Fabulous Frugal Finds

Bringing Birthday Parties Back Home

frugal birthday party ideasThis 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!

frugal birthday party ideasThemes 

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!)

Party Favors

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.



Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • I never went the route of booking parties out.
    I did take my son and 9 of his friends to the movies once and it was horrible. I didn’t think to get a helper. All of the parents dropped their 6 year olds off with me and I was in a panic. One had to go to the bathroom, another spilled his drink all over. Nightmares.
    And the cost wasn’t fun.
    I hold them at home. The children don’t even require much guidance in the way of something to do. They just play.
    And it’s cheaper. I hate the clean up but it happens once a year.
    Three times if you have more kids.

  • lot’s of good ideas! Especially about having it middle afternoon or morning, that would save some money and time!

  • In summer, a birthday party at the park is nice. You could ask a Mom of the children or a friend if they wanted to come and help out.

  • Hosting parties at home is much more personal, fun and (in most cases) saves you money! I prefer it to other venues. 🙂

  • We have had most parties at home. But sometimes we have had some out but then we put it to inviting a couple of kids and it will less expensive. But your advice on having it in the middle of the morning or afternoon is a good thought as yes many times where we are feeding food and cake to the guests. Which can cost quite a bit.

  • Great ideas & tips! I will be using some for an upcoming birthday party..I love the $5. gift card idea instead of loot bags.

  • Great tips! This is how we do it. I could never afford to take 5 kids parties on the road to a play center or something. We play x box games, outside if weather permits and have a limit on how many kids can come.

  • My daughter’s birthday is in july, so we usually hold a backyard party. Fire up the bbq and the kids can dress their own pizza and cook it right there. The only reason why I don’t like having it at home is the clean up afterwards.

  • Our home is small, so at home parties are out. With 2 summer birthdays, it is okay because we can be outside at the beach or a park enjoying a picnic and games.

  • Wow! Great post! I have never really thought about how expensive a party can end up being – you have some very handy tips!

  • We always did the parties at home…design your own birthday crown was always fun, easy and CHEAP and the kids LOVED it.

  • we always had at home parties. We usually rented a couple of movies, I had a craft table, we had an outside water balloon station. and lots of treats. dollarama was a great place to get loot bag stuff. My girls didnt start having birthday parties till grade 1. When they got older they were allowed sleepovers. one year we asked them to bring a bag of groceries instead of presents so we could give them to the local food bank. they didnt feel deprived of gifts because of the feeling it gave them, and family members always had presents for them. so my tip is give to the people that really need it very rewarding, and have simple crafts and games really cut back on the cost of the party.

  • Lots of great tips for having a great birthday party at home. My kids and I always make homemade pinatas that I fill with candies to go in treat bags when the kids are done!

  • I am Queen of the frugal birthday parties, and they never feel like they are “cheap” so many people are surprised at home much goes into my frugal celebrations.

  • here’s another tip. when inviting children from school. and you arent inviting all the kids girls/boys ask the teacher to put it in their stuff they need to take home at the end of the day. i have as a child and my girls have experienced going into the school and seeing invitations on all the desks except mine/my girls. Its a pretty sad feeling.

  • Yes, I remember the at-home birthday parties. My niece and nephew have their birthday parties out side of the home. It is a shame so many parties can’t be celebrated at home.

  • With three children I always seemed to be in birthday party world whether it was theirs of their friends. The people at the dollar store give me a shout out whenever I walked in..lol. I did throw a few that weren’t at home but only at venues like the local swimming pool, bowling lane, parks ect. Anywhere I didn’t have to pay through the nose. Most were held in our home and fun was had by all.

  • My wife’s view of birthday party has always been a bit traditional. She always believe that fun can be had in the home and doesn’t need to go else where for fun. She loves throwing the kids party at home. Allow parents to chat and catch up while the kids eat, play and work on crafts.

