Children's birthday parties are becoming a big business. Event services website GigMasters.com reports that 70 percent of parents spent at least $300 on their child's birthday party, while 14 percent spent over a grand last year. Fortunately, with a little creativity and do-it-yourself spirit, it's possible to plan a kid's birthday celebration without spending big bucks.
Find a Low-cost Venue
Party rental venues such as local play spaces, trampoline parks, bowling alleys or arcades will do much of the work for you (blowing up balloons, putting up streamers, assembling goody bags), but they can also come with a bigger price tag. Audrey McClelland, SheKnows.com's parenting expert and founder of MomGenerations.com, says hosting at home is likely your cheapest option unless you score a discount at a play space.
If you don't have a big enough house or backyard for hosting a handful of kids, then consider low-cost options like a local park or YMCA. "A local park always seems to come with picnic tables and a grilling area, which is a really great option to be outside with a large group," says McClelland, a Rhode Island mom of four sons.
Use Digital Invitations
Instead of printing or buying paper invites, send digital invitations to your guests. "If you are on a budget and short on time, but still want it to look nice, it is probably most efficient to use Evite, and spend your effort elsewhere like decorations, party favors and so on," says Helen Holden, a mother of 4-year-old twins and founder of the birthday party-planning website CountingCandles.com. Sending digital invitations to guests' parents also eliminates the potential for hurt feelings when paper invites are distributed at school.
Still, if you do decide on paper invitations, then get creative to forgo the store-bought invites and save money. One of McClelland's sons made construction paper invitations for a Minecraft-themed birthday party based on the computer game that uses blocks to create new worlds. Pinterest also has plenty of printable invitations and other ideas for DIY invites.
Get Kids Involved in DIY Projects
Having the birthday boy or girl choose a theme, decorate a homemade cake or brainstorm ideas for activities can provide a creative outlet while keeping costs low and making the party more personalized.
Miami mom Jane Watkins recently planned a dragon-themed party for her daughter's eighth birthday. Using two refrigerator boxes and two oven boxes, Watkins constructed a "castle" that her daughter painted with help from neighborhood kids. Watkins says she likes this DIY approach because "it builds up the excitement as we looked for cardboard boxes, and it sparks that creativity in kids and parents."
After her daughter suggested they have a golden egg hunt (since dragons apparently lay golden eggs), Watkins bought Easter eggs wrapped in gold foil and hid them around the yard.
Let the Theme Inspire Food and Décor
Choosing a theme can help create a cohesive look and feel for the party. But you don't need to buy character-licensed plates or napkins to pull it off. "The key is to make all the decorations match your theme and tie together," Holden says. "For example, if your theme is 'Frozen' and all your decorations are tied together by a common color of blue, then you will need fewer decorations to make it work."
One low-cost décor idea that works with any party theme is printing photos of the birthday kid at different ages and displaying them around the house. McClelland has done this for her sons' birthdays. "People come and see little pictures of him and see how he's grown," she says.
As for the food, pizza is a popular, kid-friendly option that's easy on the budget. "With so many allergies you get very nervous about what you're feeding kids, so I always do very basic food items like chips or popcorn on the table," McClelland says. With finger foods like cupcakes or pizza, you won't need to provide utensils either.
Use What You Have
Instead of buying party games, brainstorm ways to incorporate things you already own. McClelland suggests planning a scavenger hunt around the house, playing the music on your laptop for a dance party or using your child's gaming system for a video game tournament. Kids might also enjoy relay races in the backyard.
Instead of hiring help, enlist friends or family members. "We had family members dress up as a clown for birthday parties, or my husband was a superhero one year," McClelland says. "I went to a birthday party for my niece, and my sister-in-law asked friends to do hair and makeup so the girls could get pampered at her house."
Kids' birthday parties offer ample opportunities for creativity on any sized budget. Watkins says she enjoys making decorations and planning activities alongside her daughter not only because it saves money, but it also "really shows my daughter that you don't have to buy everything."