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The Most Frugal Birthday Party Ever

letting kids plan the birthday partyIt’s the end of March. That means spring is here, days are longer, and yes, we have to plan for another birthday party! Every year I complain about the craziness that goes into kid birthday parties then I feel guilty for not wanting to celebrate each one to the fullest extent. After all, it won’t be long until our kiddo doesn’t want anything to do with us, we should splurge on hired ponies and ice sculptures, right? Nope, this year will be our most frugal birthday party ever.

Not Having A Party Is The Cheapest Option

Last year I was able to talk our daughter into not having a party in lieu of a trip to Sea World. We had a barbeque with one friend and ate an ice cream cake I won for being the 7th caller in a radio contest. Unfortunately, I haven’t won any contests this year, and I was told that we have to have a party this year. We needed a good plan. Since we are about to head off on a trip to San Francisco, it had to be cheap cost effective so we can do and see all the things we hope to do on vacation.

Great Venue But We Can’t Afford Cake

Option one was to have the party at the ice rink. The cost was not bad at $60 for ten kids to use the party room, rent skates, and then have an hour of ice skating. The two problems with that were that the rink is an hour away, and we’d have to coordinate transportation. The other is that I’m afraid one of the kids would break an arm. Obviously, that could happen at any function, but being an hour away was just too much for my worrywart brain.

The second option, and the one I booked and then cancelled, was using the party room at the rec center and then going swimming. Life guards would be responsible. It’s close to home. I don’t have to clean up. It was perfect, except for the fact that it cost $100 to rent the room plus $3 per kid to swim. I’m down $130 before we even look into cake, games, or goodie bags!

I guess I am pretty cheap when it comes to parties. Of course, I want my daughter to have a great birthday, but I don’t think great equates to spending all kinds of money. I’d rather spend our money visiting Alcatraz or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’m pretty sure she will remember those things more than how tall her cake was or what we gave out as party favors. So, instead of worrying about it any further, I stole an idea from the brilliant Shannon Ryan at the Heavy Purse. We decided to give our daughter a $50 budget, allowing her to make all the choices about her birthday party.

Letting A Kid Handle The Budget

I’m not sure she would have been able to handle the choices last year, but eight is certainly old enough to understand basic budgets, especially if they relate directly to kid specific wants and needs. To my eight year old, a birthday party is a need. You can’t convince her otherwise, but we can choose how to fund the need.

I started with the most important item, the cake. We went to the store and priced buying ingredients to make a cake at home vs buying one of the pre-made, pre-decorated ones. She liked the store bought cakes, but at $15-$20, that takes a huge chunk of the budget. Instead, we decided on a Funfetti mix with chocolate icing and strawberries, total cost $6.

Next, we went to the Dollar Tree. Dollar stores are probably not the best places to shop for clothes or anything that needs to last, but they are absolutely perfect for birthday party supplies. We were able to get plates, cups, party favors, candy, and invitations, total cost $9.

Determining the #1 Want

Now, we had to find our number one want and most expensive item, a pinata. She has wanted a pinata every year, and each time, I find an excuse why we don’t need one. My mind can formulate all kinds of bad scenarios that might arise after giving a blindfolded, sugar fueled child a battering ram, but I’ve let go of the planning. It’s out of my hands. We found a pinata with the required 2 pounds of candy filler for $22. Yes, there were cheaper ones, but we had to have the one shaped like a day glo butterfly.

Our budget now has only $17 left. That meant the venue had to be cheap or free. She could really care less where we have the party, as long as we have the pinata. We decided to hold the festivities at home if the weather was bad, but it looks like next weekend will be beautiful. We are going to take advantage and use a local park. Total cost for venue, $0.

Frugal Does Not Mean Lack of Fun

With the remaining $17, she wants to buy helium balloons. I also told her she could keep whatever she didn’t spend, so we’ll see if balloons or cash are more important. We are going to do a scavenger hunt, use the playground equipment, and with cake and the dreaded pinata, that pretty much takes up our allotted party time.

Besides last year with no party, this is certainly the most frugal birthday party we’ve ever had. It was also an excellent experience for my daughter in learning how much things really do cost. She’s learned that you can’t have everything you want, but with proper planning, you can make the most important things happen.

How much do you spend on birthday parties? Have you even been injured by a pinata?

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. I am thankful that my kids would want to have their favorite toys instead of throwing a party. We just normally had a party when they were younger than 6 or 7 years. I myself baked the cake and all other food. We didn’t order anything. Now, that they are 9- and 10-years-old I give them gifts instead.

  2. That was a cute idea. We’re at the age with our kids now where having their friends over for a sleepover is what they want to do for their birthdays.