  • Love that picture!! I have a lot of fond memories as a child of having and going to birthday parties. I have pictures that are almost the same as yours, minus the horse! With my own children, we mostly had parties at home, a few sleep over parties, and once in a while at McDonalds. I hope they have happy memories of this time too. I just wish I would have had your great tips! Thank you for this walk down memory lane.

  • I am all for at home birthday parties, unless it is for my sons, them and their friends usually rip the house apart!!! It is sad that parties i remember going to are such a thing of the past, i try to keep is simple for my kids and not fall into the traps of today.

  • Hello, FF&F. So many great and wonderful birthday party ideas. I do not have children so many of your tips and tricks also taught me about children’s behaviour also. I love this article. I read the ideas aloud to my Mother who also enjoyed these ideas and commenting on how helpful and useful they were. Great job compiling and sharing so many birthday party tips, FF&F.

  • Great ideas all…I don’t like the idea that you have to spend a tonne of money. Sometimes just playing outside and having some pizza can be a great idea.

  • I have great memories of birthday parties at home. My mom usually did a pinata and that was tons of fun. As we got older we usually just had 1 or 2 friends over for a sleepover, pizza, ice cream, ect. We plan to keep birthdays low key. Unless my kids REALLY want the big party we actually just plan on doing a fun special activity of the child’s choice with just our family and maybe a friend or two.

  • Great post Home parties can be so amazing and the best because they can be some personalized to your own child. Plus the $ you save having it at home mean you can really up the WOW factor with special add ons. Hope your daughter party is perfect

  • Home parties are fun but I do like when someone else cleans up and takes care of everything/ Than you can enjoy the fun as well.

  • such great ideas! I’m in the midst of planning my daughter’s 3rd birthday. I will definitely use some of these ideas! Thanks!

  • Your ideas and tips are great for creating fun parties on a budget. I like the candy buffet and the spa party with doing nails and hair or makeup at home would be fabulous fun.

  • When I was younger, I never had my birthday parties at home. My parents always took me to what was called Adventures in Wonderland, a local place in London with a huge climber and an arcade. It was nice, but I always wanted to just have a party at home.

  • Find a day/time when there is an organized playgroup at the community centre – you can invite all the kids and pay for their admission. Cheapest party around and already set up, no clean up, no stress!

  • Make pizza’s at home and let the kids help, also they still all like a scavenger hunt, some just love to roast their own wieners and marshmallows if you have a firepit because they don’t get to go camping!

  • Great frugal party is a dress up party..lots of jewelry, shoes, dresses,,,dress up and take lots of pictures..the girls love this

  • My kids don’t get big huge parties; only once have we rented anything and even then it was still at home.
    we plan the party for between meals, so we just supply a few snacks and drinks.
    guests are almost all family, just a few friends. Have never and will never invite a child’s entire class. What for?
    I make the cake myself, might not be the prettiest but it’s made with love. And without flour haha. Darn allergies.
    and i don’t do goody bags. The parents of the guests that do attend to do not want crappy dollar store toys or loads of candy….

    easy peasy and saves a ton of money 🙂

  • Thank you for this post, my daughters 8th Birthday is tomorrow and we feel the pinch when trying to plan fun but frugal parties (especially in my area as the moms around here throw 10,000.00 parties for their 7 year olds LOL)

  • I think these are great ideas. For my daughter’s last birthday party we had a big BBQ at our home and had a special guest (ELMO) come to entertain the kids for a little bit!

  • Great post and I couldn’t agree more! Love your simple, accessible-to-all party ideas and themes.
    To add to the topic would be “gift-giving”. I feel like I need a “party-budget” just to factor in the monthly cost of giving birthday gifts for all the parties my kids attend.
    Seems like the average gift my children receive (that I in turn spend) is around $30. Was actually finding it ridiculous that so much money was being spent (and often not enjoyed for very long) that I created a site that allows people to register a high-ticket item and invite their guests to contribute any amount towards it in lieu of a gift. On the side of being frugal, it allowed me to buy my kids’ swingset, pay for gymnastics lessons or buy high-ticket items I simply couldn’t afford.

