Every year kids turns a year older, which means another birthday and another birthday party. It is easy to spend a lot of money on parties: inviting all of your kid’s friends, renting a venue, buying a cake, hiring entertainers, getting play equipment, and piling on the presents. Unfortunately, while we can dream about holding a huge birthday bash for our children, the reality is that most parents are on a budget, and as much fun as that big birthday party sounds, the mortgage or rent has to come first.
It is possible to hold a great birthday party without spending a lot of money. To do so, you need to figure out what your budget is, decide what is most important and prioritize. Find ways to cut costs without cutting the fun out of the party.
First consider the guest list. As tempting as it is to just invite everyone your child knows, who is most important to the kid? See if you can narrow the guest list to a handful of your child’s best friends. Will the kids bring their parents and families? Younger kids probably should bring their parents (you’ll appreciate the help), but older kids may not. If you are paying a set cost for each attendee at a venue and an uninvited sibling or other family member of a guest wishes to intend, you can ask that they pay their own admission. If any adults are attending with their children, recruit them to help with the party.
You may or may not decide to invite your child’s extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) as well. If the party is aimed at kids and you are trying shorten the guest list, you can always have them over for cake another time. On the other hand, they will probably appreciate the invitation, and they may provide valuable help.
Pick an affordable venue for your party. Lots of birthday parties are held at the family home. The nice thing about having a party at your house is that there is no venue rental fee, no firm timeline, and set up can be simpler since you don’t have to transport things. The negative is that you are limited to the space you have, you will have to clean before and after the party, and sometimes things get broken in kids parties.
Another option is to have a party at a city park. Parks have lots of space for events, you don’t have to clean your house for the party, and parks have play equipment for kids to entertain themselves on. If the party is small, you can usually just show up and use whatever facilities are available. For larger parties, you will probably want to reserve a picnic shelter or group picnic area. The rental fees at city parks are generally pretty affordable.
The big drawback with having a party outdoors at the park is that you are at the mercy of the weather. Portland has pretty unpredictable weather, so make sure you have plans in case of rain. Getting soaked at a birthday party isn’t much fun unless you are swimming in a pool! Using a picnic shelter or tent is one possible solution. Picnic shelters are often reserved in advance. If your party is during a quiet time midweek, you may not have to bother with reservations, but if your party is during a busy weekend, it would probably be a good idea to rent the shelter. If you plan on putting up a tent at a park, you will need a permit to do so. Some parks also have indoor event facilities available to reserve for parties.
Having a party at your house or at a park means that you will have to do a lot of work setting things up, supervising, and cleaning up after the party. You may decide that it is worth spending the money to have someone else put together the party for you. There are many places that offer birthday party packages including the Portland Children’s Museum, the Oregon Zoo, and Inflatable Kingdom. You will probably spend more money on a party this way, but it will be a lot less work. Often all you have to do is send out the invitations, then bring a cake, presents, and the birthday kid at the designated time.
What food are you planning on serving at the party? One option to keep things inexpensive is to make sure the party is not near mealtime and just serve cake. You can buy a cake at the grocery store for a pretty reasonable price, or consider baking your own cake. Homemade cakes may not be as pretty as the store bought alternative, but they usually taste better, especially when you make them from scratch. Making a cake will save you a bit of money, and if you are not much of a cook, good cake mixes are easy to use. You can buy or make icing (it tastes better and is cheaper if you make it) to decorate the cake. I personally like to use a chocolate ganache which is pretty simple to make: just melt chocolate chips with whipping cream and stir (the only real challenge is getting the consistency right so it is not too runny). If you have a hard time making a cake look nice with just frosting, use sprinkles or other cake decorations to give the cake a little color. I have used Oreos, raspberries and strawberries to hide all sorts of faults in my cakes including sunken centers and mismatched edges. Plus, these decorations taste good too.
If you want to serve other food, besides cake, pick something easy to prepare so you can concentrate on the kids at the party. Pizza and sub sandwiches are popular choices. Get soda or juice in large containers and pore the drinks in cups. Anytime you give little kids cans of soda, you can expect to find lots of half-empty cans at the end of the party. If you are worried about spills, you might want to invest in cups with lids and straws or for little kids, sippy cups may be in order. You can buy multi-packs of semi disposable sippy cups, which would be ideal for parties.
Dollar stores, like Dollar Tree, are wonderful resource for parties. They sell all sorts of party supplies including table clothes, plates, cups, silverware, party favors, balloons, birthday candles, decorations, invitations, wrapping paper, and cards.
Mailed invitations are a nice touch. You can buy blank ones pretty inexpensive and fill them out yourself. If you are really on a tight budget or just don’t have the time, emailed invitations, Facebook invitations, or phone calls may suffice. Just make sure that everyone gets the invitation. Have all the invitees RSVP so you know how much of everything to provide. You want to be sure that you have enough of everything, but no need to spend money on stuff for people who are not coming. If you have not heard back from individuals, contact them before the party and double check whether or not they are coming.
Kids are pretty good at finding ways to entertain each other, but you will want to have some games and entertainment at your party to keep them busy and out of trouble. If you are at the park, the park’s play equipment might be sufficient. If you want to have inflatables at your outdoor party, rent them instead of buying them. Kids can also play games like tag and hide and seek. For indoor parties, you can play a favorite age appropriate movie, do a craft activity, or play party games. Entertainment does not need to be expensive to be fun.
When the party is winding down, get any adults who are attending and kids who are willing to help straighten things up. This way, hopefully, you won’t be left with a mess when all the party guests go home.
Have a great party!