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How to throw a frugal kids’ birthday party

A frugal kids’ birthday party.

Birthday Party

Elliott turned 2 in July and we celebrated his 2nd birthday last month. We had a budget of $100 for his party and vowed not to spend a penny more.

Kid’s birthday parties can be extremely expensive. We love our kids and want to spoil them and give them everything their little heart’s desire, but financially, this can be a big mistake. Also, by giving our kids everything, we are teaching them that they don’t have to work for the things they want – and that’s not good at all.

It’s time to take a different approach to birthdays.

Here are some ways to save money on kids’ birthday parties.

Start planning early.

The earlier you start planning your party, the easier it will be to stay on budget and to get everything completed before your party guests to show up.

I like to start planning our parties at least 2 months before the actual event. I do a bit of light planning for the first month and then send out invitations and do the bulk of the work in the second month.

By planning early, you have a chance to catch great sales in party supplies, food, and even birthday gifts for the guest of honor.

Have a small party.

Keep your guests to a minimum. You don’t need to invite every single person that you child knows – only invite those that are special to him or her.

Close friends and family members are the only people that need to be around to celebrate your child’s birthday.

We tend to keep our birthday party guest list to 15 people or less. Sometimes a few more people show up, and sometimes we get a few less than expected, but it usually averages out to about 15 people.

Because we keep our guest list small, we are able to save a tremendous amount of money on food and beverages.

Forget paper invitations.

One easy way to save money on your birthday party celebration is to avoid sending paper invitations.

Take advantage of the internet and send invites via email or instant messaging. Many people do this now, and I’m quite sure that people will not be offended if you invite them this way.

If someone you would like to invite does not use computers, invite them over the phone. This is just as easy as shooting off an email and will usually provide you with a yes or no answer right away.

Buy everything possible from the dollar store.

You can find so many great things from dollar stores nowadays, including an abundance of birthday party supplies.

Things like birthday decor, platters for serving food, and even little toys that you can put into loot bags for your guests are all things that are widely available at most dollar stores.

Many items are under $2 and the quality is rather impressive for most things.

We spent just under $20 (with taxes) on the following items from the dollar store, for Elliott’s birthday:
– 40 Paper Plates @ $2
– 100 Napkins @ $1
– Streamers @ $1
– 25 Balloons @ $1
– 2 Large Platters for Fruit & Veggies @ $2 each = $4
– 5 Various Platters & Serving Dishes @ $1-$2 each = $7

Keep your menu simple.

We try to have our birthday parties between 2 pm-4 pm. Most people will have eaten lunch by this point and many won’t be ready for dinner during these times. This saves us from having to serve more food.

We have a snack buffet set up for guests that include things such as peanut butter & jam and tuna sandwiches, raw veggies and dip, fruit, crackers and cheese, and a few bowls of chips and pretzels.

Since our parties are usually between 2 pm-4 pm, we almost always end up with leftover food, because people simply aren’t that hungry while they are there.

This saves us quite a bit of money on food!
We spent a total of $82 on Elliott’s birthday party and wound up with plenty of leftover food, as well as decor and serving dishes for our next party.

It’s not hard to throw a frugal kids’ birthday party. Just remember to stick to your budget and don’t forget that the most important thing of all is creating a memorable experience for your child.


  1. Katie

    Being the mom of school aged kids who go to birthday parties monthly – I hate getting dollar store crap in loot bags. It drives me nuts, the toys from the dollar store are very unsafe and are not subjects to recalls often enough. It is better to just do one item (like a book) which you can for really cheap in the bargin section of chapters. Or a specail treat like a candy apple. PLEASE dont send your guest home with dollar store junk.

  2. Lori

    For chic and cheap e-vites, I use websites that allow you to custom design your own invitation, and use the preview of this as an e-vite. Custom invite for FREE! Take a quick print screen, crop it, and voila!

  3. Cassie Howard

    Lori: That is very clever!

