Budget Birthday PartiesWe are seriously into themed birthday parties around here. While I only have two kids under 12 now, even the older kids still get into the mix sometimes. We've been doing big birthday parties for over 23 years now (not coincidentally, since Jessica's first birthday). Considering that we had two children before completing graduate school, you can trust that throwing a big birthday bash does not have to cost a lot. It just requires some creativity.

This past year, Caleb celebrated turning seven with a “transportation party.” We pulled the colors of a traffic light — red, yellow, and green — for balloons, streamers, and paper products. The games were all about cars, planes, trains, boats, etc.

Recently Samson's 11th birthday party was an Olympic themed event. It featured red, white, and blue balloons, streamers, and paper products. American flags were everywhere and we used miles of red, white, and blue pennant banners. Official Olympic music played in the background. The games featured numerous relay races and an obstacle course. (This is the fifth time we've had an Olympic party for one of the kids. It's been a perennial favorite, and the decorations have been used over and over again.)

If you've got a birthday party in your future and want to stick to a reasonable budget, consider these tips:

  • Make your own invitations by hand or on the computer. They are not only less expensive, but more personal.
  • Hold the party at home or in a free public venue, such as a park or museum.
  • Get simple discount party supplies that are themed by color, rather than character or brand.
  • Hold the party after a normal meal time and serve only cake, ice cream, and punch, rather than a full meal.
  • Use things you already have to decorate. Having a jungle party? Bring out the stuffed animals. Having a movie party? Line the window sills with colorful DVDs.
  • Keep ample cleaning products on hand to take care of spills and accidents before they become expensive issues.
  • Keep the guest list to a number close to the child's age. That's about all they (and maybe you!) can handle.
  • Invite your child's actual friends. Not every person s/he has ever met. Not ever single kid in school. Just people your son/daughter actually know and associate with regularly. (One caveat would be that if we are inviting most of the kids in a group (choir, class, scout troop, etc.) we'll invite them all so they won't feel excluded.)
  • Invite your child's actual friends. Not your friends. Nor your child's friend's parents. I don't know where that “tradition” started, but it's just weird. Kids' parties are for kids. Not for adults to show off how extravagant they can be and certainly not for adults to socialize (and drink alcohol). Not only does this keep the party more age appropriate for the actual guest of honor (your child!) but it keeps the cost way down. Not only will you have far fewer guests, but they will have far less expensive taste.

Throwing budget parties can be really fun and only mildly stressful. Plan ahead. Watch for sales. Compare prices. Keep it simple.

How do you save money on birthday celebrations?