Back in the day (that is, the days of spending money as if we were earning income levels among the ranks of Donald Trump), we didn’t hesitate to spend hundreds of dollars every year on each of our four kids’ birthday celebrations with their friends. Four times every year, we’d have 15-30 kids come along for a birthday excursion at a jumping gym (you know, the ones filled with every kind of trampoline/bouncy house and giant slide you can imagine), the arcade, an amusement park or any other kind of fun and exciting kid kingdom.
Looking back, I’d estimate that we spent roughly $300-$500 per child’s birthday party, so upwards of $2,000 a year, just on the kids’ “friend” parties.
Why We Throw Frugal Birthday Parties Now
We justified these expensive gatherings by a serious desire to make life “happy” for our kids, and a need to fit in. “Everyone” threw expensive parties for their kids, so surely we were failing as parents if we didn’t do the same.
It was only when we (finally) realized that we really didn’t make enough income (compared to our debt load) to afford these types of expenditures that we awoke to the realization that the expensive parties had to go and that we had to work to save money in this area. It’s not that parties like the ones mentioned above are bad, but they are bad if you have a mountain of debt, a high debt-to-income ratio, and no money to speak of in our savings account.
How We Keep Our Kids’ Birthday Parties Frugal
So, over the last few years, as we slowly learned to decrease our spending, we’ve come up with several ways to throw your kid a birthday party on the cheap. Here’s some of what we do to still be able to give our kids great “friend” parties and yet do it frugally:
1. Minimize food served
In the past, every friend party we threw included lunch and a store-bought cake. I grew up in one of those families where food equals love, so I have a heart for feeding people. Surely we wanted our guests to feel loved, but even with making food at home, you’re still looking at an easy $50 spent when you’re feeding 30 people.
These days, friend parties include a homemade cake or cookies, maybe some chips, and a pitcher of lemonade served alongside a jug of water. Honestly, aside from the sweet treats, kids care a whole lot more about playing together than they do eating, so no love lost from our guests, and we’re able to save money as well when we choose to serve desserts and snacks only, as opposed to a full meal.
2. Forego expensive entertainment
There are LOTS of fun games that parents can plan for younger kids’ birthday parties, and we’ve found now that our kids are older that they prefer to just be set free in the yard to play games of their own accord. Although the arcades and jump houses are fun, kids are usually just as happy to use their own creativity and plan their own fun.
How to Keep Celebrations Frugal Outside Your Home
If you live in a neighborhood or run with a group that expects some type of formal, organized activities or equipment, and you’re not quite ready to buck the system, there are more frugal options here as well:
1. Check for group rates
Call your local bowling alleys, ice skating or roller skating/blading rinks and ask for group rates, or take advantage of outdoor public rinks. Most cities have plenty of options in this area.
2. Use the weather to your advantage
In winter, plan to take kids sledding or make snow cones. In summer go for a hike/picnic or have a swim party at the local public beach. In fall, plan a trip to the apple orchard or applesauce making session. Younger kids can go on a leaf hunt and come home to warm apple cider. There are always inexpensive activities you can plan for kids’ birthday parties that will keep the kids plenty busy, and keep them learning new things as well.
3. Choose volunteer events for your kids’ party activities
Bring the kids to pack food for third-world countries, pick up garbage in a local park, or have older kids serve food at a homeless shelter. Have friends bring donations for the food bank or humane society, and then deliver as a group and schedule a tour while you’re there. We’ve done several of these types of things for kids’ birthday parties. We follow it up with cake and ice cream at our house, and the kids leave with full tummies and an immense sense of accomplishment as they received the joy of making the world a better place. Bonus: volunteering in areas like these is usually free.
Frugal Doesn’t Have to Mean Cheap
While we no longer purchase store-bought balloons and banners at our kids’ birthday parties, we still decorate nicely for each birthday we celebrate. We now save money in this area by having the kids and their siblings design their own decorations, either by hand or on the computer, and we take basic ribbon (bought in bulk for the cheapest price), curl it, and hang it from the ceilings, doorways and on bannisters, etc. Guests love looking at the homemade banners and signs, and the kids get the satisfaction of knowing they designed something different and original.
It’s often difficult in today’s world to be the parent that bucks the system and stop throwing spendy birthday parties for your kid and their friends, but we’ve found that not only does this save lots of money, but the kids have just as much fun as they did with expensive parties, and often more, because they’re doing activities that are new and different.
What types of frugal activities or events can you think of doing for a kid’s birthday party? What was one of your favorite birthday party memories?