  4. Lori

    Vistaprint is simple to do it from, I kind of feel like I am cheating the system, but it’s not like I am printing them – So, I don’t feel so so bad (; Vistaprint lets you enlarge the sample on the page, so it works quite well!

  5. Jessica

    Often bakeries will make up loot bags that contain a cookie,icing and sprinkles so each child can decorate their own cookie. Our local bakery does it for $2 a bag. its worth looking in to and cheaper than filling a bag full of dollar store junk!

  6. Katie

    Pinterest is an AMAZING website for DIY ideas for any kind of party.. just type inw hatever you are looking for (“baby shower”, “christmas party” etc..) and SO many amazing, inspirational photos will come up!

  7. Betty

    When my girls were little, The Little Mermaid was a very popular movie. I made a “little mermaid” theme party by making or buying everything to do with the sea (snacks were goldfish crackers & celery, blue kool-aid for drinks, home made cake that I decorated myself (used blue icing for the water, got a cake topper of the little mermaid from the bakery for a couple of bucks) & put some goldfish crackers on top of the blue icing with the little mermaid topper. For invitations (before the internet was born), I had the girls help me make invitations by making our own (construction paper, oval bowl to draw around to make it look like a fish, scissors to cut fins, etc. Wrote by hand the invitation & delivered them by hand). As for games, filled up kiddie pool that had fish decals on it & got some doller store fishing rods so the kids could go fishing (I think I used plastic rings for the fish). For the loot bags, I gave each child a deck of “Go Fish” playing cards , some goldfish crackers in a ziploc bag, & some other “fishy” stuff that I can’t remember right now. Total cost: less than $50. & the kids played with their good bags for a very long time @ home & during recess. For boys, I’m sure you could find something as a theme (baseball, dump trucks, tractors, etc.)

  8. Victoria

    Agree 100% with Katie. We just end up taking this stuff away from them a day or two later, sometimes disappointing them because it’s all crap. The cookie idea is really good, and you could simply bake your own sugar cookies and add the deco stuff, I usually buy one bigger favor for the kids, book, toy etc, that is kept under $5 per kid, and has a use of some kind, that way I’m not sending kids home with a bunch of junk.

  9. Amanda

    I know most parents don’t like the dollar store “crap” but I think that’s what makes a loot bag, it’s the only time kids get these items and they love them! Last year we had the glow in the dark fangs at my nephews party and they were a hit! 🙂 I still remember getting the little paint & brush set at one of my gf’s parties when we were little 😉 These toys that most parents consider to be junk really are what kids love! It’s their own little treasures 😉

    On another note watch sales 😉 last year at RCSS we got these $3 cars for $0.38 each! 🙂 Any coloring stuff this time of year is always great too 🙂

    Great post Cassie, sounds like Elliott had a wonderful party! 🙂

  10. LInda S

    This year, we did a water balloon party for my 5 yo. We also had the small inflammable pool(that’s about 2 feet high and 6 feet long. The kids had a blast. I skipped the decoration. Don’t need any outside (my opinion). Had juice, water, cheese, crackers, chips, watermelon. I also made cupcakes instead. came very cheap and it was a success. I also didn’t do the goody bag. I felt cheap, but couldn’t bring myself to spend $45-60 on those (had 13 kids here).

  11. Lattelady

    My boys are now 15 and 14 and they still ask for the home made cake for there birthday.

    We did most of the parties at home, hotdogs,popcorn, games and lots of prizes ( that I bought through out the year on sale) I managed to find kites one year at RCSS for less then $1 ( reg price was over $12) all of the kids loved that, bug finding kits ( big hit) and there friend still talk about the birthday parties and the goodie bags we gave out.

