Birthdays are some of the most precious milestones in our children’s lives, and of course we want to make them special. Unfortunately, throwing a party for your little one, especially as they enter elementary school age, can carry a pretty hefty price tag. However, I feel more than prepared to host a party for my daughter and her little friends, because I have the benefit of my mother’s thrifty wisdom coupled with some great ideas from around the internet.
1. You can borrow cake pans from some public libraries.
Buying a pre-made cake can get expensive, especially if you have it decorated and personalized. Try baking your own. Barbie/princess fans will adore a Barbie Dress Cake, which is cheap and easy, especially if your child already has Barbies. If you’d like to do a shape cake, try borrowing a cake pan instead of shelling out money for one. Some public libraries rent cake pans!
2. Try Kool-Aid instead of soda.
If you're determined to have sugary drinks at the party, mix up some Kool-Aid or Crystal Light (or the generic brand of either). It’s cheaper than soda. One mom writing for The Dollar Stretcher buys packets of unsweetened Kool Aid (10 packets for $1), and if kids are still looking for that little fizz she tops off the drink with Sprite, 7-Up or orange soda.
3. There are cheaper (and still fun) activities than getting that bouncy house.
The parents of your little one’s friends will appreciate a party that is entertaining for their children. But don’t bust your wallet by hiring a clown or a bouncy house. There are plenty of cheap and exciting activities to try.
Pin the “Tail” on the… Whatever: This oldie-but-a-goldie can be done with a simple print out of a picture and some cut-outs. If your child loves Dora, print out a picture of Dora, and cut out some little maps from paper. Use masking tape and have the children try to stick the maps to Dora’s hand blindfolded (pins can be dangerous, so tape is better). You can get pre-made party sets of “pin the tail” but this allows you to spend practically nothing and to personalize it to your theme. My little brother had “Pin the Mustache on Hulk Hogan” at one of his parties growing up!
Scavenger Hunt or Treasure Map: For my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles birthday party, my mom hid our Ninja Turtle action figures around the yard, and gave the partygoers a map to find them. Each kid paired off with someone else, and had to find their designated Ninja Turtle. You could hide things all over the yard and challenge the kids to find them. For older children, a scavenger hunt with clues is a great activity. If the kids have phones or cameras, challenge them to complete a list of pictures (a bug, a cloud, something yellow) before the rest of the guests! Depending on your neighborhood and the age of your kids, you could send them up and down the street looking for clues, or around a park or even a mall. Provide a cheap but fun prize for the winners.
“Laser Grid”/Obstacle Course: Setting up an obstacle course in the yard is great fun. You can time the kids and see who has the fastest time, or run it in relays to make it a team effort. Put down hula hoops to jump through, tires, limbo bars, cones, etc. Your imagination is the limit! Also, if you're indoors with enough room, you can build these amazing “laser” grids, where the object is to not touch the string!
Kiddie Carnival: Set up a ring toss, apple-bobbing or challenge kids to knock over a stack of cans with a baseball for a little prize. A good game for little folks who don’t have much in the way of motor skills is called “Go Fish.” An adult hides behind something (a refrigerator box, a couch, etc) and the guest tosses a string with a clothespin attached (“fishing pole”) over the edge. The adult secures a prize to the end and tugs on the string. Time to reel in your catch!
4. Make your own piñata.
If you’ve ever seen "America's Funniest Home Videos," you should know that having a piñata at your party can be dangerous. However, if you think you can pull it off safely, don’t go out and buy one. Here’s a great how to guide to make your own. This could be an activity to do with the birthday boy/girl before the party!
5. These places have cheap prizes and party favors.
My all-time favorite place to go for prizes and party favors is Oriental Trading. They have assortments of different little prizes like rubber snakes, hacky sacks, glow necklaces, etc. They also have extremely affordable decorations, and so many themes to choose from. Oriental Trading is a must-visit for any party!
Other options include garage sales and Goodwill. I’ve found barely-used toys at garage sales for a quarter or less. You could also pick up packs of playing cards, keychains, koozies and other fun little items. If you have older children, encourage them to purge their toys and little doodads they never use or play with anymore. That way they can be enjoyed by someone else as a prize instead of ending up in the dump.
There you have it. Don’t be afraid to throw your little one a birthday party to remember. It can be done cheaply without skimping on the fun!