We’re watching our pennies these days, who isn’t?  But we still want our kids to have a very special day and a whole lot of fun on their birthdays. Here’s how to do both!

The Venue:  The party venue can be a big expense so I’m happy that my children prefer to have their birthday parties at home.  Parks and the zoo are also popular low cost options.  Moving up the budget chain are indoor play areas, skate parks, bowling alleys and the budget busting theme park extravaganza.

If you host the party at your home, you won't have to pay for the rental of an outside location. That’s a plus. But, you also have to clean the house, before and after, endure some amount of mess and maybe even damage. That can be a big minus. You will have to get everything bought and set up -- a minus if you are tight for time but you’re saving money and that’s a plus.

If you take the party somewhere how much will tickets, parking, food and rental fees be?  Is the destination parent friendly? Kid-safe?  Will you have it all to yourself?  How convenient is the location for your guests?  

Look at your venue options from both an enjoyment and financial point of view.  For my low budget party ideas today, I am going to look at the at home party:

How many people?   I know from experience that there is no such thing as “a little party at the house” once you count family members, family friends, your child’s classmates and their parents.  To make the head count a little more manageable, I’ll bring cupcakes and goody bags to my son’s preschool to celebrate with his school friends so that everyone is included in his classroom party.  Then, if my son wants, I let him pick two or three of his favorite friends to invite to his home birthday party.  My family and my husband’s family both live nearby so when we count cousins, grandparents, close family friends, siblings and siblings’ friends, suddenly we are expecting 30 people!  If you don’t have a lot of family nearby, you are free to invite more school mates.

How do I entertain them all?  Try to keep it simple.  At this age, parties run their course in about two hours.  It goes by fast, so there’s no need to pack the party with hired entertainment.  For my son’s fourth birthday, I plan on having a bouncy house -- I think it’s a bargain at $65, plus I found coupons on the company’s web site.  I’ll also set up a low table with a few arts and crafts projects.  If the $65 is out of your budget, you can do cheap and easy party games instead -- the library has books filled with ideas, or search the Web.

For musical fun, the My Favorite Kidsongs Collection includes four CDs and is loaded with fun songs for a game of musical chairs, Simon Says, dancing, or for background music.


"Simon Says" from the DVD Adventures in Biggleland: Billy's Birthday

For food, a variety of snacks (baby carrots, goldfish, pretzels) and mainstays like hot dogs and pasta are cheap and easy.  Work in some healthy items as well:  Baby carrots and celery with ranch dressing, grapes, sliced apples, etc.  To save money (and work) you can divide the menu up among your relatives.  If one of your guests loves to bake, ask if they will make the birthday cake instead of bringing a gift.

After eating, singing and having cake, the kids will run around and have some free play time (hopefully outside in the yard).  Then it will be time for everyone to go home.  (Except for the bouncy house – I try to schedule the last pick up time for the day, so that my kids can thoroughly wear themselves out!)

Low cost goodie bags and decorations:   Hit the computer – It’s easy to buy your goody bag and decorating items online, especially if you’re prone to impulse purchases.  In addition, check out your local dollar or close-out stores.  There, you will find low cost gifts:  Inexpensive stickers, toys, pens/pencils and candy.  Use plain brown lunch bags for the goody bags, either decorated or not!

There’s no need to go with a specific character or theme (one year we did “nature”, which was easy!).  Your child can pick a couple of his or her favorite colors for the crepe paper, napkins, etc.  If you have a long roll of craft paper, outline the letters “Happy Birthday (name)” and then he or she can color in the letters and pick a place to hang it.  This is also a good way to have siblings get involved so they don’t feel left out.

Enjoy!  After all of the planning and prep, purchasing and creating, plan on enjoying the party along with your guests!