Throw a kids’ birthday party on a budget

When my daughter stopped wearing diapers a couple of years ago, I was really excited about the potential monthly savings. It turns out that when they stop wearing diapers, they start eating more food, need to go to preschool and want birthday parties. While some of these may be wants instead of needs, it can be difficult to figure out how to do some of the fun, extra things without overspending.

My daughter had her fourth birthday recently and we planned a fun and easy party for her. While it wasn’t hard to keep it simple for this birthday, I’m sure there will be years when it could be more difficult. I talked to some of my friends who are also parents and asked about their best tips for having great birthday parties on budget.

Have a theme. I thought having a theme might cause me to overspend because I’d want to include every superhero item I found, but it actually made it easier to stay on budget. My daughter wanted a superhero party, inspired by her favorite superhero, Wonder Woman™. Including a few superhero elements made the whole party feel exciting for a group of four-year-olds without a lot of effort or money. I printed out superhero logos to attach to simple, reusable water bottles for party favors. Simple activities like an indoor obstacle course and dance party became “Superhero Agility Training” and “Superhero Cardio Dance Training.”

Plan the party during a snack time instead of a meal. One of my friends said her best tip is to have a birthday party mid-morning or mid-afternoon instead of during lunchtime. Children tend to be too excitable to eat lunch during a party anyway, and then you will be providing cake and ice cream instead of lunch and a treat.

Get your child involved. We created our own birthday banner, welcome sign, party favor tags and photo booth. While you might not always have time to do everything yourself for a birthday party, doing a few things with my daughter made it inexpensive and fun for her. We didn’t need to buy a lot of decorations and even though some of the printables may not have been cut out perfectly, they were perfect for a pre-school age birthday party.

Buy party favors during sales. When Costco® had a great sale on kid’s Contigo® water bottles a few months prior to the party (my favorite water bottles for kids), I bought a few three-packs. They worked out to be 20 percent of the cost of buying one water bottle on Amazon® or at a sporting goods store. It was a favor I wouldn’t mind my daughter coming home with, cost only $3 each and even though it was well before a theme was chosen, it’s a flexible item. I knew we could make it work for any party theme (Superheroes need hydration! Princesses need hydration! Everyone needs hydration!) and it was nice to spread out some of the cost of the party during the year.

Keep it simple. We planned just a couple of activities for the party, including one that didn’t cost us anything. My daughter asked for a dance party so we made a superhero playlist on YouTube and played it on our TV for a Superhero Cardio Dance Training activity. It was such a simple activity but the kids loved it. A friend of mine had another friend dress as Elsa for a princess party. “Elsa” just read a book to the guests but the girls went crazy for it and listened so well. My four-year-old still talks about it almost a year later and all “Elsa” did was read a book!

Crafts can be inexpensive. Crafts can also be expensive. Know where to stop. We kept the craft simple. We used a connection to get inexpensive fabric superhero masks and purchased 3D fabric paint (usually called Puffy Paint, but that’s actually a brand-specific name). We printed out images of superhero masks (from a superhero mask printable) to give the children some ideas and let them decorate however they wanted. I had so many ideas for how to make it “better”—different colored fabric masks, stencils, hot-gluing glitter or beads to the masks and more—but stopping at masks and paint kept the craft from becoming expensive and, frankly, way too difficult to manage. Letting the four-year-old guests go at their masks however they wanted with placemats that showed ideas to get them started resulted in great balance of structure and freedom that resulted in a lot of creativity. One of my best memories of a birthday party was decorating plain white t-shirts with fabric paint. Another friend recently had a Paris-themed birthday for her daughter and as an ode to Monet, the kids each painted a watercolor page inspired by postcards on the table with some of Monet’s impressionist paintings. Painting t-shirts or simple watercolor on paper are pretty simple crafts that were dressed up by simply being themed.

Remember that kids are just excited to be together! When we were planning, I reminded myself about how much fun my daughter has every time she has a friend over to just play. Kids love to be together and laugh and play. I remember birthday parties I attended as a child, but I don’t remember the activities we did. I just remember being with friends. Planning a few activities to keep children engaged and out of my home office kept the party from being overwhelming, but I’m confident that the best part was just letting them play and laugh together.


Wonder Woman is a trademark of DC COMICS.

Costco is a registered trademark of Costco.

Contigo is a registered trademark of Ignite USA.

Amazon is a registered trademark of Amazon Services LLC.

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