How to plan a birthday party on a budget (for kids)

My son’s birthday is coming up, and I have been thinking about ways that I could do his birthday on a budget. We managed to find cheap activities last year, and even allowing him to invite some of his friends as well as his cousins, we spent less than $150 total including his present.

How to plan a birthday party on a budget?

  • Set a budget before you begin
  • Choose cheap hosting locations
  • Limit the amount of people you invite
  • Have a clear start and end time
  • Think Minimalist
  • Take advantage of community events
  • Get Creative
  • Do what’s right for your family
  • Bake your cake at home
  • Host a fiver party
  • Plan for gifts in advance
  • Play lots of free games

This is just the tip of the iceberg, I have learned a lot about hosting budget birthdays this year, and I have plenty to share, so lets dive in.

Set a budget before you begin

I don’t know about you, but spring seems to always be a time of year where the expenses are many, but the paychecks are small. Our son’s birthday is in the spring, and because money is always tight at this time of year I had to learn how to do his birthday on a budget.

The very first thing you need to do before you start planning a birthday party is to decide the amount that you want to spend and stick to it. I strongly encourage sinking funds for this purpose – they are savings accounts that you add money into all year long, with a specific purpose in mind. That way when its time to actually host the event, you don’t have a large expense that you are unprepared for.

If you want to learn more about how we manage sinking funds, click here.

Choose free/cheap hosting locations

We have been lucky for the past couple years, and had access to a gym space that we could use for free. This was perfect for 5 year olds, because we set up a bouncy castle, and let the kids go to town for a couple hours while I cooked up pizzas and got dinner ready.

The kids had a fabulous time, I didn’t need to pre-plan a ton of activities, and we sent all the kids home tired and ready for bed. What parents don’t love that?!

The more you are able to save on a party location, the more you can spend on things like food, decor, and your child’s gift.

Some locations to try out:

  • your home or back yard (or a friends)
  • a gym
  • a church space – look into how much they would charge
  • a park
How to Plan a Birthday Party on a Budget: - If you need to plan a party on a tight budget, here are some ideas to get you started.
“Potato” sack races are tons of fun until the boys reach around 8-10 years old.

Limit the amount of friends

When the kids are young, especially school aged, it would be easy for them to invite their whole class to come to their birthday party. But the more people who come, the higher the costs are going to be. If you can afford the entire class to join in, then invite away!

If you have a small budget, cut your party back to a few of the kids that your child is always talking about from school. Let them pick two or three and plan a fun afternoon for the four of them.

When you are working with a shoestring budget, the less people you have to feed the better. I would like to go all out on food, but I don’t have enough to feed an army, so by limiting the amount of guests I can get a little more extravagant with the food.

Have a clear start and end time

For us, we have found two hours for a party to be plenty of time, especially for kids. Its enough time that the kids have been able to have tons of time to run around and play, have a snack and go home.

If you time the party right, you can manage to get away with just feeding them a snack and some cake, as opposed to a full meal which can be easier on your budget as well.

How to Plan a Birthday Party on a Budget: - If you need to plan a party on a tight budget, here are some ideas to get you started.
If you want to make a character cake with icing, simply print off a photo, and place in on a cookie sheet. Use a piece of wax paper over top of the image and fill in the photo with different icing colors starting with your darkest outlines working your way to fill in the middle. If you want a more in depth tutorial, click here.

Think Minimalist

Embrace minimalism. I don’t mean that you can’t do fun things with the kids while they are at the party, but don’t think that you HAVE to hand out goodie bags or swag bags home with kids when they leave the party.

Not only can party favors get costly in a hurry, but let me be blunt as a parent, we live in a ‘throw away’ culture, and I just don’t want to contribute to that during my kid’s birthdays by buying cheap part favors I know are just going to get thrown away right away.

If you are going to send something home with kids who come to the party, try to think of things that can be used up instead of grown out of or broken easily. Things like play dough, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, markers, crayons ect (all easy to get on the cheap) can be used for a long time before they need to be thrown away.

Think less stuff, and more activity.

Piggy back off of free community activities

Our city hosts some pretty amazing community activities. One of those things happens to be setting up a winter park including ice slides and carvings. It would be really easy to plan to hang out at the ice slides for an hour, congregate for a little bit at the end for cake and hot chocolate and then send everyone home when they are played out.

Look into some of the seasonal activities that your city has to offer for free, and turn that into part of your party event.

Does your city have splash park in the summer?

Free skating events or ice times?

Could you get into a gym inexpensively for a giant soccer match or capture the flag?

If the city has some great options, opt to use them! Make sure you join up with your community pages on social media to get the latest updates.

Get creative

If you are having themed party type “____________ party DIY” into Pinterest or google and start compiling a list of simple and cheap decor ideas on a Pinterest board that won’t be too complicated or expensive for you to pull off.

If your theme is based around a particular character, like Spider-man for example, use lots of red and black accents, but you don’t need to use character specific decor to pull off the theme. Often times those characters are trademarked, so when you are buying decor you will find that they are more expensive than the solid color items.

If you can reuse some old decor you have laying around, even better!

Do what is perfect for your family

While it is very possible to pull off an Instagram worthy party on a dime, think about who the party is for. The only person you are trying to wow should be the birthday girl/boy, keep that in mind, and drop the rest.

This party is for them, so do it for them, and not what other people are going to say about it when its all over.

I am not that mom who is gifted in making things breathtakingly beautiful, but I am that mom who loves to see her kids run around and have the time of their life with their pals. So if I can spend money on making the memories, or making the party picture perfect, I am going with making great memories – every single time.

