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7 Frugal Kids Birthday Party Ideas & Games

By Casey Slide

kids birthday party ideasKids’ birthday parties seem a lot more elaborate now than they did when we were growing up. Parents are renting out bounce houses and ponies, and they’re transforming their homes into fantasy worlds. But when it comes down to it, kids just want to have fun, and it’s not necessary for parents to go all out for kids to have a good birthday party.

So how do you host a birthday party for your child without disappointing them and without breaking the bank?

Consider these tips to cut costs from your kid’s birthday budget as well as some fun game ideas to try out.

Money Saving Tips for a Kid’s Birthday Party

1. Decide on a Budget
The first step in throwing any party is to decide how much you’re willing to spend. If you don’t set a limit, you will end up spending way more than you wanted to. Also decide how much you want to spend in specific categories like food, decorations, and favors. If your child is old enough, explain the budget. This experience is a great opportunity to teach your kids about money.

2. Don’t Go Overboard with the Theme
If you are throwing a Dora the Explorer party or featuring Handy Manny or some other character, it will get expensive to buy all of the gear that goes along with that theme – such as plates, napkins, and decorations. Really, kids don’t care too much about these details. They’re much more interested in having fun with their friends to notice the decorations. As long as the invitations and cake include the theme, you’re golden.

If you really want the decorations, make some of your own. I recently went to a three-year-old’s Handy Manny birthday party, and the mom made little tool belts for all the kids instead of elaborate decorations. The kids loved them, and the parents laughed at the sight of babies wearing tool belts!

3. Don’t Serve a Meal
One of the biggest expenses of throwing a party is the food, and the simplest saving solution is to avoid serving a meal. You’ll save a ton, especially if the party includes both kids and adults. Set the party hours for mid-afternoon so your guests don’t have any expectations for a full meal. I hosted a party for my husband’s 30th birthday and ended up spending a couple hundred dollars on food because it was a late afternoon party.

4. Limit the Number of Guests
Another way to save a significant chunk of change is to limit the number of guests. It’s tough to leave kids out, but it’s particularly helpful if your child has their heart set on a specific type of party, like going to a movie or the theme park. But even if the party is in your home, you will save on invitations and favors. This might also help to keep you from getting too overwhelmed.

5. Do It Yourself
Don’t buy a cake from a bakery. Cakes from bakeries may be great on your taste buds, but they’re not great on your wallet. If you go with a “DIY” plan, you’ll have more freedom with the flavor and decorating. You can also perform your own entertainment. Learn how to make balloon animals and dress up like a clown or other character. You don’t have to be a professional to entertain kids; you just need to be silly.

6. Location, Location, Location
Throwing a party away from home is almost automatically costly. If your kid really wants a party at Chuck E Cheese’s or Gymboree, trying to make your home more like these places will cost less than actually booking the party. Get a lot of balloons, use your own soft toys and sports equipment to simulate a ball pit, and build tunnels and forts with refrigerator boxes and other large containers.

7. Creative Wrapping Paper
If you need to save money on the party because you spent a lot of gifts, you can always save money with unique and creative gift wrapping ideas, such as comics, old t-shirts, or bubble-wrap.

Fun Birthday Party Games For Kids

These creative touches can entertain kids without costing you too much. You’ll save and still look like a pro party planner by making your party inexpensive, not cheap.
1. Photo Booth
Set up a photo booth area with various items like hats, scarves, wigs, paper mustaches, or any other random things you have around the house or find at Goodwill. Use a digital camera, and email the pictures to parents after the party. This activity is fun for parents to take part in too!

2. Pie in the Face
Kids love to get messy. I remember my parents threw me a birthday party where everyone got pied in the face. We had various field games such as a three-legged race, an egg race, and a water balloon toss. If you lost in any of these events, you got pied. It put a unique spin on normal games, and everyone had a really good time.

3. Ball Pit
You can easily make a ball pit by getting a baby pool and filling it with plastic balls. I’m planning this activity for my son’s first birthday party, but it would be fun for older kids as well.

4. Dance Party
Kids go crazy when music is playing. They love to dance and have no shame about their skills (or lack thereof). Parents enjoy watching kids dance too. Add to the excitment by doing a freeze game where kids freeze when the music stops. Or blow up a bunch of balloons for kids to try to keep in the air while the music plays. As for the music, you can hook up your laptop computer to some external speakers and utilize some of the free music listening and sharing websites.

5. Telephone Game
One person starts the game by whispering a sentence into the ear of the person sitting next to them. They whisper what they think they heard to the person on the other side of them. This continues until the sentence gets to the last person. At that time, the person says out loud what they think they heard. This is a fun game to play indoors if the weather does not permit outdoor games.

6. Obstacle Course
Set up an obstacle course in your backyard. Have the kids crawl under limbo sticks, through boxes, and down slides. This is a great way to reuse and recycle household items laying around.

7. Scavenger Hunt
If the party is for younger kids, you can set up a scavenger hunt for everyday items scattered around your house or yard. If you have older kids, you can do a scavenger hunt in the mall. I remember doing a mall scavenger hunt for a party and having a lot of fun. You don’t have to buy the items, just find them faster than the others.

What ideas do you have to save money on birthday parties for kids? Share some of your previous experiences in the comments below!

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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