How to Throw a Cheap Birthday Party for Kids

Throwing a cheap birthday party for kids can feel impossible these days. My daughter just recently turned 11 and she really wanted a birthday party with friends. We have only done a few “friend” birthday parties over the years, opting instead for a day out with the family. Our outings would include places like the zoo, the aquarium, Lego Land, and other places. Doing a family day for birthdays was just what usually worked for us up until now.

cheap birthday party for kids

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My daughter is the social butterfly of the family, so if she wanted her friends to come over for her birthday this year, I wanted to make it happen. But if I wanted to do that, I was going to need to come up with some inexpensive birthday party ideas.

Birthday parties can add up quickly these days. With bouncy castles, and pony rides, renting public spaces, or taking a whole slew of kids to the movies, it seems like everywhere you look the parties are getting bigger and bigger.

When I was a kid you know what a birthday party often looked like? A few games, watching the birthday kid open a few gifts, eating hot dogs or pizza, and watching a movie if it was a sleepover.

Seriously, so many birthday parties I can remember a big pot of hot dogs in boiling water on the stove for dinner.

And you know what? I have SO many good memories from those birthday parties! Because, when you get a group of friends together, that’s where the fun happens. What you do and what you eat isn’t nearly as important.

I love my children, but I don’t want their birthday parties to be something that we spend money we don’t have on.

So, today I want to share with you some of my inexpensive birthday party ideas. You CAN throw a birthday party on a budget.

Before I get into that though, I wanted to mention that we decided to do a “no-gifts” birthday party. I promise this is in no way me trying to somehow deprive my child of birthday presents. The bottom line is, often as parents we have multiple children who go to many birthday parties in the year. It can really start to add up. I didn’t want parents to have to think about an added expense.

Aside from that, my children receive SO many gifts for their birthdays from family members. My daughter got gifts from us, her uncle, both sets of grandparents, her aunt, and a close family friend. That is six separate gifts, and in most instances she received more than one thing from the gift giver. She just didn’t NEED 4 more gifts on top of that.

We put the emphasis on the gift being that she got to celebrate her birthday with people she had a blast being around. All her friends ended up bringing her cards (which included some very sweet homemade cards by the girls) and something small anyways, but it took the pressure off a gift that cost at least “x” amount of dollars that we often feel as parents picking up a gift for a birthday party. Plus, she cherished the cards and what her friends wrote to her SO much, she put them in a special box.


Throw the party at home. Skip renting out a facility, Kids can have a ton of fun playing together at your home. If they are younger children, even just playing with different toys are exciting. If they are older children, like my 11 year old, you will find that they don’t need every minute of the party planned anymore and will just go off to play together on their own after games and food.

Use a craft as the gift bags. I went to the dollar store and got these boxes for the girls to paint. We already had a ton of paint at our house so I was able to use what I had on hand. At the end of the party I tossed in a few little treats into their boxes to take home. The boxes doubled up as the gift bag.

inexpensive birthday party ideas

Keep the gift bags simple. If you do gift bags, keep it to a minimum. Most parents are more than happy if their child doesn’t bring home a bunch of trinkets. 🙂 I put in a few candies, a couple small scented pens, and a ring.  Something like these little small playdough containers would be a great addition and used way more than a bunch of trinkets I imagine!

Serve appetizers. The party we threw was not over meal time so I served chips, veggies and dip, cupcakes, lemonade and iced tea, and some leftover candy and cookies from our games we played.

If you serve a meal, keep it budget-friendly. Hot dogs and/or pizza are perfectly acceptable options at birthday parties, and kids prefer these meals! If you want to keep it really cheap, try making your own pizza for the hungry crowd!

Don’t overdo it on the decorations. I bought one of those bunting type banners at Walmart that I hope to reuse in the future for birthdays. I bought ONE bag of balloons, and some matching gumballs to put in small mason jars on the table. I picked some flowers from our garden and put them in another mason jar. I bought matching paperplates and napkins, and that was the extent. The other bonus of simple decorations is that it is not time consuming to put up and take down.

Use candy as prizes for games. We played a few minute to win it games which the kids LOVED. No one complained that when they won they got to pick a few candies from the candy bowl.

Make the birthday cake at home. You can make it from scratch, or buy a boxed mix. After an extremely busy week before the birthday party I decided to go with a boxed mix and storebought frosting to save my sanity. It cost me under $4.00. I will admit though that I did make an ice cream cake the week before when we celebrated with the grandparents, but that was more reason for me to keep the costs down on the cake for the party and just stick to cupcakes!

Keep the guest list small. I know that some people feel passionate about including everyone in the class or having a large list to make sure no one feels left out. But that adds up in a hurry. I grew up going to plenty of smaller birthday parties. I also didn’t get invited to plenty of smaller birthday parties when it wasn’t someone I was close to. Actually, it was rare when someone had a large guest list. Small can be nice for your child as well as they get to really spend time with the people who are there. We had invited 4 girls and that worked out well. We may, down the road have a bigger party, but we will save that for big milestones, like sweet 16.


I am in no way against bigger birthday parties. If you are the type who likes to celebrate big, by all means, go for it – IF it fits into the budget. But if you just feel stressed out after you throw your child a birthday party because of the chaos and cost, it might be time to try throwing a cheap birthday party for kids.

And can we just take the pressure off ourselves and stop feeling like we all need to throw a party that looks like it should be on pinterest? Our kids don’t care! Children just want to feel special on their birthdays. They want to be celebrated. You don’t need everything to be picture perfect for that to happen.

Years ago when my daughter was 4 I wanted to make her a castle cake. She was big into the princess phase at that time. Well, I made the cake, and it was an UTTER fail. It was horrible. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.  I will embarrass myself for your pure enjoyment. 🙂

failed birthday cake

Can we say, “Nailed it!”

I shudder just looking at it.

You know what my daughter said when she saw it? “Mommy!!! I love it!! It’s the most beautiful cake I’ve ever seen!”

To me, it was a horrible disaster. To her, it was a cake fit for a princess. And that is what she remembers it as.

So moms, take the pressure off yourself, make sure the party has some games, food, and fun, and forget about the rest. You can throw a cheap birthday party for kids and everyone will still love it!

Related: 12 Cheap Snacks for Kids

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