Edgy Mama: Throwing low-cost kid birthday parties

I’m all about low-key, low-cost birthday parties. I’ve thrown some for my kids that have cost next to nothing, and a few that inexplicably went over budget. (OK, maybe not inexplicably. Buying cupcakes and pizza for 30 kids and supplying beer to parents so they won’t leave their spawn and run can add up).

As birthday season approaches (lots of spring and summer births), here are a few recessionary ideas for throwing fun — but cheap — par-tays for your kidlings:

• Don’t buy invitations. Most folks can negotiate E-vite now. Or call people directly to invite them (the personal touch). Shoot, if you’re young and hip and can text better than I can, text your invites. In addition to costing money, invitations get lost in mail piles or in kid backpacks. Twice I’ve found an invite to a birthday party in one of my kids’ backpacks after the party went down.

• Don’t spend cash on gift bags to give to party attendees. It drives me nuts when my kids come home with cheap plastic crap and corn-syrup laden candy that we end up tossing in the trash. Let’s save the world and money by not giving gift baggies. Instead, go with balloons. Buy a dollar bag of balloons, blow them up, let the kids bat them around for most of the party (cheap entertainment), then let everyone take one home.

• Don’t pay for extra entertainment. Kids, especially in a group, are happy playing together and making up their own games. When I’ve had parties with organized activities or entertainment, I’ve had to pull kids from their games so they can play my games. Yes, there’s something wrong with that picture. If you can’t stand it, create game- or craft-stations and let the kids play as they chose. Fun options are pin the tail on the donkey (might require supervision), a beading table (use big beads and pipe cleaners), or a sidewalk chalk area if you’re outside.

• Make a veggie piñata. I stole this idea from my friend Matt who stuffed a birthday piñata with leftover broccoli and cauliflower. If you’re bold enough to do this, make sure you have your video camera ready to capture the kids’ expressions when the piñata pops. After the video fun, you can toss candy at the kids to relieve the disappointment. This also negates the need for gift bags. Just give all the kids a paper lunch bag and let them take home any candy (or broccoli) they pick up. I also hear you can make your own piñata with balloons, newspaper strips coated with flour and water, and tempura paint. Veggies optional.

• Parties at home are less expensive than renting a space. If the thought of all that cleaning makes you feel vomitus, there are free options. Ask if your church has a fellowship center you can use. Or have the party at a public park. Once we had everyone meet at Jones Park in North Asheville. We let the kids play on the (free) park equipment, then ordered pizza, fed them, handed everyone a cupcake, and sent them home.

• Of course, it’s always cheaper to make food yourself than to buy it pre-made. That includes cake. If you aren’t feeding kids a meal, buy Goldfish and pretzels in bulk. Make Kool-Aid instead of buying soft drinks. Better yet, let them drink water. If you are baking challenged, buy bite-size cupcakes (Jodi of Short Street Cakes makes yummy ones). Trust me; you don’t want to know how much sugar a full-sized cupcake sends into your kid’s bloodstream.

• Save your guests time as well. Ask for a cash donation to a favorite cause instead of a birthday gift. My kids did this to help raise money for a new playground at their elementary school. I swear they were as excited to get home and count the cash they’d raised as they would have been to open presents. Plus fewer toys equals good save-the-earth karma.

• Once your kids are 6 or older, sleepovers are an inexpensive party option (I wrote an entire column on sleepovers once). Invite the kids over at 5ish, let them make their own pizzas (you can buy pre-made crust), let them play outside until they’re tired, then settle them in sleeping bags in front of an age-appropriate DVD. For breakfast, have your spouse make pancakes. Ask parents to pick their kids up by 9 the next morning. Take a nap.

Those are just a few ideas. If you have others, let me know in the comments section at www.mountainx.com. Have a happy, inexpensive birthday season.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.

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5 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Throwing low-cost kid birthday parties

  1. James Fisher

    Love the ideas. We did a public park last year. Our b-day boy was receiving a bike, so we made it a “bring your bike party” at the FB River Park. Great day!

  2. Our stay-at-home-dad hit a home run this year for our boys 7th birthday. He bought very few items (plastic “pirate booty”, some cheap pirate gear, and a small wooden treasure chest, he put a few bucks in it too I think) and made these *awesome* pirate clues for the boys. He took white paper, soaked it in strong tea, dried it out, burned the edges a little and crinkled it up… then he wrote out the super clever clues and hid them all around the yard, each one leading to the next. He pretended to hear a knock at the front door, opened it to find the first “clue” to the long ago buried pirate treasure in our yard. He let the boys dress in swords, hats and eye patches, then watched them find each clue. “WOW, look how old these papers are!” They actually had to dig up the treasure under the “X”. VERY exciting. They loved it.

  3. ButtercupMcToots

    Amazing Savings has three colors of cauliflower this week.

  4. Queeney,
    That was a rocking pirate party! Another friend e-mailed me a similar idea, though he lives near the beach, and actually buried the treasure for the kids to find. Fun, fun!

  5. Jessica

    For my son’s 2nd birthday, we saved money by having his birthday at the local firehouse. Of course, we had to reserve the space ahead of time; however, the entertainment was taken care of with a tour of the firehouse. It was great.

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