7 Ways to Throw Your Child a Birthday Party That’s Frugal — but Fun

kids birthday party
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It can be tempting to spare no expense when it comes to your child’s birthday party.

Some parents go all out for their child’s special day, even going so far as to hire gourmet caterers and professional entertainers. Depending on the traditions of family and friends, there can also be immense pressure to spend a lot of money come birthday time.

While those yearly celebrations for your little ones can get expensive quickly, rest assured: You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses to have a fun, special celebration for your child’s birthday! Below are some useful tips on how to save money on a kids birthday party.

1. Trade in Gifts for a College Fund

According to The College Board, the average tuition for an in-state public university for the 2016-17 school year is $9,650. Over four years, that adds up to $38,600! Take advantage of special events, like birthday parties, to get a head start on saving — it’s a great way to prevent college finance woes down the road.

Crowdfund your child’s college using convenient online sites like Future College Fund or You Caring. Tell party guests about the fund, and kindly ask them to consider making donations rather than buying a gift.

You may feel uncomfortable asking for money in lieu of a gift, but also consider that a donation is more convenient for the gift giver, too. Guests will save time on shopping and wrapping materials.

Plus, what better way to celebrate your child than ensuring they’ll be able to afford a top-notch education in the future? A college fund will be far more beneficial to your child than toys, many of which they’ll outgrow or forget within a year.

This is a great tradition to start early so your child doesn’t get used to receiving lots of birthday gifts. But if your child is already accustomed to gifts, consider buying a gift or two for your child and asking guests to contribute to the fund.

2. Use a Craft as Entertainment

Many chains offer birthday party packages for children, but the prices tend to be steep. A birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s starts at $15.99 per child and the lowest-priced party package at Dave & Buster’s is $19.99 per child. Instead of hiring an entertainer who charges by the hour or purchasing a party package at a venue, sit with your child and select a do-it-yourself craft from a site like PBS or Kidspot.

Many of the crafts only require a few inexpensive supplies, some of which you can find around the house, like egg cartons or paper plates. These mini art books from PBS only require a paper grocery bag, coloring supplies of your choice and scissors.

The next time you go grocery shopping, ask for paper bags over plastic. If you have scissors and coloring supplies at home, voila!  You now have all the materials you need for a fun craft at no extra cost to you.

To save on supplies, ask invitees to bring the needed supplies for a special activity, and just in case a child forgets, have a few spares on hand.

Craft making is a great way to engage children’s creativity, and it provides guests with a nice keepsake that can take the place of typical birthday party goody bags, saving you even more money.

3. Save on the Cake

Premade sheet cakes at grocery stores can cost $20 to $50. Customized cakes from bakeries can run even more, depending on flavor and design. Choose instead to bake your child’s cake from scratch or use a time-saving box mix, which only costs a few dollars — or less if you use store deals and coupons.

The best part is that your child will know you spent time baking a cake for them, which will surely make them feel special.

To save on serving costs, use real plates if you’re having a small party, or buy paper plates and utensils at your local dollar store.

4. Spare the Trees

Packages of generic party invitations typically run from $5 to $10, but custom invitations from sites like Shutterfly can cost as much as $2.78 per invite!

Use a site like Evite, where you can create and send electronic party invitations to save money and time. You’ll also save on the cost of postage, which recently increased from 47 cents to 49 cents per first-class stamp. Also, your hands will thank you for not writing out all those addresses!

When it comes time to send thank-you cards to your child’s guests, save the $5 to $10 you would spend on a package of cards and pick a fun, free e-card from Punchbowl instead. The site has many creative designs, and you’ll again save on postage and time.

5. Decorate on a Budget

Don’t just run out to Party City and fill your basket with decorations. Instead, think of creative, inexpensive ways to decorate for your kid’s party.

One way to decorate and make your child feel loved is to print photos of them from throughout the year, and put them on display throughout the house. They don’t have to be in frames — you can just tape them in fun patterns on the walls. Your guests will be happy to see the fun memories!

Another idea is to take some of the paper plates you’re going to use for serving cake and write one letter of “Happy Birthday” on each one. Color the plates with your child, and make fun designs. Then, hang the plates up to make a homemade party decoration. Custom-printed birthday party banners at Party City like this one typically cost $19.99, so you’ve just saved yourself about $20! Plus, your child will have fun helping make the house party ready.

6. Rely on Friends and Family

Don’t limit yourself to just the ideas above. Your friends and family are a wealth of savings. Here are a few ideas for how you can depend on your network for even more savings:

  • Ask your friends and family if they have their own frugal kids birthday party tips to share. You might be surprised by what you learn!
  • If you have artistic relatives or friends, ask them to volunteer to photograph your child’s birthday party. According to a Smartshoot survey, the average day rate for a professional event photographer is $1,341, and that may not even include the cost of prints! A friend who’s also a photographer will save you tons of money and still provide you with fun, quality photos that capture all the special birthday moments.
  • If you plan on having food for your guests, don’t stress out trying to cook it all yourself, and don’t hire a caterer! Caterers can run from $10 to $25 per person or more, depending on your vendor and food selection. Instead, ask your guests to bring a dish and serve food potluck-style. If you have enough guests, you may not even need to cook anything yourself.

7. Plan, Plan, Plan!

The key to maximizing the savings is to start planning as soon as possible. Early planning will ensure that you do not exceed your budget for the party. If you use all the tips in this article, you may come out of the party in the black, with a college nest egg for your child and with some delicious leftovers.

Samantha Kolesnik is a freelance writer and independent film producer. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.