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Save Money on Kids’ Birthday Parties-Learn From My Mistakes

My princess with a "real" princess

My princess with a “real” princess

If you have children, you’d probably say it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. While I totally agree, I also admit that kids are expensive. My lovely, little daughter is turning six today, so in honor of her birthday, I thought I’d share some mistakes I’ve made  tips on how to save money on kids’ birthday parties.

If you have a birthday party for your kiddo before age 4, you’re doing it more for you than for them. They could care less at this point. Our daughter’s first birthday was a big production. We had lots of people over, supplied food and beer (not for the one year olds!), and bought an expensive cake.  A one, two, or three year old does not care if there are 30 people having a dinner party at their house. If you want to have a party for you and your family, that’s fine, but pot luck or hot dogs with a Duncan Hines cake mix works just fine.

When they hit preschool or school age, they WANT to have a party. They start planning months in advance.  How can you plan a birthday party and not break the bank?  

Limit the Number of Invites

There are tons of kids who invite the whole class to birthday parties. Granted, not all of them will show up, but do you really need 20 six year olds at a party? We chose 8 kids to invite, with the hope that 6 will show up. Obviously if you have a big family, you might automatically have more people than this. In that case, I’d maybe select 2-3 good friends to invite along with the relatives.

Don’t Have the Party During a Meal Time

 If you are trying to cut expenses, don’t have the party during lunch or dinner hours. If you have it at an off time, you can get away with cake and ice cream only.

Use the Dollar Store

Party decorations, supplies, and parting gifts are perfect items to buy at the dollar store. Our dollar store also does helium balloons at a fraction of the cost that other stores charge. We’ve ordered online also, but I’m always tempted to throw in extra things like cake toppers or character candles that we really don’t need. Candles last about three seconds. The cheap ones work great.

Make Your Own Cake or Use a Discount Store

You can get really carried away with cakes. We paid $40 to the specialty bakery one year for a Rapunzel cake that looked like a drag queen. If your child isn’t set on a specific character, a homemade cake works great. Mine just has to have a princess cake this year. Since I have limited baking skills, we will get one at Wal Mart, even though I hate Wal Mart as much as Holly does. It will set us back around $15. For me, that is one expense I will splurge on because I actually love birthday cakes with all the lard icing (we won’t talk about where the lard settles).

Avoid Impulse Buys

 I do think you should let your child have his or her special day, but you don’t have to go into debt to buy a birthday present. It can be tempting to feel the need to get them something “really good”. The dumbest present we ever bought was a couple of years ago. It was certainly an impulse buy. We bought a trampoline, mainly so the kids could use it for the party, but we felt it would be a fun thing to have as well.

It was very fun, for the four days we had it. Then, we had 60 mph wind storms that blew our trampoline across three neighbors’ yards, where it came to land after taking out a very expensive vinyl fence. Thankfully, it missed the dwarf goat pen. I would have been beside myself if our wayward trampoline had killed the livestock!

Apparently trampolines need to be anchored down in our area.  It cost us $300 for the trampoline, which was smashed to bits beyond use, and another $360 to fix the fence. The kicker was that we had just stopped using credit cards. We obviously weren’t in the no spend mode yet, but we bought this with a debit card. A credit card would have likely covered a damaged purchase.  Not very good planning on our part. Impulse buys seldom are.

Let Kids Be Kids

Last year, I told our party guests not to bring gifts and instead asked them to have their children make a picture or card for our daughter. While a few were fine with that, other parents thought I had three heads. It is just expected that you bring a cheap toy to kids’ birthday parties. It makes people feel weird if you don’t. I guess I’ll have to accept that, and I’m letting it go this year. If you have a kid of birthday party age, I would recommend stocking up when you find toys on sale like Money Master Mom, Mandy does. Then, you can pull them out without having a last minute shopping trip that could blow your budget.

