Maybe this will make me sounds like I’m old, but back in my day a birthday party was a casual affair. We would have a handful of kids over to the house for a daytime party or a sleepover. Food would be simple like pizza, soda, popcorn, and of course a cake (usually homemade). These days though (see I told you it makes me sound old!) birthday parties for kids have become almost literal circuses. Parents spend hundreds of dollars in order to rent a play space at a local gymnasium. The cake is Pinterest-worthy, and the ‘goody bag’ is either a carefully crafted (again Pinterest-worthy) endeavor or full of dollar store stuff no one needs or wants.
In most cases I don’t think the birthday child really cares if it’s the over the top version or the simple one, and in many cases I live by the rule that if they can’t remember it as an adult (usually after the age of 5) then it isn’t worth blowing big bucks on it.
These principles don’t just apply to birthday parties though, you can also use them for throwing a festive but frugal holiday party, an anniversary party, or any other kind of gathering.
I’m all for going ‘all out’ for certain life events if that brings you joy (and you can do so without going into debt!) but in most cases simple parties makes it better for everyone!
Principle #1: Keep it small (or use strategies to make it manageable).
The bigger the party the more mess, the more time to plan, the more people to greet. Keeping it small keeps it simple, frugal, and fun.
For an 11th birthday for my son we invited a small group of children over to help celebrate. The kids are all old enough to be dropped off, and many of the parents were thrilled to have the break. By having only the kids we saved money and we were able to play with the kids more during the party.
Another approach that works great is to host an open house, that way you don’t have 100 people in your house at once, and no one feels obligated to come and stay if they have a busy schedule. This allows you to have a bigger guest list, without the party feeling crowded.
If you have a large family consider a venue such as a clubhouse in your community or your backyard to keep costs down.
Another option is to have a birthday party with other members of the family with close-ish birthday or friends who have birthdays within the same month. This can keep your costs down while still allowing you to use that bigger venue. As a bonus you can divvy up responsibilities, too.
Principle #2: Serve it simple.
Choose in-season foods (for major cost savings), keep the menu simple (hamburgers on the grill for instance), pick one dessert (ice cream or cake not both), one or two drink choices, or consider having a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dish to share for family gatherings or holidays.
With a kid’s party have your child pick their favorite foods. For instance, at my son’s 11th birthday party, we served a simple menu which included grilled cheese, carrot sticks, mac and cheese, clementines, and apple cider. The total grocery bill was $25 including a $8 tub of ice cream in place of the cake.
Principle #3: Provide an activity.
Don’t expect the food and drink to be enough to keep the kids from ransacking the house. With adult guests it is great to provide something that breaks the ice, and is especially great for a party where you have guest from various areas of your life.
We’ve thrown a Lego theme party for one party, so we had our son bring down his bazillion Lego pieces so everyone could build with them during the party. The party favor? You got to take home whatever you made. Having something the kids can make occupies their time at the party, and is an inexpensive way of sending them home with something. (in our case it was free!)
Principle #4: Skip it!
Instead of a birthday party provide your kids with an experience. It might be a day trip to a local city, a weekend at an amusement park, or for the little ones a visit to a local children’s museum. You can always bring along a few little friends or some family members to have a party on the go. The trip or experience can also replace the gifts that you might buy them instead opting to spend a bit on souvenirs or creating a photo album of memories for them.
Whatever kind of party you throw remember to relax. It’s supposed to be fun after all, so if you’re stressed about spending money or doing it all figure out where and how you can cut back to make it fun for you, too.
Do you have any advice for keeping costs down for birthday parties?