Planning a Creative Child's Birthday Party on a Budget

Move forward by looking back . . .

Children have natural "birthday radar." They know exactly when their special day is on the calendar and are thrilled when they are invited to celebrate with a friend on their birthday. They are the social events that rival Christmas, Halloween and Easter. As adults, we can be overwhelmed by scheduling, cost, planning and would rather just forget the whole thing.

Let's tweek the perspective. Childhood passes quickly. Anyone who has been a parent testifies how fast the years fly. Focusing on just the moment can leave you discouraged with "one more thing" to do. If we can transcend the moment to join our child in the excitement, celebrate the year and welcome in a new age, we can turn birthday parties into a unique moment in time that will be cherished not just survived.

What did you enjoy as a kid? As a child, it is the simple that is fun. A refrigerator box is fascinating. Streamers and balloons transform any space into "Kid Zone." Games, treats and song. Of course you have cake and gifts but what else? What will make your parties memorable?

Start with a Theme

Do not forget to include the "Reason for the Party." Get theme ideas from your child. What do they like? A cartoon character? A sport? Collecting something? Any crazy idea they throw out can be transformed into a party. Anticipation is part of the fun. Including your child in the shopping and planning can make them "own" their special day and want to continue the tradition next year.

My oldest daughter was born during Thanksgiving season, so she wanted a "turkey" party one year. My other daughter watched Grandpa and Daddy one year during football season get so excited over the game on the television so she wanted a "Football and Flowers" party. Another year, we were reading "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and a "Golden Ticket / Candy" party emerged. Anything can transform into a theme.

Three basic things to consider when shaping your theme

  • Invitations -- how can you "set the tone of the theme" with them?
  • Food -- can they reflect the theme?
  • Activity -- get the kids involved with the theme.

How do you stay on a budget?

The first reaction to an adult might be "save money" on invites by sending out digital emails telling the parents when and where to bring their children. You'll miss the fun of involving your child at their level. Invites don't need to be bought, but are more fun if they are tangible and passed out in person. You may even have a dual purpose. One year for a jungle party, we cut out green jungle leaves on construction paper as invites and had the kids bring their invitations to the party "to help decorate." The kids loved arriving and deciding where to "paste their leaf."

For invitations, first think of what you have around the house. Paper plates? Popsicle sticks? Cups? Construction paper? Paper bags? Usually, you only invite a handful of children -- 15 tops. Think of your theme and invent a "reason" for the invitation. Your child will be a great source of ideas for this. Pirate party? Roll a "message in a bottle." Who cares if it is actually a piece of binder paper wrapped in a dixie cup? Allow the childhood imagination to fill in the blanks the adult can see.

Food on a budget. Be intentional with your party time. 2pm to 4pm is after lunch and before dinner. Snacks would be the only thing required instead of providing a full meal. Again, see if you can do "two for one." At the Willie Wonka party, the activity of "touring the Wonka factory" was the snacks for the party. As we introduced one room after another, we gave them a snack to eat. Fizzy soda that makes you jump on a trampoline. Lickable wallpaper was those button candies on white strips you can buy and hung on a bulletin board. For the jungle party, we took hot dogs, cut them lengthwise and boiled them. This caused the hot dog to curl. We then put them in a bowl and labeled them "worms." They sat next to a bowl of potato chips that we deemed "beetle wings." Less food fed more kids because they were immersed in the theme.

Activity & goodie bag. Have them make something to take home. For the "football and flowers" party, we had the kids plant seedlings in a cup. For a "postman" party, we wrote letters and bills to others and had a time of "mailing" similar to passing out valentines at school. Then the kids could bring all their "letters" home. This used up all my stickers, and weird craft supplies I was never really going to use, but couldn't bear to throw out. The jungle party also had us hand-make a pinata from an ordinary brown box labeled "Expedition supplies." The kids all felt like Indiana Jones.

Employ your child to help decorate the cake.
Employ your child to help decorate the cake.
You can google ideas and templates.
You can google ideas and templates.
Goodie bags, cheap and in theme.
Goodie bags, cheap and in theme.
Get creative with the food.
Get creative with the food.
For an "international party" an easy activity is having them pick up items with chopsticks.
For an "international party" an easy activity is having them pick up items with chopsticks.

Where's your favorite place to get party supplies?

