Birthday parties are some of the highlighted memories we have of our childhood.  A gathering of our closest friends – and getting to be the center of attention – was a monumental, carefree day that left us feeling like little kings and queens.

When I began planning (and paying for) my own children’s parties, I don’t know how people managed to pull these off without breaking the bank.  You can easily get sucked into spending hundreds for a few hours of fun.  Our little ones are more than worth every penny, but there’s a frugal way to manage a lovely time without emptying our wallets.

As parents, we to want to go all-out for our kids, but it sometimes comes with a wave of guilt when the clean-up afterward leads to overflowing trash bags of those trinkets and little details you were so careful to include to make the day perfect.  Getting every paper plate, napkin, tablecloth, banner, invitation, and favor plastered with a favorite character seemed like such a good idea, but watching it get tossed into a dumpster can leave you wondering, “was it really necessary?”

When planning the event, especially with a tight budget, it’s important to work it out on paper ahead of time.  This will help avoid impulse purchases, as well as being able to allocate funds toward necessities.

THE GUESTS – When your kids are young, you can often get away with simply inviting family and a few of your close friends (with children close in age.)  This helps cut down on the overall expense of providing for crowd.  As they age, however, the group can sometimes grow.  Asking for a handful or two of their closest friends will offer the same advantage.

FOOD AND TIME – Say you’re not able to get pizza for a dozen people?  Plan the event between meals!  I like to use a few hours in the mid to late afternoon (1:00 pm – 4:00 pm), and guests will likely have already had lunch before arriving, and snacks will tide them over until dinnertime.  Rather than the expense of serving heavier foods, you’re able to buy some chips and dip, pretzels, cake or cupcakes, ice cream and beverages.  This can save you an average of $30-$40 or more!

If you’re able, or know someone with some talent, you can also ask to make and decorate the cake.  Box mixes are around $1 each, and icing is closer to $2.  Add in some food coloring for $2-$3, and you’ve gotten your feature dessert ready for under $15.  (This doesn’t include an agreed-upon price for their efforts, if you’ve made one.)  A bakery cake can cost upwards of $25 nowadays, so you’ve got instant savings.

LOCATION – If you home isn’t big enough to accommodate many extra visitors, finding a venue is necessary.  Look in to renting a pavilion or reserving tables at local parks during the warmer months.  If you’re a member of a local club or YMCA, you can often receive discounts to use their facilities.  I’ve also use a room at a local community center.  My youngest was recently invited to a birthday party for a classmate at the local bowling alley.  We had a great time, and the guest of honor’s mom told me that she saved an incredible amount of money by reserving only two lanes for the children to play on during public time, rather than the whole alley for a private party.  It isn’t something I’d ever considered, but will in the future.

DECORATIONS – My younger children have their favorite characters and usually choose to theme their birthday celebrations with them.  These are adorable, but can get expensive!  A pack each of eight full-size plates, eight dessert plates, eight napkins, and one eight foot table cloth that features a specific character averages $8.  That’s $1 per person.  I’ve opted to stretch my decoration budget by only getting one or two of these items, and buying the rest in plain coordinating colors.  A single, solid color table cloth is about $1, and packs of 12 plates or 24 napkins are the same price.  Instant savings on just the basic table items, which allows funds for disposable cups and silverware, giving you more supplies for your money.  One licensed piece with complimenting accents looks just as classy, and provides a buffer to the budget.

Balloons have always been considered a party staple, but can be pricey.  Check with local flower shops, grocery stores, or any party store to find out if they’ll inflate ones you’ve bought from another retailer.  I buy mine in packs of 12 for about $1, ribbon for around $2, and pay about $1 each to have them filled.  If it’s within your budget, some stores will sell small, pre-filled helium tanks for $25-$30 as well.

INVITATIONS – This one gets tricky, and is usually where I splurge a little.  If you’d like to let your guests know there is a theme to the celebration, then paying a little more for a pack of pre-printed cards is the easiest route.  A pack of eight averages $3 each.  There is always the option to create your own, of course, and adorn with character stickers.  Another option to consider is social media.  Three of the last five party invitations we’ve received for my kids have come by way of created Facebook events, which are completely free and very convenient (but not as much fun for kids as carrying home a card, beaming from ear to ear with excitement).



At the end of the day, when festivities have ended and you’ve taken a moment to reflect, I hope these tips will have helped ease a little stress and allowed everyone to enjoy the celebration.

–> Thank you to our newest Doc Frugal staffer, Elizabeth D., who wrote this article and provided the photos.  Elizabeth is a busy working mother of three who lives in New Enterprise, Pennsylvania.