If you are the mom who is gifted in the decor department, and it fills you with great joy to host a beautiful party that the kids can have fun with, that’s cool. Embrace who you are as a mom and walk in your gifting, and give up setting the bar to someone else’s standards.

Whew. Sorry about that. I will step off my soap box now.

Bake it at home

Ask yourself if making your cake and goodies is cheaper at home, then it would be to buy it pre-prepared. Keep in mind that from time to time, it does workout cheaper to just buy some pre-made goods.

Case and point. Last year I hosted a pizza party for our now five year old, and I spent nearly $100 on hand making pizzas for everyone. It took me the entire morning to get them all ready, and I missed out on all the fun because I was running back and forth to the kitchen constantly.

I could have just ordered 6 pizzas for less than what it cost to make them by hand. My time and my money could have been put to better use somewhere else.

On the flip side, if I were to buy pre-made veggie and fruit trays, I would easily quadruple the cost of simply cutting up some fruit and veggies and plating them myself.

The same is true for making a cake, I have a killer recipe that adds to a box cake mix, and the cake turns out delicious and moist every single time. I could make a big cake for less than $5 or I could spend $30 on a sheet cake.

Better yet, turn that cake into cupcakes, then you don’t even need to cut your cake when you are hosting your event.

Host a ‘fiver’ party

Last year I heard about this thing called a fiver party (find the article here), and instead of asking for a gift, you ask for $5. You shouldn’t be the only person who gets to save money on your child’s birthday.

I feel like this a winner all around, here’s why:

  • It saves your guest money on bringing your child a present, even if you ask for no gifts please, your child will often get some anyhow.
  • This saves the parents from coming to your party with trying to come up with a gift for your child, whom they may or may not know that well.
  • It teaches your child about the value of money, and can be used as a teaching point as you help your child save up for a big ticket item, that they may not otherwise get to have.
  • It cuts down on small toys around your home. As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to aim for a bit more minimalism in our lives and this helps a lot. Instead of many small toys, your child can chose one larger item or experience.
  • Its super convenient for busy parents who don’t have time to shop for gifts.
  • It eliminates that awkward moment of opening gifts at the party. Your child can focus on having fun with their friends, and not so much about the ‘what did you get me?’ portion of the day.

Plan ahead for a gift

I am not a natural gift giver, in case you hadn’t already picked up on that. I struggle with knowing what will make for the perfect gift for someone, so my sister in law taught me a trick.

In the notes section on your phone, keep a running tally of people’s names, and under each name add some gift ideas as you come across them or as they are mentioned by the person receiving the gift.

For example, my son came home and started talking about Beyblades and was non-stop obsessing over them. So, even though I knew that he hadn’t even thought to ask for some, I put them under his name on my list. When I happened to be out and saw they were on a killer deal so I snagged up a few for Christmas gifts. I got the ‘HOW DID YOU KNOW MOM?!?’, and it felt so amazing to nail that gift.

If you write it down you are more likely to remember it, and be able to snag it when you see it for a good deal.

Start looking for items on your list at least a couple of months or more before they are needed. Then you aren’t forced to overpay for something just because you are on a crunch for time.

Boxing Day, Black Friday and clearance sales are always worth a look to see if you can find something that your kids will love, at a price your bank account will appreciate.

If you are looking online, a helpful resource is, it will show you the pricing trends of amazon for particular items over a year. This way you can see if you are paying a rock bottom price, or if you would be better to hold off until it goes on sale.

Play games

How to Plan a Birthday Party on a Budget: - If you need to plan a party on a tight budget, here are some ideas to get you started.
It was a race to see who could eat a fruit by the foot the fastest not using your hands. He was competing with a bunch of big kids, but he thought it was a blast. He is five now, and would still think this was fun.

There are so many games out there that are super cheap to set up, and don’t need a whole lot to get going. Here are some ideas:

  • soccer
  • dodge-ball
  • tag
  • catch
  • Frisbee golf
  • set up an obstacle course using items you have on hand (jumping through your spare tires, crawling on your tummy under ladders or trampolines… ect.)
  • Set up an America Ninja Warrior course similar to above
  • hide and seek
  • Set up “laser” mission impossible courses with paper banners and painters tape
  • Three legged races
  • see who can eat up fruit by the foot the fastest without using your hands (this one is so fun)
  • Potato sack races using garbage bags
  • Water fights

I hope that I have left you with a few ideas to get you going, and send you off knowing that even if you don’t have a ton of money to spend on a birthday party for your kids, you can still make the day something so fun they will never forget!

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How do you pull off birthdays on a budget? Let me know in the comments below.


Comments 2

  1. My son’s birthday is the end of June. We did his party from 3-5 one day after school. I had planned to do water balloons outside (Bunch of Balloons were a great price at Costco that spring.) but it ended up being rainy. At the last minute I asked my sister to pick up glow sticks and the kids had a dance party in the dark in our basement. I planned one game and could have done more but because it was a bunch of Kindergarten kids who had just been at school all day they just wanted to play. It was perfect because they went crazy downstairs and upstairs was more quiet.
    My daughter was born in January and isn’t in kindergarten yet so this year I enjoyed the freedom of only inviting family and she loves crafts so I searched Pinterest for ideas using things I mostly already had at home!

    1. Post

      A glow stick dance party sounds like a blast! I remember you having tons of crafting goodies in your basement Amanda, its awesome. I was envious of your kids crafting table, it’s genius!

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