  • I made a carnival this year for my daughters birthday, it was fun and easy with homemade games. and goody bags for prizes at the end. Lots of fun and inexpensive.

  • We just had a Scooby Doo pizza party last weekend and it was a big hit. We had everyone RSVP with their fav 3 pizza toppings. made our own dough, and had the toppings set out for the kids to make their own pizzas. We also made a few bigger pizzas for the grown ups. The kids loved making and eating their very own pizzas and the adults enjoyed their ‘slice of the pie’ too!

  • I love the idea of toning down the parties there were 30 kids at the last one I went to really 30 friends for a 3 year old !!

  • When my twins were five I got a bunch of huge boxes, cut in some doors and windows and put them out in the driveway. I told parents to bring their kids wearing old clothes since they would all be painting their own “houses” They loved it.
    But now, they will be turning 10 and I’m afraid of all the rowdy boys at my house -I’m very particular… Last year we did a party at a local park (which turned out to be quite fun for them) but had to wait until the snow melted and we had decent weather. Their birthday is at that awkward time when there is no snow to play in and its too cold and mucky to play outside. They want to have their birthday on their birthday and not wait a month for the party – who can blame them? Any ideas anyone…???

  • This is hugely helpful, as I just started planning my son’s first birthday. Everyone around me seems pretty hell bent on throwing insane, lavish birthday parties.. I’ve been feeling kind of pressured to ante up, but come on, he’s ONE. This post is helping reassure me that I can do something special and fun for him without spending a million bucks.

  • When my cousin was younger her aunt and I would plan her parties. We had a fashion/tea party where her aunt and I brought all our dresses form proms, weddings or just fancy after 5 type dresses. A friend of mine sold Mary Kay so she gave me eye shadow, blush and lipstick samples which we applied using cotton swabs and balls. We of course let the parents know we would be using makeup and if they chose not to have any on their child to let us know. The birthday girl got to pick her dress first and then the other girls picked theirs. We had plastic jewelry from the $ store and then we had a fashion show with photos using a polaroid camera. Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off and soda in a fancy tea pot. Their party favor was the jewelry they wore in the fashion show and little picture frames with gems glued on them.

    Another party we had was an indoor beach party. The kids were told to wear shorts or their bathing suits under their clothes and we had hotdogs to eat. We had blankets and towels on the floor where they ate and had 50’s-60’s beach music playing. We decorated with netting and cardboard fish and they played volleyball using a blanket as a net and a balloon for the ball. Then we played air hockey using a balloon and a paper plate that they used to “fan” the balloon around. Before the party was over we had a tidal wave where her uncle had a huge trash bag full of small balloons and a powerful fan and he came into the room yelling and screaming with the fan pointed at the balloons blowing them all over. The kid who caught the most balloons won.

    As you said, parties don’t have to be expensive, just imaginative and the kids will have a blast.

  • I love all of your fabulous ideas! This will come a great help to me while planning my sons 3rd birthday this year!

  • Great ideas! My son is turning 5 and we’ll be starting this year with a wee party. Traditional. No way in heck will I be having a big rented out party for him!! Cake, games, present. Old skool!

  • birthday party can be very expensive that is why i chose to have home parties.. with lots d DYI projects and games. i make all the food as wll as the cake and we have a great time!

  • That was the only way we celebrated birthdays in our home. The number of children (when they were young) as their age. Simple meals and fun activities and short time line. It was always fun!

  • Some great ideas for birthday parties. I only had one birthday party as a child, so I wasn’t very good at giving my children parties, either. But my husband was a great help.

  • Sara had most of her parties at the rec centre. The only thing I needed to worry about was the cake and the gift bags to give to the children that came. There was free swimming in the pool and all of the children loved it! The staff were so helpful and friendly too.

