This past November, I found myself in a bit of a quandry. With just a few weeks to go before my daughter’s fifth birthday party, I was having a hard time booking her party at the venue I wanted. Did you realize the ridiculousness of the sentence I just wrote? Booking a venue for a five year old’s party? When did it come to this?
My childhood was filled with birthday parties held at home, like the one I’m celebrating in this photo (yeehaw!) I remember kids racing through my mother’s kitchen, balloons trailing behind them, and a delightful day of play while the adults visited. Maybe it’s because we’re in a generation that lives hours from our families so we feel uncomfortable opening up our homes to families of our children’s friends. Maybe we’ve seen far too many episodes of Outrageous Kid Parties on TLC or maybe the desire to give our children the party we’d have loved as a child is driving it. I’m not sure.
Whatever the case, last November the idea of hosting a simple, non-event-themed birthday party at home didn’t cross my mind and instead I was on the phone booking, booking, booking. When the party was over, the only advantage was that someone else had to clean up the mess. My wallet certainly felt the impact and with three kid’s birthday parties a year that could equal a potential $500 expense once rentals, decorations and cake is accounted for. Oh, wait just a gosh darn minute! Time to lasso in the spending and get back to basics!
Hosting a birthday party at home saves you between $100-$150 depending on the price of the rental (I’m going based on prices on the prairies, knowing that in larger centers that price can be even higher). But I was intimidated on having a bunch of kids, and perhaps some parents coming along, in my house for a 2-3 hour span. What would they DO? After doing a little research online, it turns out there’s plenty to do if you first focus on a theme (no need to get too crazy) and then work around that.
Pinterest can be your best friend or your own worst enemy. I’m not a crafty mom at all, so I’m intimidated by some of the amazing pictures on the site. The thing is, your daughter’s Kindergarten classmates don’t cruise Pinterest, and anything you do is pretty amazing to them so have no fear. If you can pull off something that looks half-decent and another parent asks where you got the idea from, YOU can have your moment of glory when you say, “Oh this? Pinterest!” as you silently pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Here are some of my favorite ideas for cutting costs at your child’s birthday party!
Themes help give the party some focus, and in your household with several kids running around, focus is good. Here are some ideas to keep a theme consistent but frugal:
- Decorations don’t have to be the $50+ packages that the local party store supplies. If your son likes Mario, for example, you can easily get away with a red table cloth, blue plates, and some printable Mario coloring pages as placemats or decorations. My son is huge into Skylanders right now! In June, we can easily use basic primary colors for the table cloth and plates and then use these printable Skylanders coloring pages as placemats and wall decorations as well. You get the picture.
- If your child is a huge fan of a particular toy, have a Lego themed birthday party or Barbie themed birthday party, for example! You’ve already got all the supplies you need on hand. Encourage your guests to bring along a Barbie or gather Lego instructions from kits or online and have a building party.
- In the summer months, have an outdoor slip and slide party or water-gun party and keep the mess outside!
- Winter months don’t mean you’re stuck inside. Have a tobagganing party at the local hill and bring along plenty of hot chocolate to keep kids happy (and sugared up!) before going back home for the cake.
- If you have a lot of snow, have a fort building contest or host a treasure hunt in the snow! You can use food coloring to hint at certain spots.
Party Games and Activities
- Coloring pages are always a hit for younger kids! Shop for crayons around back-to-school time and pick up a box of 24 crayons for as little as $0.25 to $0.33 each (I stocked up at Staples this year!)
- Play Doh is always a hit. Make your own Play-Doh ahead of time or right at the party. We like making homemade Kool Aid Play Doh or you can use the traditional method and add fun ingredients like glitter, cocoa, ginger, peanut butter (check for allergies first) or even cinnamon with a fall themed party (best for kids who know not to try and eat the yummy tasting dough!)
