Frugal and Fun: Birthday Parties on a Budget

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As soon as the Christmas decorations are put away and we’re back in the swing of things, it’s time to plan for our next big event… birthday.

I dread birthday parties. It’s not that I mind a dozen screaming kids running around the yard, it’s that these days, birthdays will run you $300…easy. And you never know who or if people are going to come. If they do RSVP… will they show? Some do, some don’t. Then there is the cleaning, the decorations, the cake, the theme, the thank you gift goodie bag… it adds up.

When I was a kid, you had a party on a Saturday  afternoon. We rode our bikes, gift in hand, cake, ice cream, and water balloon fights. We didn’t come home with a goody bag and none of our parents spent $300. You were fancy if you had your party at the skating rink… and that wasn’t $300. Parents dropped off their kids. Grown up snacks and drinks didn’t need to be served. It was nice, low key and we had FUN!What happened? Pinterest? Pressure? Competition?

After arranging a party at McDonald’s and no one came, I decided to ditch birthday parties all together. We do birthday adventures instead. This year I took my two daughters and two friends to see a children’s play at a regional theatre. The cost… $10 a ticket. $50 total for a live musical production of Miss Nelson is Missing. We followed up the play with a trip to the mall for a cookie cake and a few spins on the carousel. And it was delightful. The cast of the play pose

The Georgia Ensemble Theatre cast sings Happy Birthday

d for pictures after the show and sang Happy Birthday in harmony to my daughter.


I brought juice boxes, plates and forks with me and we enjoyed cookie cake and carousel rides and guess what… we weren’t the only ones. A few tables down a mom was stringing up balloons. She too had a cookie cake and the dad and kids are were line for the carousel.

That got me thinking… I could have ditched the play and just done the cookie and the carousel they still would have had a great time. (I’ll confess, I REALLY wanted to see the play).

Basketball games are a fun, affordable activity

Basketball Birthday

Adventures are a far cheaper way to go. For example, high school sporting events are a great idea especially for elementary aged kids. A high school basketball game is about $5 per person. Plan on another $5 for a hot dog and a soda for each kid. The little kids think the high school kids are superheroes and the high school players will fawn all over your littles when they walk up and ask for an autograph. The cheerleaders will gladly teach your little girls the cheers. If you have 5 kids going, you are looking at $50 and you’ll have adorable photos to share. High school sports go all throughout the school year, so you have many options.

Local Park

Your local park is another great option. Some places you have to fill out papers to reserve a pavilion and some charge a small fee, but if you are a resident of the city or county, you can get away with a reservation under $50. Keep it simple with cake and ice cream or add some hot dogs and chips and you’re probably under 100 dollars.My older child has a summer birthday. We take advantage of our pool membership for a pool party. It’s a $100 refundable deposit then pizza, cake and a few dollars per kid to buy the ice cream bar of their choice from the concession stand.

Backyard Party

A surefire hit is an old-fashioned backyard party… with shaving cream. We did this in Girl Scouts. Shaving cream, some school glue and food coloring makes puff paint. We all had a ball painting pictures on card stock with our home made puff paint. Then we got the idea that next time, we would just give each kid a can of shaving cream (Barbisol is .98 cents a can at Walmart) and let them “draw pictures” with the cream, then use their fingers to make other designs in the shaving cream. It was fun. It was cheap. It was easy clean up and even smelled nice in the end.

Here are some other affordable birthday party ideas:

  • Nature hike in a state park
  • Fishing in a state park
  • Visit an animal sanctuary, much cheaper than the zoo
  • Host your own tea party with tea and hats & decorations from the dollar store
  • Who needs paintball when you can have a water gun battle in your yard? Add food coloring or colored bubble solution so you know when you’ve been hit.
  • Karaoke party. It doubles as a gift. My daughter got a Karaoke machine for her birthday. It’s a kid’s version and cost about $30. It has provided endless entertainment and her friends all love singing into the microphone.
  • A night in a hotel… with an indoor pool
  • Take a car load of kids to a parade or a festival with kids’ activities
  • The drive-In movie theatre. We are lucky to have a drive-in. Adults are $9, kids are $1. I saw a mom open the back of her van, throw down some blankets and about 7 kids hopped out. She plunked down boxes of Little Caesar’s pizza and everyone watched Minions for about $30.
  • For older kids, try bowling or a movie with a few friends.

What type of budget birthdays have you tried? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section.

For more information about family theatre productions:

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About Eve Espy

Eve Espy is the mother of a two creative girls. They love to cook, craft, draw and write and perform their own plays together. She teaches high school audio/video production and has a small collection of goats, donkeys, dogs and a pony.

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