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How to Have a Great (Cheap) Birthday Party

Updated on January 21, 2011

Time to Celebrate

Children's birthdays are joyous occasions, and lately the parties that accompany birthdays have become quite extravagant. Many families feel the need to "keep up with the Joneses," but simply don't have the cash needed to fund ponies, a private magician, and other luxurious over-the-top party ideas.

Restore the sanity to birthday parties and have a budget-friendly celebration that will leave the kids absolutely thrilled at the end of the day.

Don't Splurge on the Goodie Bags

Party favors do not need to be expensive. Many items can be found cheaply at the Dollar Tree to fill a goody bag. For children who are attending a bowling party, see if the bowling alley hands out "free bowling" coupons: many offer a free bowling ticket for each party guest. Glowing necklaces, notebooks, candy, Hot Wheels cars, and more can all be purchased for less than $1 per child: don't go overboard!

Go For the Cupcakes

A professionally baked cake can be quite expensive. Instead, purchase some Funfetti cake mix and bake up many cupcakes. Kids like them better, anyway, and the price tag will be much kinder to the wallet.

Kids really like decorating the cupcakes, so frost them and leave out a variety of sprinkles, jelly beans, and M&M's. This will take some time for the kids to complete, and they love making their own candy covered confection!

A Backyard Celebration

Young children will be thrilled to have friends over to the house, and having a birthday party at home is the cheapest option. There is no need for professional entertainment: the kids would rather chase each other around the yard in a rousing game of tag.

Backyard parties can be themed to the desires of the birthday boy or girl. A recent "dinosaur" birthday party, complete with adoptable dinosaurs, cost a total of $35 for 8 guests. With a decorate-your-own-cupcake activity, a dinosaur hunt, and a pinata, this party kept preschoolers entertained and happy for over three hours.

Summer parties could feature Slip-N-Slide races and water balloon fights, and winter parties could feature sledding down a local hill. Children rejoice in each others' company more than in staged, adult-provided entertainment.

Bowling parties: cheap and fun
Bowling parties: cheap and fun

Birthday Party Locations

As children get older (or the weather gets colder), many parents want to venture away from home and into exciting location-based parties. While theme parks and some indoor play areas charge a small fortune, there are many options for budget conscious families. In addition, costs can be contained by limiting the number of guests: invite the child's closest friends and set a maximum number on the invites (for example, a 10 year old may invite 3 close friends to a movie theater party).

Movie Theater Birthday

Check into the cost of a party at the local movie theater. With a limited number of guests, this is often very budget friendly and appealing to tweens. The theater supplies the entertainment, the snacks, and (most importantly) the clean up crew!

Bowling Party

Bowling alleys often offer parties for a low price (a recent party was offered for a cost of $8 per child, which included a pizza lunch). Older preschoolers and elementary school children will love sending the noisy balls down the alley and hitting the pins. Check with the alley to determine the minimum number of children for a party.

Party at the Playground

Many playgrounds offer picnic pavilion reservations for a nominal fee, and this makes a very economical option for elementary school children and preschoolers. A larger number of children can be accommodated, the playground offers the entertainment, and BBQ grills allow for a great hot dog lunch. Some playgrounds also offer municipal swimming pools or spraygrounds, which would allow summer parties to become swimming parties!

Check Out McDonald's

Nutrition content aside, McDonald's makes a great choice for a preschooler's birthday party. Parents have the option of purchasing a party package, or simply showing up with a few children and having the party without the official party package. If you purchase an official party package, the Playland will be reserved for your child and the party guests. Without the package, the Playland will be open to the public. For ten children, the overall cost of an official party package will be around $60-$100, depending on the location. This includes a Happy Meal for each child and private use of the playground. For substantially less, you can invite the kids and buy them each a Happy Meal, then enjoy the playground with the general public (try to go at off-peak times, such as 10:00am or 2:00pm).

Check Into a Local Hotel

Want a swimming party, but don't want to pay a ridiculous fee to rent out the pool at the YMCA? Try booking a local hotel on and invite a few friends for a pizza-and-pool party. For $40 per room and a couple of $5 Little Caesar's Pizzas, tweens and teens can have a party and then splash in the pool (adult supervision required at all times, please). Do not invite more friends than would normally be staying in the hotel room: if you want to invite 6 friends, book 2 rooms. There is no need to stay overnight, of course: when the daytime party is over, check out and go home.

Fun Birthday in the Backyard


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