You Already Have at Home

  24. Chances are your child already has an impressive collection of toys and games, so put them to good use! Use your Wii for a Mario Kart tournament, or set up a game of Twister. If the bash is outside, don’t discount classic games like three-legged races and water balloon tosses. Allen suggests getting creative with water bottle bowling: fill 2-liter plastic bottles with water and a few drops of food coloring (a different color for each one) then set up the bottles and kick or roll a large ball into them. 

  25. Skip the Pricey Venue

  26. Your own home (or backyard) is the most obvious free venue, but we don’t blame you if all that prep work and cleanup doesn’t exactly put you in the party mood. If you or your child have your heart set on the of-the-moment children’s museum or play gym, consider a mid-week party that might be available for a cut-rate price, and don’t be afraid to have a frank discussion with the venue’s party coordinator to see what he or she recommends you do to cut costs. 

  27. Raid the Dollar Store

  28. Dollar store skeptics take note: not all dollar store merchandise looks cheap! You can get some great bargains on disposable partyware, decorations like crepe paper and balloons and party favors like stickers and crayons. Peruse Dollartree.com and take advantage of some great deals without even leaving home. They even have Elmo balloons for a buck! 

  29. Cook Your Own Party Food

  30. Catering is costly, so cut your expenses in half -- or more -- by cooking your own party food. If your kid’s into cooking you can even incorporate preparing the meal into the festivities. Both boys and girls will have fun preparing their own pizzas or decorating cupcakes. Just make sure you do the math: sometimes using a coupon to order five pizzas (or other party food) can actually be cheaper than making it yourself.   

  31. Buy in Bulk

  32. Buy your food in its most basic form and at the largest quantity for the biggest savings. For instance, skip the pre-cut vegetables and save money by chopping them yourself. Scan for coupons before you go -- a site like couponmom.com can make that easy. Not a member of a warehouse store like Sam’s Club or BJ’s? We can’t think of a better time to join.

5 Other Viewpoints

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Read what other people have said about this topic – we’ve gathered the smartest perspectives from the web in one spot.

The price of a birthday party…and a smile.

Mom Nadia thought birthday parties were a waste of money. But when her daughter turned three, she decided to throw a party anyway. The cost: $480. “While I know I broke my own personal financial rules, I also know one thing: the cost of the party was nothing compared to seeing my kid happy," she writes. "That moment when everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to her almost brought me to tears — her face lit up with excitement, her smile widened and her eyes lit up with a bright sparkle."

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How to survive your kid’s birthday party.

So you’re chaperoning 20 screaming, sugar-addled kids at your child’s birthday party? Dad-blogger Christian Toto has survival tips, among them: Keep it short—under 2 hours, max; don’t worry about a theme (chances are, your kid probably won’t care); open gifts later, in private; and keep everyone busy. “Busy kids are happy kids.”

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How to make your kid’s birthday party more eco-friendly.

Kids’ birthday parties don’t have to mean lots of waste. Green living expert Danny Seo has tips for creating eco-friendly birthday bashes. His ideas include sending invites made of plantable wildflower paper; using recycled jam jars as glasses instead of paper or plastic cups; serving whoopee pies instead of cake (no need for plates!); and giving burlap-wrapped saplings as take-home favors.

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Five secrets to throwing kids’ parties.

The Family Coach blogger Catherine Perlman shares her five tips for keeping kids’ parties from getting out-of-control, whether you’re hosting at home or in a commercial party space: 1) Keep it in perspective. 2) Make it age-appropriate. 3) Create a budget and stick to it. 4) Make it special. 5) Let the birthday serve as a life lesson.

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This might be the easiest kids’ birthday party theme ever…

What’s easier than going to Party City and buying ready-to-go princess or pirate party supplies? Creating a totally genius, gender-neutral “stripes” themed birthday bash. Among the cute, affordable details that make this party special: Wearing striped shirts or dresses (and encouraging guests to come dressed in stripes); striped paper straws, party hats and napkins; giving out striped washi tape as a favor; and for the adults: Red Stripe beer!

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