While the cheapest thing to do would be not to have a party at all, what fun is that? We’ve been planning for a while and aren’t going overboard on drag queen cakes or expensive gifts. That being said, I’m not taking all my advice because we decided to have the party at the bowling alley. It will cost about $80, but all we have to supply is the cake. All in all, it’s much cheaper than birthday parties we’ve had in the past. I hope the error of my ways can help you save some money on your own child’s birthday party.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen at a kid’s birthday party?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Many of my coworkers have kids and it never ceases to amaze me how much money gets spent on kids birthday parties. The craziest thing I heard of was a mobile video game arcade. Basically a trailer that rolls up to your house for a few hours. They open it up an kids can play multi-player video games.

  2. Great tips, Kim. I don’t have kids, but I have seen time and time again how dang expensive they are. I can only imagine how much money is spent on kid’s birthdays each year! Seriously must be a HUGE industry. I definitely plan on saving money on birthdays, whenever I end up having kids 😉

    • Maybe I’m in the wrong business and need to learn how to make princess cakes or at least dress up like one and entertain at parties. I can’t wear high heels though, so I’d have to have a long dress to hide my tennis shoes.

  3. Great post! And I feel like some of these tips can be applied to any sort of party! Especially the part about NOT having it at meal time and just providing snacks!

  4. Great tips Kim! Happy Birthday to your daughter! Our daughter turns six in September and it might be our first real party. For her first, all the family came in and it was a nuthouse. She had a friend spend the night last year and was fun for her. I think we’ll be more on the drag queen Rapunzel level this year. 😉

    • At least our family lives pretty far away and haven’t descended all at once. It would be great and crazy all at once. I would probably turn into Chevy Chase.

  5. Just reading the word Walmart made my blood pressure rise, LOL!

    I used to work for someone who would spend literally hundreds of dollars on huge blow up obstacle courses for her kids birthday parties. She would get 3 or 4 giant blow up things and I’m sure they cost a few hundred dollars each!

  6. We did pretty big birthday parties for our two kids on their first birthdays but even then we didn’t go over the top. Now we keep them smaller, with immediate family (grandparents, aunts, etc.) for the most part. I think when they get a little bigger we’ll start having them have friends over. I would see that as early as next year.

    • They certainly get more opinionated when they start school. I don’t think my daughter cared much before, but she had her list of invites all planned out this year.

  7. Great post, Kim, especially about letting kids be kids (within reason)!

  8. I will have to write these down as my son is only 3 months old, so I am not there yet. I wish your daughter a happy birthday and I hope you have a great weekend Kim.

    • I can’t believe he’s 3 months already. You’ll be having birthday number 1 before you know it. Write everything that he does down. You think you won’t forget it, but you do.

  9. My sister saves money by only allowing her children to have a “big” party every other year. I thought that was a pretty good idea!

  10. We had a big production birthday party for our 1st daughter when she turned 1. It probably was more for us than her I agree. We probably won’t be doing that again until she’s old enough to actually want that. I think these are some great tips. Especially with hand making a cake. There’s nothing wrong with that. I actually like homemade cakes better than store bought ones any day.

    • Someday, I might be bold enough to try making a b-day cake. My Valentine’s cake turned out pretty well, but it certainly wasn’t princess caliber yet.

  11. Last night I was over at a neighbor’s house and saw their kids’ playroom in the basement – chock full of great toys. When asked which was her favorite toy, their 8 year-old daughter pointed and said “that one.” I laughed – she wasn’t even pointing to a “toy” – it was her parents’ unused exercise ball.

    So I agree that kids will just enjoy the heck out of themselves when thrown together and allowed to just do their thing. Nice post.

    • That’s about right. Kids want everything, but are really pretty easy to please with very little. Their imaginations are so wonderful, they can find games in just about anything.

  12. Happy Birthday to your daughter, Kim. She is adorable. Birthdays can definitely be HUGE budget busters, especially where we live. People seem to get competitive and it’s crazy. I did something different with my eldest daughter for her 9th birthday this year, I gave her the budget and she got to plan her party. It was interesting to see how excited she was initially because she thought she hit the jackpot only to come back to reality when she realized she didn’t. Things are expensive! She still ended up having a great birthday and I agree that more expensive doesn’t necessarily equate more fun!

