10 Tips For Throwing A Birthday Party On A Budget

birthday party on a budget

June 18th, July 1st, and July 22nd are three very important dates in the Ford household.  On these days we celebrate our kids’ birthdays.

With birthdays come birthday parties, gifts, and sometimes a cash shortage.

But, there are ways to help minimize your costs and still have a great birthday party on a budget.

10 Ways To Control the Cost of Birthdays

1.  Anticipate expenses.

I know. Parties are supposed to be fun.  Here I am trying to spoil the fun, but you should budget for birthday expenses.  Sit down several months early and estimate the cost of the party(ies).  Start saving a few months in advance.  In our family, we have gifts as a line item on our family budget.  Each month we save for gifts even when we don’t buy gifts.  We know that eventually our gift savings and our gift giving will one day equal zero.

2. Be creative.

I think creativity is one of the best money saving tips of all time.

With creativity, you can turn any bland household item into hours of endless fun.  There is nothing wrong with going out and hiring a clown or bubble machine for a birthday party – as long as you have the cash to pay for it.  But, if you’re broke, you’ll need to be a little more creative.

A few weeks ago, I put a cup of flour in a bowl and my kids doused me with “snow”.  We played for almost an hour with a cup of flour as our only source of entertainment.  Think about how much fun 10 kids could have with a open package of flour (be sure to play outside).  For $5-10 you can get enough bubbles to entertain kids for an afternoon.

3. Limit the activity or the guests.

Making an invitation list can be extremely difficult.  We all feel pressure to invite every kid who had a party in the last year.  That is all good and fine, but if you are planning to go to the bowling ally and have pizza, that could add up fast.  If you can’t afford it, either limit the activity or guests.  If you don’t think it is right to limit the number of guests, then choose a cheaper party alternative.  Head to the park or go to the beach.

4. Have two parties.

This one doesn’t seem to make sense as a money saving strategy; however, it works.  Following up on the point above, you could have two parties.  The first party is open to all of your kid’s school and church friends.  That is going to be a morning at the park with hotdogs.  Then, later in the week take your family and go bowling.  I’ve never heard a kid complain about having two parties.  If you have trouble saying no, this could be a good way to cut the birthday party costs.

5. Remember where kids are at developmentally.

My youngest just turned one.  She got a boat load of clothes and toys.  At the end of the day, she was pushing around a plastic container that used to house one of her toys.  The toy sat idle, but the container was the real source of enjoyment.

While kids love playing with toys, younger kids also love playing with anything you can convince them is a toy.  In the bath, our kids use cups and empty hand soap containers to pour water all over each other.  Don’t try and tell them those aren’t toys.  Don’t get a second mortgage just so your two year old can have a $500 car that drives down the sidewalk.  They could have as much fun in an old wagon.

6. Don’t equate love and money.

There is a way to show love without money.  I’m not anti-gifts, but sometimes there are families that have so distorted their view of gifts that they associate their worth with what they give – they feel insecure if they don’t have the most expensive gift.  Personally, I think giving kids an excessive number of gifts will backfire when they get older.  We already have an instinctive lust for more – there is no need to feed that by over gifting our kids.

My wife and I buy our kids one birthday present each year.  Our oldest is five, and we’ve never heard our kids complain about their gift.  However, grandma and grandpa with aunts and uncles do get the kids their fair share of gifts.  That’s great if others want to bless our kids in that way.

7. Teach your kids to give when they receive.

Every birthday our kids know they have a job – to give away some toys.  As our kids get new toys, we ask them to find old toys to give away.  Since we live in a third world country, it is always easy to find someone who is happy to receive a used toy.  In North America, just ask someone at your church if there are any benevolence opportunities where kids can donate toys.  Parents should always be teaching kids about money.

8. Set expectations.

As parents, I think we can help our kids understand what to expect during the birthday season.  Yes, even when planning a birthday party parents can say, “No. That is too expensive.”  Saying ‘no’ can be as loving as saying ‘yes’.

9. Shop year round.

Time is another great money saving tool.  Often times when we know a birthday is around the corner, we rush out to buy a present.  However, if you are looking for presents in advance, you can often find some much better deals that will help you save money while shopping.  Hey, it’s not too early to start buying Christmas presents.  That is a great way to be able to celebrate a debt free Christmas.  Next time you see clothes for 75% off, go ahead and try and find something for your kids’ birthday.  Remember, you can also shop for other kids early too.

