El Cheapo Birthday Guide

THE El Cheapo Guide to Throwing a Great Kid’s Party


El Cheapo Guide to Throwing a Great Birthday Party!

Some years you can afford to splash out and spend more and some years you can’t. Just because it’s a lean year doesn’t mean the party can’t be fantastic!

1. First of all don’t buy the birthday child a present – just explain that the present you are giving them is the party. The partygoers usually bring nice birthday surprises for the child and so you are covered there.

2. With a simplified streamlined and more modest party it can be nice to have the birthday gifts low key too! Ask the parents to bring smaller/second hand pressies.

3. Plan the time of the party strategically – have the party in the “sweet spot” between lunch and dinner, from 1pm – 4 pm or so. All the kids really want is to eat cake!

4. Having a theme is nice – it makes the party cohesive. Make sure that you use a generic theme not a “branded” theme, think: princess party not Cinderella; trains, not Thomas the Train; jungle party, not Dora the Explorer. Having a generic theme makes it much cheaper – you get way more “bang for your buck” this way.

5. Have your party at a free venue: home, backyard, friend’s house, grandma’s place, the park (with the built in entertainment of swings and slides), beach … maybe somewhere kind of “offbeat” – such as a visit to the fire hall. Also remember with outside parties you don’t really have to decorate much if at all.

6. Consider having fewer children – sometimes a smaller group can be more fun than a larger group (try to get an even number if you can – makes it easier for the games).

7. Don’t give out goodie bags or give out just 1 or 2 items that are decent quality. We like hats!  With costume hats (there are lots for 2-3 dollars each): the child has something with some play value; the hats are festive; add to the ambiance of the party; really carry the “theme” and look great in photos!

8. When it comes to loot bags – you can also have the kids do a craft with the artistic results the take-home favour. There are some very impressive crafts that kids can make. Fimo pins for example – mold the soft fimo into a creation and push it onto a pinback … bake in the oven and you have wearable art! (impressive).

9. Especially with younger children, you can sell the “sizzle” not the “steak”. When I was a child I remember the birthday child got a Christmas bow stuck to their chair – that is my strongest birthday memory. If you make a big deal about it – you can create a small “ritual” with anything!

10. It goes without saying that you should make your own cake (lots of tips on our site) … but a lot of parents have limited cake decorating skills. If you involve the child in the cake prep then “all bets are off” if the cake is uneven and the piping is sloppy … it doesn’t matter. The cake will look adorable and a source of pride for the child, and you don’t have to claim ownership of the “Cake wreck”! 🙂

11. If you are going to go easy on the food and the decor then the party still needs to be festive – how do you do that? Very simple – you ramp up the games! The games and activities part of theme parties is often neglected because there can be a lot of focus on decorations and loot bags. The kids love games! The best part of a party is getting together and having fun , they often don’t eat much with the excitement, and some kids (a lot of boys) don’t really care about decorations all that much anyway.

12. When it comes to games, they don’t have to be fancy… there are loads to choose From:

  • Circle Games (Wink Murder)
  • Dumb Luck Games (Bingo)
  • Guessing Games (How many ___ in the Jar?)
  • Puzzle Games (Solve a mystery by the clues)
  • Target Games (Knocking over Cans)
  • Tossing Games (Ring Toss)
  • Brute Strength Games (Tug-o-War)
  • Collaboration Games (3 Legged Race)
  • Coordination Games (Limbo)
  • Goofy Games (Costume Contest)
  • Running Games (Relay Race)
  • Search Games (Treasure Hunt)

13. Some of the best “showstopper” activities are those that are messy:  shaving balloons covered in shaving foam; cream pie in the face; or any challenges involving goo/slime/gel! It is rare that a child gets an opportunity “carte blanche” to get filthy. It is a thrill for the kids and the parents are usually ok with it as long as you warn the parent to have the child “dress for a mess”.

14. To put on a great party with little/no money you need to “up the ante” creatively. If you aren’t creative then have a friend help or challenge yourself to be more creative (the internet has thousands of sites with great ideas!)

15. It usually comes down to “time versus money” – if you have time then you are set!  You can make an astonishing amount of stuff with very little money- cardboard boxes from the store can be made into skeeball style targets or castle turret backgrounds … goo/slime/clay can be made with kitchen ingredients. Even if you don’t have much time, you can still eke out time little by little, by starting early. The earlier the better. If you can only devote 1 hour a week you can still do it by starting extra early. Do not leave party prep until the “11th hour”  – this will create a stressful situation for you and you won’t enjoy any of it (and takes some of the kid’s fun out of it if they so you stressed!)

16. Consider doing a piñata! It is super cheap (some newspaper, flour and water). Again it is time (not money) Making a piñata is easy and it doesn’t matter if it ends up kind of funny looking (it will be smashed to smithereens anyway 🙂 ). Piñatas really don’t take as much “hands on” time as you might think. With Piñatas it only takes a few minutes to slap on a bunch of paste-coated strips of paper – the real time required is the drying time. If you start nice and early then you can have a few minutes of hands on time and then just “leave it be” for several days/week to dry up nicely and then hit it with another layer of the wet pulp…. And repeat. Piñata can then be filled with a couple of dollars of candy and some bits of ribbon and glitter – kids just love piñatas! You get tremendous bang for your buck with a piñata. Especially if your child helps you then it needn’t worry about how polished the end result is!

17. Consider making the whole party an activity: baking cookies, making pizza, potting planters, doing makeovers, having a photo shoot , creating jewelry , making Fimo pins, baking bread, painting a canvas, building a snow fort , using a white wall and a borrowed video projector to put on a movie in the backyard. The activity can be anything that your child is interested in- the sky is the limit – and it can be cheap for large groups as once the cost of the activity is factored in the cost of an additional guest is usually insignificant.

18. Always keep in mind that the purpose of the party is to be meaningful. If there are some parents that are uber-competitive for whom throwing parties is a “competitive sport” just don’t invite them. In the words of Bernard Baruch – “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. Also “ Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” (Will Rogers) If you do feel splurging on something pick one element: décor or cake or a nice party favour item.

19.  Communicate with your child about the real expense – times are tough economically – you will often find that children are often capable of understanding if you try explaining things to them.

20. Sending out electronic invitations can be done for free (rather than traditional paper invites). One thing to consider though … is that it is fun these days to get a real letter in the mail- (mail that is not a bill is a thrill!) You can save on postage by hand-delivering the invites … this can be a way to build anticipation for the party, and make it special in these days of Evite invitations. Also we have found that email invites don’t get the attention that paper invites do (and sometimes people miss events because of their “inbox clutter”.

21. Enlist help! Get your friends and family to help (people often love to be involved in fun party plans!) You can pay neighbourhood teens to wrangle kids and take photos (and they will work cheap! 🙂  )

22. It may sound excessive but if you and your child decide way ahead of time on a theme (say even 3 or 4 months), this will stand you in good stead. If you know what the theme (parameters) are then  – when you are out and about doing your daily chores- on the internet, at the mall you will invariably see some items that are in keeping with the theme and are good value. This way you accumulate things a little bit at a time passively and without having to actively search.

23. Consider making your purchases over the internet, as “time is money” and being able to “click it and ship it” without having to drive all over town not only saves your nerves, time, but also your gas. Refrain from buying the absolute cheapest of the cheap as there is very little value to be found there with things that are sub-par.

24. To economize you can also alternate birthday party years (even years might mean a party while odd-numbered years might mean a cake and the child’s favourite dish at home). Kids can double up on birthday parties too – good for siblings that are close 🙂