    • That is a wonderful idea that I might steal in a few years. I can’t imagine the things available in LA. At least our options are pretty limited here.

  13. I would have thought four heads at least, not 3 lol. I can see where some parents might have found that odd. They didn’t want to be the only parents who actually listened to you and look like a cheapo. I understand your side of it and I thought that was a lovely gesture to ask them for the cards. It just goes to show you how we are so programmed to operate on the norm. Dollar store is the best frugal party place around. I agree that kids could care less about parties before 4 but some parent’s say they do it for the ‘memories’ so what can you do. Great post.

    • It is nice to have the photos to look back on. I guess there isn’t a right or wrong as long as you plan and don’t put it on the credit card.

  14. The Flying Couponer

    Stocking up when you find toys on sale is a must! LOL I started to do this recently, it save money, time and energy! Great post!

  15. Happy birthday to your sweetie, Kim! All great tips. We had the same problem with the gifts when we suggested bringing donations for the food shelf/humane society, etc, instead of a gift. People just ended up feeling like they needed to do both. BTW, I’ve got a great frosting recipe that tastes alot like the store bakery stuff. Email if you’re interested and I’ll hook you up. Goes great with the box cake mixes. 🙂

    • I will. I love frosting more than the cake:) I would love to get and invite like that but I guess it’s just too odd for most people.

  16. I apply most of these to my kids parties, though we havent had school aged parties yet. I always buy supplies at the dollar store its so much cheaper and I always make the kids cakes. I am far from professional but I enjoy doing it. Avoiding meal times will be what I have to cut out, I always enjoy feeding my guests but the cost really adds up. When my kids start having friend-parties I think I will put on the invitation that dollar stores toys are gladly welcomed or no gift at all. Great post 🙂

    • I actually do love to have people over for dinner as well, but it is expensive, especially if you’re feeding kids and their parents.

  17. I always opt to do a party at the bowling alley or the water park, during off meal times. Our water park costs $13 per child, and I can bring in snacks and a cake. They get to do the water slides, bumper boats, beach volleyball, wave pool and mini put. I get to enjoy the sun and have zero clean up afterwards. We usually try to aim for 6-8 invites with 4 -5 showing up plus my daughter. Usually works out to under $100 for the admission fee, plus cake and snacks (water bottles, juice boxes, granola bars). The goody bags are supplied by the park!

  18. I had one guest per year of age when I was a kid. 7 years old, 7 guests. My mum bought a sponge cake ready, cut it in half to put some chocolate in the middle and then did another icing on top with Smarties to write my name and age.
    The worst I have seen is in Guatemala, kids’ birthdays are a party for parents, they bring their maid to stay with the kids and get stupid drunk on their own.

    • That is a crazy dumb way to celebrate in my opinion. I wonder if those kids grow up and do the same thing or feel resentment.

  19. Happy birthday to your daughter! I can only imagine how expensive birthday parties can be. My favorite parties when I was a kid was when my mom just ordered pizza and let me and my friends run around in the back yard.

  20. When I was little I always had theme parties. I remember wanting a dog themed party once. My mom made everything for the party the cake, the decorations, the food etc.(she was a single mom and on a budget, but super creative). I’ll always remember those parties (and now think of how hard my mom worked to make them fun and memorable).

  21. The things you can find a a dollar store. Bought a lot of goodies there for my children’s party.

    • We love the dollar store for a number of reasons. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day. Give the kiddo two dollars and let them pick out two things!

  22. This is a great source of tips on how to save money on birthday parties. Kids’ birthday parties can be expensive but if you know where to find the right stuff for the party then you will be able to spend just the right amount that fits your budget. There are things we can buy that will make them happy and their friends as well. We don’t really need to spend too much on food and on the party favors.

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