    Just take lots of pictures is one thing I could suggest , I always did a group photo and gave each of the kids at the party a copy a week later

  12. Amy

    I have never spent big bucks for our kids birthday parties, and with three kids age 15, 10, and 8, there have been alot of parties!
    1. Make the Cake. 2 boxes of cake mix when its on for a buck, and 2 cans of icing when it’s on for a buck. I add a package of cream cheese to the icing to make it a bit more delicious. food colouring added to small amounts of the icing and spooned into the corner of a plastic baggie makes a great icing applicator!
    2. Prizes instead of loot bags. I scour Winners clearance racks all year for great little prizey things under a dollar. Whenever a party comes around I have a stash of awesome things to give to each kid as they are going home.
    3. Bread Pizza, veggies and dip, fresh fruit. Add cake and ice cream and everybodys happy.
    4. Good old fashioned games. Pin the Tail on the Something, Musical Chairs, etc. And always give the kids free time just to run around and be happy. They are good at it.
    Add music, a few parents who are willing to stay and enjoy a glass of wine to keep an eye on all the chaos with you, and everyone comes out a winner!
    All that being said, my almost 16 year old has requested something different, more grown up, and of course, more expensive this year! I am willing to hear his suggestions! After all, we’ve been saving money on parties for years!

  13. Cassie Howard

    I agree that most stuff from the dollar store is junk – but not all of it! They have actually really started having more name brand items in there that are of much better quality. However, I do also agree with and love the idea of giving cookies or a similar treat instead of a loot bag – but for those that like giving out look bags, the dollar store is a good place to look.

    Amy: Great tips as well! I always make the cake for our parties. The ones at the store are just WAY to expensive – plus, I like knowing what goes into the food I’m serving.

  14. Betty

    I hadn’t been to Dollerama for a long time but had to stock up on some food stuff. While I was there, I decided to look around & see what I could get for “loot” bags if I were to plan a party for kids. Maybe somebody could tell me (or do I really want to know), what is wrong with Crayola crayons/markers, colouring books (Care Bears, My little pony, Looney Toons, etc.), jig saw puzzles, playing cards (care bears), leis for a hawaiian party perhaps?, skipping ropes, balls, etc. all for a buck or 2!! I don’t understand how crayons & colouring books could be considered junk!! Even reading books for $1. all educational toys if you ask me. even playing with skipping ropes & balls are educational (helps with their agility, timing, strength skills, etc.). Just wondering.

  15. Ruby

    I just had my sons 5th birthday party and in total it cost us $22.

    We had a swimming party at a rec centre with my 2 boys and 4 of my sons friends.

    Because all the friends and my son were 5 and under they swim for free. My oldest son, my husband and I all have free passes.

    The room rental for 1 hour at the rec centre was (with tax) $3.08

    We had the party after lunchtime and provided juice, fruit and rice cakes.
    We made our own cake (as we always do)

    Goodie bags were painted baby food jars(made to look like lego heads) (free from a friend), and inside I filled them with homemade playdough. I had almost everything on hand for the playdoh except for the koolaid for colour.

    We also made our own invitations from craft supplies we already had in supply.

    We also have a rule that you are allowed to invite as many kids as the age you are – this starts at age 3 until age 8. After that we are gonna have to modify!!

    3 years ago when my oldest was 5 we also had a swimming party and it cost me $150!!

  16. Natasha

    I did the dollar store one year, for my son’s 5th party, got a canvas for each child attending @2.00 each……made homemade finger paints, and let the kids go outside and paint the canvas. While they ate and opened presents, the paintings were all dry and ready to be taken home by each child!!

  17. Natasha

    I did the dollar store one year, for my son’s 5th party, got a canvas for each child attending @2.00 each……made homemade finger paints, and let the kids go outside and paint the canvas. While they ate and opened presents, the paintings were all dry and ready to be taken home by each child!!

  18. Tales Come Alive

    Here is a new way to arrange a birthday party in the comfort of your own home: Story-based parties. These parties can fit any budget. All the parties have a storyline that ties everything together: the activities, the crafts and the decorations and snacks. There are several themes to choose from. Go to: and make a tale come alive!

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