how to throw a frugal and fun kids' birthday party
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Guest Post: How To Throw a Fun and Frugal Kids’ Birthday Party

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Hey Picky people! Today we have a guest post from my buddy, Mrs. COD. Mrs. COD is a former high school teacher who, thanks to paying off student loan debts, is now able to stay at home with her two rambunctious little boys.  She blogs about frugality and smarter money decisions at Enjoy!

Hi there, Picky readers! I’m Mrs. COD, or Changing Our Default, and I’m a big fan of the Picky Pinchers. My husband and I are blogging together about our journey from fear to taking control of our financial future. We’re changing lots of the typical spendy defaults to live a joyfully frugal life!

Is anybody else tempted to descend into a pit of shame when on social media and looking at what some friends do for the kids’ birthdays? Oh no! I didn’t get my kid a designer cake or a pile of presents or a pony! What kind of parent am I?

Fear not, Picky parents! Having a child doesn’t have to mean spending an arm and a leg every time their birthday rolls around. There are plenty of frugal ways to create a memorable birthday for a kid.

Let’s remember some common sense. No kid will be scarred by not getting every birthday wish granted them on a silver platter. With my baby’s second birthday coming up next month, I’m planning how to give him a fun, special occasion without us having to go into debt to make that happen.

Between the party (or parties), the cake, and the gifts, birthdays can get out of control fast! Don’t believe the hype; birthdays need not steer you off your financially frugal course. If you’re like us, you’re striving to save money wherever you can, and these are some of my favorite strategies!

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How to Throw a Fun and Frugal Kids’ Party


    1. Limit guests. My brother, a dad of four, instituted this helpful rule for his kids: the age they would be was the number of friends they could invite. Fourth birthday = four friends. Another idea: only do “friend” shindigs every two years. On the off years, kids can have a simple family celebration at home.

  1. Don’t bother with invitations, or if you wish, do them online. It’s perfectly easy and acceptable to just use word of mouth or text/call those you’re inviting.
  2. Forget about decorations. Maybe this is just my un-craftiness showing, but they are just unnecessary. If you want a little festive decoration, a roll of streamers and a few balloons will do the trick. It doesn’t need to cost a lot. We’ve gotten party napkins, plates, etc., from our local thrift store. I also handmade a basic poster for Mini COD’s first birthday last year.
  3. Host the fête on your home turf, not a paid venue. Yes, that means you’ll have to tidy up a bit. If you’re lucky enough to have pleasant weather, take the gang to a local park or forest preserve. Fresh air for the frugal win!
  4. I don’t know who decided guests needed “goody bags” at kids’ birthday parties, but can we just agree to let that tradition die? No parents want their kids coming home with more junk food. Entertaining them for a couple of hours and feeding them cake should be sufficient.


  1. Make the cake yourself! (Or enlist Grandma’s help, like I did last year.) The confections on Cake Boss are incredible, but I don’t even want to think of how much those cost. Even a “cheap” bakery cake from your grocer is way pricier than homemade. And let’s face it, your three-year-old will not care one bit whether their cake’s Paw Patrol design is perfectly done. He just wants cake! Flour, butter, sugar, eggs. Baking a cake is not that hard. minion birthday cakeDecorating it can be hard, but that’s what Pinterest is for. (Even if your attempt fails, it’ll make for an entertaining story for years to come.) I’ve had so much fun making my kids’ cakes the past three years. Age 2: Curious George. He recognized it as a monkey, so I figured that was a win. Age 3: Paw Patrol. Turned out sort-of-okay-looking and tasted delicious! (Grandma’s cake for mini COD turned out notably better.)
    1. Don’t schedule the birthday party during mealtime, but if you must, keep it simple. It’s tough to do in this era of increasing allergies. Grill out basic picnic food or throw together some homemade pizzas.

  1. Birthdays don’t have to mean going to a restaurant. Let your child request a favorite meal you’ll (surprise, surprise) make at home. If you’re dying to take them out, perhaps something smaller, like an ice cream date, would be fun.


    1. Don’t spend too much on birthday presents! Yep, that’s a tough one for us parents (and grandparents). We love to make our kids happy. But you can give good gifts to your child without spending a ton. Again, thrift stores and garage sales are fine for birthday gift shopping. Otherwise, be sure to be on the lookout for sales if there’s a specific gift you want.
    2. Along the same lines, limit the quantity of gifts (even free or cheap ones!). Let us not forget the lesson of Dudley Dursley, Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin. The little brat threw a fit upon counting his stacks of presents only to discover fewer than the previous year. I’m sorry, but 35+ presents on a kid’s birthday seems excessive, no? We’re not Beyonce, after all. I know it’s a relative thing, but what child could possibly appreciate that many gifts? They’re much more likely to use and enjoy a few well-chosen gifts rather than piles upon piles of stuff.

  1. Experiences! Suggest to grandparents and others some experiences that might be better than possessions. These may work best with older children, who can understand the concept better than toddlers. Zoo passes, theater tickets, karate lessons, and the like are all great gift options that won’t clutter your house. Plus, research shows people derive more pleasure from experiences than from possessions. *Tip: if Grandma craves the joy of watching the kids open physical presents, she can give a small symbolic item to accompany the experience gift (animal stickers when giving a zoo pass, for example).


First Birthdays

A special note for those fabled First Birthday extravaganzas: when your kid is turning one, they don’t care it’s their birthday! Not one bit! They don’t need presents or fancy cakes or special outfits.

