DIY Birthdays: A wrapup of 11 budget-friendly ideas

15 04 2009

img_16921The cake has been eaten, the presents unwrapped, the thank you notes sent. All that’s left of my daughter’s 11th birthday are the fabulous memories. I invested a lot of time on the party, but not much cash. What a great feeling. Much like that after-Christmas feeling when you’ve stuck to a budget and are not dreading that January credit card statement.

I didn’t keep an exact count of how much I spent on the party because I used so many items I already had on hand. But if I had to put a figure on it, I would say the entire party cost less than $10.

Many of you may be skeptical. How much fun can a kids’ party be on so small of a budget? Let me give you a run-down of what we did at Caroline’s “dog lover’s” party.

First, Caroline and her five guests made homemade dog treats, following a recipe I found on the Internet. Click here to check it out. They mixed up the dough, rolled it out img_1653and cut out shapes with dog-themed cookie cutters I had on hand and borrowed from friends. (I bought two jars of peanut butter at $1 each and a five-pound bag of flour at $1.79 for the recipe. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand.)

While the treats were baking, the girls watched the first part of  Bolt, a movie about a super hero dog with his own TV show. (We rented the movie from Redbox on Monday, using the code for a FREE rental!) Click here to read my post on Redbox.

When the treats were finished baking, my homemade pizza went in the oven for the girls’ lunch. (I used three of the many Pillsbury pizza crusts I bought at Kroger a couple weeks ago for a few cents each. They also munched on chips I bought FREE with those great coupons from a Pepsi rebate a few weeks ago.)

The birthday party plates and napkins, along with a matching mylar balloon, were leftovers from her family party on Friday evening. All were purchased at a dollar store.

Next, Caroline opened her presents. She had asked that her friends bring a donation of dog food or treats for the animal shelter rather than a gift for her. Each of the girls went around in a circle, showing what she brought for the animals.

img_1683After that, we loaded up the girls and took them to the SPCA of Wake County in Garner to drop off their donations and take a FREE tour, which I had previously arranged. Led by the shelter’s education coordinator, the tour was fabulous. The girls learned all about taking care of pets and how the shelter protects animals and finds homes for them. The girls also got the chance to pet a rabbit, play with the cats and play with two border collie mix puppies.

At 11, these girls were the perfect age to learn all about responsible pet ownership. They oohed and aahed their way through the shelter and especially loved giving treats to the puppies. If you’re a local reader of my blog, click here to check out the SPCA’s tour opportunities.

Once we got home, the girls ate their ice cream and dog bowl cake. The cake was such a huge hit, the girls all asked for a second piece. (The cake, which I estimated to cost about $3.25 for the ingredients, was the most expensive part of the party.)

After that, they finished watching the movie. When their moms came to pick them up, the girls went home with a huge goodie bag filled with the dog treats they had made themselves.

With so many of today’s parties at bowling alleys, roller skating rinks and gymnasiums, I think an at-home party is almost a novelty. And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had a couple of parties at these expensive venues so I’m not criticizing those who choose that route. I’m simply saying that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money for kids to have fun.

With three kids, I have hosted just about every type of birthday party imaginable. Themes have run the gamut — from pirates and baseball to Barbie and roller skating. But my most favorite children’s parties were those I have spent time on rather than money. This year’s party definitely ranks right up there in the top 10 — and that’s saying a lot considering I have hosted more than 40 children’s parties over the years for my three kids. (Thank goodness the children’s party circuit is over for my two boys!)

Here are some of my money-savings tips for at-home parties:

1) Use the Internet to do your planning. Once you and your child have decided on a theme, simply Google key phrases, such as “pirate birthday cake” or “princess party favors,” to see what other parents have come up with. Unless you are super creative, which I am not!, you’re better off taking advantage of the tips and ideas of others. If you are totally at a loss for ideas, check out, the online version of the magazine. Click here  to check out its A-to-Z list of party themes and ideas. 