  3. Pinata was always my number one too. It’s great that she’s learning the reality of priorities and spending trade offs!

  4. Sounds like a great idea Kim and love that you allowed your daughter to manage the budget for it. Last year was the first true party we had for our daughter and came in around $40. The main thing she wanted was to have a few friends over, watch Frozen and have lunch. It was easy, she had a blast and it was relatively inexpensive.

    • Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t suggest watching Frozen! I kind of hoped the pinata would be of Frozen so we could bash it in, LOL!

  5. Our girls had a joint birthday party last year and it worked out great! I did rent a bounce house for $100 but two parties at once meant a huge reduction in food and cake costs. Their birthdays are only 6 weeks apart.

    • If I had two kids, I would totally try to have one party, even if their birthdays were months apart. I don’t know if I could do it twice in a year!

  6. “…went to the Dollar Tree.” The only dollar store where items are truly one dollar. I’ve recently discovered one in our home town and love going there. Surprisingly they have a wide variety of items and cards/party supplies are great to purchase there.

    • The Dollar Tree rocks for party supplies and wrapping paper. They also have the cheapest helium balloons in town.

  7. You probably already know this, but just in case – make sure to call the park district to reserve the pavilion where you’re planning on sitting or you might show up to the park with no place for everyone to gather. This is usually free.

    • ‘t’s first come first serve so I am a bit worried. If the shelter is taken, we’ll put up some card tables or have the cake picnic style.

  8. We used to spend WAY too much on birthday parties because my son has a February birthday which means everything has to be inside and I never wanted to have 15+ kids in my house, so we paid for venues that always screw you over for birthday parties. This is the first year that my son went frugal and just had a small bowling outing with a few friends. It was not only the cheapest party we have had, but his favorite.

    • I know the feeling. I really hate to clean for a party then have everyone run around and mess it up so I have to clean twice in one day. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s absolutely true.

  9. We did this once with our daughter when she was younger – I made a Webkins cake, and we made up games. I bought prizes and goodie bags and then bought frozen pizza and 2-liters of soda. I think the total came in right around $35 – and the kids had such a great time. My daughter still talks about that b-day party! 🙂

    • When we paid to have a party at the bowling alley a couple of years ago, her favorite part was playing in the park waiting for parents to pick up their kids. I don’t think it’s how much stuff you have but just planning and doing it together that they remember.

  10. What happened to the old days where parties were at someone’s house or McDonalds? I always remember cakes being homemade back then too…or cupcakes. Have the standards gone up? lol!

    • I could have it at my house, but I just don’t want 10 kids running around. It’s my Monica Geller gene kicking in!

  11. Sounds like a fun party! Random fact: I loved piñatas as a kid, but never wanted to break them. My mom still has several of my piñatas. Perhaps I need to go crazy for my next birthday and have like 5 piñatas. Could be a smashing good time.

    You’ll have to keep us updated on whether she keeps the $17 or buys balloons.

  12. Awww … you made my Monday by calling me “brilliant’! LOL! I’m so glad your daughter was able to create her own magical birthday party on a budget. It truly is an eye-opening experience for both them and us. It really does help them learn to prioritize and appreciate what their (well your) money can do. Lauren was 8 when she planned her first birthday party and it sounds like your daughter did a brilliant job too! I hope she has a wonderful party and no sugar-fueled related piñata accidents occur!

  13. Holy cow this is an awesome idea! I don’t know why but it doesn’t seem natural to have a kid pick how they should spend the budget, but when you think about it it makes so much sense. Glad it worked out well for you.

  14. Way to kick it, Kim! We did a scavenger hunt this year for the March kids’ birthdays and they had SO much fun. It’s amazing how much joy a kid can have by searching for things of irrelevance in the yard. 🙂

  15. Awww, I loved this! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. Some of the pinatas now come with a bunch of small ribbons attached to the bottom, so after everyone gets a turn to hit (if you want) then everyone can grab a ribbon and pull to break open the pinata via the ribbon rather than by whacking it with a stick.

  17. We have spent way too much on Birthday Parties. I can’t say we regret it though. Now that the kids are older, they don’t want to do much so I’m glad we did it when we could! One year my son wanted a laptop instead of a party and last year my daughter wanted to take a day trip to the Olympics with a few friends instead of a party. There are just so many options!

    It is a neat idea to give the kids the budget and allow them to do with it as they please!

    We have had pinatas in the past and somehow everyone survived! It does seem a bit barbaric;0)

  18. I absolutely love that you empowered your daughter to make her own choices! I am learning parenting skills from you as we speak.

    • Thanks Michelle. It worked out very well, and everything was exactly how she wanted it. I think this will be our norm from now on.

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