  • My biggest pet peeve is that kids get spoiled while they are choosing between swimming pool, golf or zoo party at the age of 4 or 5… Of cause, not all parents have time or the creativity to organize home party which is fun for the kids. Unfortunately, I’m one of them… but I’ll try my best. After all , I remember the best party in my life – my friend’s birth day – she turned 7. There was nothing special, but I still remember it (over 20 years later) – kids are easy to amuse… unless they are spoiled…

  • There is no better place to have a birthday party than at home, and there is nothing I love more than homemade birthday cake!

  • My 5 yr old definitely loves pinterest! However, I don’t think she would critic your party.
    We always had our birthday parties at home as kids and I’m doing the same for my kids.

  • A fantastic home party theme, creative goody/loot bags and a cake decorated with lots of edible funstuff to fit the theme! Some real money coins wrapped and baked inside the cake before icing makes it a perfectly sweet money cake treat! ( Old Skool )

  • we enjoy having the kids at our house more than going to an ‘event’ place, and the games (homemade pin the tail, corners, musical chairs) cost nothing and the kids love it when young.

  • Girls are easy to give parties for. Sleepovers, pretty parties with manicures and nail polish, Princess themes, animals like bunnies and puppies to play with, baking cookies to eat and take home, so many great ideas out there. Boys, not so much!

  • I really like the idea of gift cards for older kids. I think they would really appreciate it, so practical too.

  • Thank you for the ideas, in the past I when I have had birthday parties at home my one girlfriend has come to help out…another person is very beneficial especially when accidents happen.

  • We celebrated my sons 3rd birthday in January – and I had a certain budget I wanted to say in – We bought bulk hotdogs , I made cupcakes, and the party favors were mostly from the clearance section at Michael’s! Great tips!

  • Great tips here! We have resisted having the “event center” birthdays so far. It’s a bit more work to have it at home but it’s worth it because the kids can play in our backyard, it’s more casual and when it’s over you can have a nap! Of course having a summer birthday is easier than a winter one…

  • Great tips ! I am one of the moms who has sent crayons home with a colouring book as a party favour! Inexpensive idea 🙂

  • The simpler the better. A party doesn’t have to break the budget, it’s the thought and the simplest things that matter the most. These are great ideas.

  • Theme parties are so much fun. It’s not only exciting for the kids, but keeps the adults interested. I would use some of these ideas for a shower or for an adult venue as well.

  • A fantastic guide to the frugal birthday. I like the candy buffet idea and could see my son really enjoying picking out what different items he would be offering. Planning the party time to avoid meals is awesomely honest. And sticking to a theme without breaking the bank, good ideas there too.

  • Those are some helpful tips; thanks! So far our kids’ parties have just been at home, with only family invited. They’re young enough where while they have a few friends, it’s family that’s the bigger influence in their lives right now. But I can see some pinterest moments in my near future, for more ideas.

  • Great ideas! We did a Lego Ninjago party for them this year and did them both at the same time (4 & 6 and birthdays 3 days apart) it was a huge hit. And my house didn’t take the hit I thought it would with 22 kids over. (which is insane, by the way). It turned out excellent and while it still cost more than I wanted – it was two parties for less than one booked over at a venue.

  • I cook all the food ahead: lasagnes, chili, pulled pork.
    Make cupcakes and cookies. Easy to freeze cookies ahead and defrost the day before.
    Theme parties and I always give useful loot bags I.e. flip flops, sunglasses nailpolish for the girls and replaced nailpolish w hats for the boys. The parents really appreciated it.

  • great ideas. I think making your own cake is a great suggestion. Nothing beats a home made cake (or cupcakes)!

  • Great ideas! Yes, DIY parties may be a little more work, but they are much more intimate and easier on the wallet.

  • Great tips! I really like the idea of a home ‘spa’ experience – a DIY party is a little more work, but very much worth the savings (and it’s something to remember verses the same old same old outting)

  • Great ideas worth applying here. Birthdays can be a very expensive endeavor. Rule of thumb and creature of habit, I make my son’s birthday cake and everything in the loot bags is home made, makes it more special that way.