10.  Consider homemade gifts and invitations.

My wife is the homemade gift giving queen.  She has fantastic and creative ideas for presents.  Often times those gifts are more meaningful and a lot less expensive (but they cost more time).  Here are some homemade gift ideas to help you think about some ideas for your own kids.  While I’m writing this article my wife and daughter are making homemade invitations.  They seem to be having a great time.

Photo by Yogma.

What other tips do you have for throwing a great birthday party on a budget?


  1. Great tips! I love teaching the kids to give when they receive, and remembering where your kids are when considering the gifts.

    My wife and I always talk about kids playing with boxes and other “non-toy” items more than their toys!

    I think it’s great that your kids’ birthdays are so close together like that!

  2. Great tip about having multiple parties. As someone who grew up in family with multiple sets of extended family as well as being in the ministry full-time, we definitely took advantage of that strategy. In general, we had three separate parties:

    1. We had a private, family party (only those in the same house) with a nice meal and gifts and usually some kind of activity.
    2. We had a relatives party. Usually just gifts from the relatives and a normal meal.
    3. We had a friends and acquaintances party. Usually at a park or other public place.

    Not to brag, but I remember my birthdays always seemed way cooler than all my friends’ parties (because it seemed to last a week or so long)… and we mostly did it like this because we couldn’t ever afford to invite everyone to one big party.

    So yeah, it might not work for everyone, but it’s definitely something to consider.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  3. Great ideas! When my kids were young, I used to make a lot of their activities – I would make homemade pinatas ( using strips of newspaper dipped in a water/flour mixture); and a game “Pin the nose on the clown” by drawing a huge clown face on a piece of poster board and a detachable red nose. Both kids have their birthdays in the warm months so activities such as water balloons and setting up the lawn sprinkler were fun – so much fun in fact, that one year we totally forgot to eat the cake and ice cream!!

  4. I noticed you wrote that you lived in a third world country. When I saw that you live in Papua New Guinea, my mouth fell open. I went on a missions trip there for two months with Wycliffe Bible Translators when I was in college. It was an amazing experience and a gorgeous country. Thank you for your article. I have a birthday to plan for August and I’m wondering how I’ll be able to do it on the cheap side. We have a very large family and always feel obligated to invite them ALL. Thank you for the tips.

  5. I think we’re going to plan our kids birthdays to be around the same time. Seems quite fun!

  6. Great tips. I like #7 and #8.

    We worked hard to get our kids off the idea that their birthday had to be filled with lots of expensive activity (like themed parties at business establishments) and lots of presents.

    What I did this year was tell my kids they have $X coming for their b-day. They can either have the money to do what they want with and just have a sleepover or they can spend it on their party. It was a no-brainer for them. They chose the cash.

    Best part for us is the budgeted expense. No matter what they decided to do, the expense is the same. :)

  7. My 6 year old had been working in Sunday school on a food drive with her class. She asked if for her birthday with school friends if she could invite them to bring canned food as “gifts” that would be donated to the local food pantry and we would feed them hotdogs, chips and lemonade. The meal for 120 hotdogs, condiments, 5 big bags of chips and 5 gallons of lemonade came to less than $50. We held the party in a local park. She gathered about 170 lbs. of canned food and we had no leftovers. I’m pretty sure we fed all of the children in the nearby apartment complex, but it seemed like a good thing. The best part is that a local store manager heard what she wanted to do and the store donated the birthday cake and let my daughter pick the flavor… it was a great way to do a birthday…

  8. Olivia

    We have a $20 budget. Like a previous poster we did a homemeade pinata, homemade cake, sale purchased ice cream. There are plenty of game ideas online. We generally had a theme with appropriate “costumes”. So for Hawaii we had a bean bag toss into a cardboard volcanoe (among other games like limbo stick), tissue paper leis, travel posters, etc. For mad scientists we pulled out the Legos, gave each of the kids a dollar store pair of crazy glasses and did some experiments using stuff from the kitchen. For knights and princesses we had capes made from thrift store fabric and cut down dresses from the 50 cents bins. There was a castle from large cardboard boxes and they acted out a play. Now that the kids are older they prefer a family birthday with a favorite meal, but those early days were fun.

  9. Let us always remember that birthday parties not need to be too grand, parties for kids must be fun and enjoyable.