A one-year-old’s birthday party is for the parents, not the kid. Have a party if you want, but don’t go crazy thinking your child’s future hangs on the quality of that party. Invite a few friends or family over to watch the kid smash cake all over his face, snap a few pics, and be done with it.

Take a deep breath; you’ve just survived one year of parenting! Congrats!

Other Fun Ideas

Consider some meaningful gestures or gifts for your child:

  • Write a letter to your child every year on their birthday. Tell them why they’re special, recount goofy or sweet memories, and encourage them by talking about hopes for the future
  • Show the birthday kid fun pictures of them a year ago (or longer) so they can see how much they’ve changed and grown.

You Control the Birthday

your kids will have a blast

The last thing I want to do is come off as judgmental of parents who are really gung-ho about birthdays. Parents need to do what’s best for their family, and that includes being smart about money. If we have the cash for zoo trips or restaurant meals or lavish parties, we can spend it on those things. However, as with anything in life that costs money, prioritizing is vital. Spend your money where it’s worth the most to you, and don’t spend it if you don’t have it!

Kids are a ton of fun, and it’s awesome to celebrate them each year and make them feel special. You are still an awesome parent without spending wildly on your kids’ birthdays! Trust me; they’ll still have a blast.

23 comments on “Guest Post: How To Throw a Fun and Frugal Kids’ Birthday Party

  1. My wife creates a shutter fly picture book for the kids on their birthday. We usually cover its cost with credit card points plus their myriad of discount coupons. The kids love seeing pictures of themselves throughout the year.

    I don’t understand the destination birthday thing. We never went to a booked place as a kid and I still had fun. In fact I use to prefer to stay at home so I could play with my new found gifts.

    1. I love the photo book idea😀. Nowadays you can get those made for so little, it’s a great option! Yeah, I sure liked when my friends had a party at McDonald’s or wherever, but I never did and didn’t mind. I think kids will be good with whatever is normal in their home, as long as they’re loved and celebrated!

  2. We’ve kept our kids birthdays fairly frugal doing most of what you mentioned above. Making/designing our own cakes, limit guests, host it at home, and even with b-day decorations, we reuse the same fairly generic “Happy Birthday” things we have. Balloons, streamers and those decorations gets the house in a festive mood and the kids love that feeling.

    I like the idea to write a letter to them each year, that’s a cool idea. Usually Mrs. SSC has photobooks done either of their b-day or the year in general, but with Shutterfly’s many 40-50% off coupons, it’s easy to do on the cheap as well. It just takes time – so much time…

    1. I tried to do a photo book for our wedding a few years ago and I gave up because it took forever. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to do them regularly as a parent! Sounds like something I could delegate to grandparents though… 😉

  3. Great tips! I’ll be sure to keep these in mind as my little guy gets older.

    Another option when it comes to food is to have a pot-luck party where your guests bring something as well. That way you don’t have to worry about providing food for everyone. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Potluck, totally! It’s amazing how happy people are to bring something to a get-together if you only ask😀. Plus, that way if anyone has special dietary requirements, they can bring food that works for them!

  4. My little guy is one so we didn’t even bother giving him presents. He likes going into the kitchen and pulling out all the tupperware and throwing it around.

    Now when he gets older I have a feeling we won’t be able to get away with that 🙂

    These are really great tips. Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. We have taken advantage of Toddler BITA’s age thus far – she doesn’t care about presents or decorations (two balloons do the trick, she is thrilled to bits), so neither have we. Both her birthday parties have been at our home. We made all the food at home, but we did order cupcakes because neither of the adult BITAs know how to decorate a cake, nor have we so far displayed any inclination to learn.
    It remains to be seen how we rise to the frugal birthday challenge the older she grows.

    1. Hahaha, they still don’t have to be fancy. Once I remember my mom “let” me make my own birthday cake when I was 10 instead of buying one. I was super proud and really enjoyed it (the cake looked horrendous of course). It’s more fun when the kiddos can get involved in the DIY aspects of a home party too. 🙂

    2. Yes, I’m curious how we’ll do as the kids get older and more opinionated, ha! I love the toddler years for how happy they are with junk (literally). Although I would love it if my almost-two-year-old would quit digging in the recycling bin!

      1. Hahahah. Toddler BITA has a huge collection of empty plastic bottles and containers. We’re suddenly going to have a _lot_ to recycle when she turns, I don’t know, maybe 4 or 5.

  6. When my son turned one, he had rotovirus. So when he turned two, we kept it simple just in case he got sick again. My new rule is no big parties until he can say “Mom, I’m not feeling well and I don’t think I’ll be better by Saturday”. ha!

  7. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

    This post reminded me of when I was a kid as my parents celebrated my birthday by having a feast with family and friends. I actually don’t recall receiving many presents, but I think that was a good thing because I learned to live on what I have and not what I need or want.

    1. That is so cute! I think if it’s part of your culture growing up you don’t even develop a sense for material possessions.

    2. Absolutely, you can be happy with whatever you get used to, so I figure we’ll hold off on going too birthday crazy as long as possible. A birthday feast sounds awesome.

  8. Thanks for the tips for throwing a child’s birthday. I want my son’s party to be great, but I don’t have a ton of extra money. Having the party at my house is a great idea, since venues can be a little pricey.

    1. Let us know how the party goes! As a kid I had zero problem with parties at home, and they were incredibly affordable. 🙂

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