- Spa time! My friend recently hosted a spa birthday party for her 5 year old daughter and it was a hit! Again, you’re using supplies you already have at home. Ask your babysitter and her friend, maybe an older cousin or family member to come in and help for a couple hours painting nails. Little girls love the attention and pampering and you’re not shelling out $20+ per child at the local nail salon.
- Bring old school games back! Musical chairs is always fun (though for little kids, I suggest having a small prize for each child as they are eliminated to help curb the tears!) and pin the tail on the donkey, Mario, or Mommy is always fun. All you need is a $1 poster board, a printer, and some imagination.
- Boys may prefer making homemade slime at a party. Part science experiment, part craft, this is actually easy and they’ll love grossing each other out with it (best to look the other way, mom, the “snot” is going to fly!)
- Plan your party in the middle of the morning (10am) or afternoon (2pm) if you want to avoid supplying a meal aside from the cake. You’re dealing with kids though and hot dogs/buns are always an easy go-to for parties and are not that expensive. You can have a hot-dog toppings bar for the kids available as well with chili (use your frozen supply or pick up a small chili at Tim Horton’s, done!), onions, cheese sauce and more.
- If you’re like me and not even a cake janitor never mind a cake boss, you can still save money on a birthday cake without having to purchase one. Bake cupcakes ahead of time (themed liners are always easy to find at dollar stores or craft stores) and have a cupcake decorating bar filled with icing, sparkles, candy and other toppings so the kids can make their own messy but beautiful creations. When everyone has completed their task, put the cupcakes on a tray to photograph and sing happy birthday! A birthday “cake” and activity done in one amazing swoop!
- Instead of cupcakes, make cookies with the kids (depending how brave you are) so they can use cookie cutters to make their own shapes, or make ahead of time and just save the decorating for the party, using the ideas in the cupcake decorating bar above.
- Often times we prepare too much food and the kids are too busy playing and visiting to eat most of it. Stick with a few basics and lots of water/juice/pop available (juice boxes tend to be too expensive when you look at the actual juice per dollar ratio!)
Oh the dreaded loot bags and party favors. Ask yourself when your child came home with a loot bag from a birthday party that had items in it that lasted more than 24 hours. It’s because the junk at dollar stores IS junky, and after you have filled your basket with several items you can spend upwards of $8-$10 per child. Instead, here are some ideas to replace the plastic dollar store toys:
- Remember those crayons I told you about earlier? Send each child home with a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book.
- Following themes, if you have a spa-themed event, send the girls home with nail stickers, nail files, etc.
- A Play-Doh party guest can go home with a big bag of Play-Doh and a cookie cutter.
- Your cookie chefs can go home with a cellophane bag filled with their decorated cookies and a cookie cutter, all tied up with a ribbon. If you’re really ambitious you can print the recipe and include that in the bag as well!
- Candy Buffets are a huge hit lately. Buy candy in bulk (hint: after holidays is the best time to stock up and chocolate can be frozen!) and give the kids a paper bag (which they can even decorate at the party with sparkles, etc.) to fill. At a party this past weekend that had a candy buffet, the parent included a toothbrush in each bag, loved that!
- For older kids, consider a $5 gift card to a local favorite restaurant or store instead of spending that same amount or more on plastic toys. At my daughter’s 5th birthday I gave each of our guests a $5 Walmart gift card, friends of ours gave guests a $5 Dairy Queen card at their party.
Remember that the point of your child’s birthday party is to celebrate their day. At the end of the day, when your house is a disaster and you’re tripping on wrapping paper the most important thing is that your sugar-infused but tired child has had a party to celebrate how amazing they are. They won’t care if that party was at a gymnasium with a coach and a clown or at your house with their friends building Lego, I swear to you. They care that you made the day about them.
Find non-material ways to make their day special. Start the day with their favorite breakfast, place a baby picture of them at the table or take a moment the night before the special day to flip through an old photo album and reminisce about the kind of baby they were. My kids love hearing stories about their baby antics! I’m willing to bet that your kids will remember and appreciate the warmth of those moments long after the party is over and the toys have had their run.