  • A Party Store. Money is no problem.
  • A garage sale. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
  • My closet. A party is a perfect opportunity to purge.
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Favorite Themes Idea Starters

  • International. Have "passports" for each party participant for them to stamp. Get your friends to show off their ethnicity. I had a Russian friend bring her nesting Russian dolls for a "show and tell." A Japanese friend did a fashion show in her kimono. I researched online how different countries celebrate birthdays and had each child "perform it" with the birthday person before they opened their gift. For example, in Nepal, mark the forehead with a mixture of yogurt and rice for good luck. In Canada, you greese the nose of the birthday child with butter, for it is too slippery to attract bad luck. In Brazil, the birthday child gets a tug on the earlobe for each year they've been alive.
  • Campout. Put up a tent in the back yard. Tell ghost stories, roast marshmallows and a sleepover.
  • When my daughter turned 7, we had Seven Silly Celebrations. Come in Costume for Halloween, we did sparklers left over from 4th of July. We made Valentines, had an Easter egg hunt, put the presents under a tree we decorated and counted down for New Year's before the birthday girl blew out the candles on her cake.
  • Star Wars. Wach child left with a "light saber" made out of a pool noodle cut in half with a dowel as a handle. We had "light saber battles" and ate "moon pies" and "death star popcorn."
  • Fireman. We had an obstacle course set up in the backyard they had to aim for with the garden hose
  • Under the Sea. Favorite snack was toys in jello. We made "fishing poles" out of dowels, string and a clothes pin. Then "went fishing." The children would put there poles over a hung blanket, and a small toy would appear on their line that they would "reel" in.
  • Footballs and Flowers. We planted seedlings and did relay races on a "football field." We made cheerleader pom-poms out of plastic grocery bags.
  • Turkey. During Thanksgiving, I found a "pin the feather on the turkey" games at the dollar tree store. The cake had Lolipops sticking out as a tail and they head was one of my thanksgiving decorations.
  • Pirates. The cake was a "treasure chest" with candy pouring out. The kids had to "walk the plank." (cross a 2 x 4 suspended on paint cans)
  • Knights. They had to "storm the castle" -- attack props with water guns. Put on "frozen tunics" (T-shirts that had been frozen) and find treasures in a moat. (Hide toys in a small pool or ice chest filled with sudsy water and they need to find them with their toes.)

Have a cupcake Decorating contest.  Model it after "American Idol" with adult judges and certificates for the winners of the "scariest", "funniest" and "most creative."  Supply the bakers with iced cupcakes and bowlful of different candies to create.
Have a cupcake Decorating contest. Model it after "American Idol" with adult judges and certificates for the winners of the "scariest", "funniest" and "most creative." Supply the bakers with iced cupcakes and bowlful of different candies to create.
The cupcakes have "store labels"
The cupcakes have "store labels"
Colored socks is an item they need to puchase on the mall hunt.
Colored socks is an item they need to puchase on the mall hunt.

For Teens -- Have a Mall Scavenger Hunt

  • Scope out the mall a week or so before the event to make up the "Clues." Participants roam the malls in teams either with an adult chaperone or without depending on the age.
  • Have them write the latest drink off the Starbucks chalkboard.
  • Get an mall map from the information kiosk.
  • Have them get a perfume sample.
  • Have them name a specific store based on clues. For example, "Build a Bear Workshop" could be "the store where you adopt an animal and can purchase a wardrobe."
  • Get the cost of a pretzel from the food court.
  • While in the food store, they need to retrieve a wrapped straw.
  • Have an employee listen to the team sing a song in the Disney store and "sign" that they did so.

Be brave -- ASK!

Source Out
get a Mary Kay consultant to give facials at a party and provide "giveaways" with her business cards
cakes & goodies based on the theme
Go to a Corn Maze for a Harvest party
Hire a teenager to teach BMX or skateboard tricks to boys who come to the party equipped with their own bikes & boards
Make crafts they can take home, make your own pinatas and invitations
Go to a Mall for a Scavenger Hunt
Hire a "princess" or "animals" for entertainment
Slumber party!
Pizza Parlor -- would they let you make your own pizzas? Just ask!
International party calls for a "flag cake" -- forgive yourself for mistakes!
International party calls for a "flag cake" -- forgive yourself for mistakes!
Fondant is your friend.
Fondant is your friend.

Think outside the box.

  • Who do you know? What would they do for your party?
  • Ask businesses for donations or day-old stuff.
  • Free advertising. Mary Kay Consultants and the like. Give them the opportunity to get their name out there without costing you much.
  • Teenagers. They have flexible schedules and can be called upon for pocket change. HIre them for your child's party. BMX tricks? Make-overs? Dress-up as a character? Sky's the limit.
  • Think ahead. Shop clearance after season, garage sales and friends getting rid of stuff. Could it be used at your next party? Be smart. Don't hoard! :)

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