2) Make your own invitations, using craft supplies you have on hand or using your computer to make an invitation with your child’s photo on it. Better yet, have your child make his or her own invitations. Keep in mind, these invitations are usually tossed out after the event so they don’t have to be perfect.

3) Keep decorations simple and make them do double duty, if possible. Party favors, for example, can be used as table decorations. Use paper punches to make confetti for the party table.

4) Instead of spending a bunch of money on goodie bags filled with trinkets and candy that frequently get tossed out, think about having the kids make something to bring home as their party favors. Once again, you get two for the price of one. I have heard of kids tie-dying t-shirts, for instance, as a party activity turned party favor. The most creative thing we did along these lines was during my daughter’s sleep-over party last year. Capitalizing on that sleepover theme, the girls sewed their own pillowcases. For some girls, this was the very first time they had ever been exposed to sewing. They went home the next morning so proud to show off their “party favor.”

4) Utilize your talents and those of your friends. If you are a scrapbooker or your husband likes to garden, for example, consider planning a party theme around these talents. If an older sibling is a cheerleader or basketball player, have them teach a clinic for the party. When we sewed pillowcases last year, a friend of mine who is a talented seamstress helped out, giving the girls mini sewing lessons while guiding them through the pillowcase construction.

5) Make your child’s cake. Every year, for my daughter’s family birthday party, I make a doll cake — the very same cake that my mother made for me since my first birthday. It’s the same doll, the same recipe and the same mold. This has become such a tradition — and it’s so easy — that we wouldn’t think of doing anything different. Also, be sure to check the Internet for cake ideas. That’s where we discovered the idea for this year’s dog bowl cake. Click here to read all about it.

6. Take advantage of local resources or surroundings that may be free or extremely low-cost, such as the free SPCA tour. Other ideas: hosting a pool or luau party at your neighborhood pool, a camping party in your backyard or a game room party at your local community center. A fishing party could be held at a nearby lake, and most communities offer free or low-cost permits for children.  

7. If your child is begging for a party at a pricey venue see if you can duplicate that party at home. Instead of taking a group of girls to have their nails done, have a “spa party” at home. I helped a friend of mine pull off this party one year with terrific results. We painted the girls’ finger nails and pampered them with lotions, cucumbers on their eyes, a facial scrub and, of course, plenty of magazines to read.

If your child wants to go to the movies for his party, rent a brand-new DVD and set up a “theater” in your home. Dim the lights, serve popcorn in those cute red and white boxes or bags and let each kid pick a theater-sized box of candy, which are readily available at most dollar stores.

8. If you’re absolutely set on having a bowling or skating party, consider skipping the party option these places offer and simply take the kids there for an outing, then bringing them home for cake and ice cream. Paying a $6 fee per child will end up being far more affordable and your cake and ice cream will be far tastier than any a rink could offer. And you might even be able to use coupons!

9. Buy your paper goods at your local dollar store. Our Dollar Tree has a great selection of party goods and mylar balloons. Better yet, consider using your every-day dishes to save money and reduce trash.

10. Borrow items you aren’t likely to use again rather than purchasing. For this year’s party, I already had a few dog-related cookie cutters but not enough for the party. I didn’t want any more so I borrowed. In the past, I’ve borrowed an ice cream maker, jump ropes and hula hoops. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loaned out our bingo set. 

11. Offer your child the option of skipping the party in favor of inviting just one or two friends for an outing to a zoo, a museum, a day trip to the beach, or other special location.

Got any budget-friendly birthday ideas? I would absolutely love to hear them because I’ve still got a few more parties to go before sweet Caroline ages out of the kids’ party circuit. Leave a message in the comments section below. Thanks!




4 responses

16 04 2009

Cake looks great Aunt Amy! I’m enjoying the blog!

16 04 2009

Thanks for reading, Jenna!

18 04 2009

That is such an awesome birthday idea! The cake looks great!
I bet those girls had every bit as much fun, if not more, than any paid venue.
I am not a blogger myself, nor do I typically read them, but I have really enjoyed reading yours. Keep up the good work!

18 04 2009

Thanks so much for the kind words. Hope you will keep coming back.

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