Kids’ Birthday Parties: Keep it Simple and Inexpensive

You know the feeling. The dread that comes with realizing your little one’s birthday is coming up and . . . dum dum dum . . . you have to plan your kid’s birthday party! You likely aren’t surprised that academic studies have shown that women are overwhelmed and stressed out by the commodification of and need to personalize kids’ birthday parties. Who are these people breaking Pinterest with adorable photos from toddler birthday parties, anyway?

Pinterest-perfect photos of birthday parties assault us when we open a social media. It’s a thousand wonders that those of us who want to throw a a simple and inexpensive birthday partycomplete with a few decorations from Party City and Amazonhaven’t permanently succumbed to the fetal position. I say it’s time that we, as mothers, devise some birthday party tips for kids that are inexpensive, simpleand fun!

I’m planning Jack’s 2nd birthday party right now and let me tell you, I need to take all of this advice myself.

But let me make one point super quickly: inexpensive and easy do not always go hand-in-hand. In this post, I’m going to try my best to give you BOTH!

BUT, I’ll mention it so when the two don’t coincide, so you can at least go in knowing that you might have to make a choice between easy and inexpensive. When it comes to throwing your kid’s birthday party, it’s all about making compromises that work for you and your family.

So let’s take this pressure off the table. Let’s learn to manage our own expectations and replace them with manageable ways to celebrate the day your child made their grand debut into this world! Here are my tips on keeping it as cheap and easy as possible when it comes to hosting a kids’ birthday party:

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1. Let Go of Expectations

When we say “expectations,” we mean your expectations. You might have gone to a perfectly coordinated, Pinterest worthy five-year-old’s birthday party last weekend with ponies and farm animals galore.

Good for those crafty, wealthy parents. But guess what?

You aren’t expected to spend that money (and that time!) to do the same thing unless you want to.

Let’s face it, some mothers have more time to plan the perfect party, and that’s awesome. Or perhaps they have more help. Or more money. Or more of an inherent interest in crafts. Or more . . . I don’t know. The possibilities are endless. But you are not those mothers. You are you!

If you don’t have that time or help or craftiness or couponing powers, there’s no reason to shame yourself into the stress of creating a Pinterest-perfect party. What your child will remember most is the fun that he or she had, not the expensive invitations and the playlist you created at 3 am because you wanted the music to coordinate exactly with the thematic games you painstakingly planned.


2. Embrace Your Kid’s Expectations

Does your two-year-old love Daniel Tiger? Awesome! Mine does too, so that’s Jack’s party theme for this year.

You know what I have not done? Bought a costume to be one of the characters, hired someone to play a character, or attempted to bake an amazing Daniel Tiger cake.

Go to Party City (or surf Amazon Marketplace) and buy plates, cups, and a Daniel Tiger piñata if the kids at the party will be old enough to use it. Jack’s turning 2, so sorry 6-year-old cousins, but no piñata at Jack’s party.

Also, if you’re thinking, “He’s 2. You themed his party?”

Well, yes. Yes I did. His first birthday party was a road construction theme.

You see, I think themes make party planning EASIER! Others disagree. If you don’t want to theme your party, don’t. Again, this is all about what works for your and your family!

Does your four-year-old want a princess unicorn ninja party?


Excellent. Build a quick and easy ninja course in your backyard; load up on tiaras and cheap tutus; buy a case of cupcakes from Costco, and snag these cheap unicorn candles.

Overwhelmed by the ninja course in the backyard? SAME. SO MUCH OF THE SAME! But I wanted to throw it in for the builder types.

So if you’re like me and you can’t build much of anything anywhere, start about a month out. Keep every Amazon box that arrives at your door, and let that kiddo decorate them for art projects! Then stack them in the backyard, maybe add a rope swing if you have easy access, and call it a day.

You’ve filled up craft time for a month AND let your kid make their own party decorations.

If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.

Because you know what?

Your child won’t remember the late nights you planned a perfect princess tea party, but they will remember sliding down a slip ‘n slide while holding a blue cupcake and high-fiving their best friend who’s dressed as a princess ninja. And you can make that happen and still sleep. I promise.

3. Back away from Pinterest.

Do it.

I mean it. Just do it. Back away slowly.

Craft costs can build up more quickly than you imagine, and how many of us are really that crafty anyway?

Kids birthday party decoration and cake. Decorated table for child birthday celebration. Rainbow unicorn cake for little girl. Room with festive balloons, colorful banners in baby pastel color.

Okay, fine. Some of you are. And if you are, go with it, mama. But MOST of us are NOT. One trip to Michael’s and I’m $100 deep in craft supplies I don’t actually need because I’m not a Martha Stewart mom. If you are, do your thing, just stay out of prison, k?

Anyway . . .

Yes, it’s absolutely true that there are tons of birthday party ideas on Pinterest that look so cute and so fun to make. But, if you aren’t crafty mom, avoiding Pinterest can save your sanity and your credit score.

Plus, going with a few paper items in the theme of your child’s choice is much more environmentally friendly than making fifty Sesame Street themed hats out of construction paper only to start over when you realize that your handiwork is definitely more Pinterest fail than mom win.

(But please post the Pinterest fail photos on the Undefining Motherhood Facebook page, or send them to my Instagram account. Because let’s be honest–we all want to see that!)

4. Plan ahead.

We know this is easier said than done, but a few hours of well-timed planning (i.e. when your toddler naps; IF your toddler naps) will save you a lot of stress and money. Here are a few tips for how to plan ahead:

  • Talk to your partner and establish a CLEAR BUDGET. This way you won’t go completely nuts and spend your entire family grocery budget on cheaply made party favors and crap everyone is just going to throw away anyway.
  • Host the party at a time when people don’t expect to eat a full meal. For kids five and under, we like morning parties (think 9am-11 am) because most little ones nap either right before or right after lunch, so they’re raring to go.

Plus, you can feed them a fun fruit tray and birthday cake, and you’re good to go. Cutting the fruit yourself will take more time, but will also cost WAY LESS! Your call: simplicity vs. cost.

For older kids, try hosting your party from 2-4 pm. Again, everyone has had lunch, and it’s prime snack time. No need to buy supplies for an entire freaking BBQ dinner. Just grab your kid’s favorite snack and a birthday cake, and voila, party food is served.

birthday party ideas including decorations and catering

If you are serving heavier food, planning ahead helps so you can keep an eye out for those pizza coupons!

  1. Order or buy your supplies ahead of time. MAKE A LIST using your budget, and hit Amazon and Costco with this list in hand. That way, you avoid stress buying and/or ripping out your hair while you desperately search for whatever it is that your kid can’t live without at the party (see number two).
  2. Keep it small. Make a list of people who love your child/whom your child loves, and stick to a small group of people to invite (by evite, of course, because everyone uses e-mail these days, and e-vites are FREE).

A Note on Keeping it Small

Guess what? Your twenty-year-old cousin and his girlfriend don’t actually want to come to your kids’ birthday party (or maybe they do; we don’t know them). Invite them over for dinner and a drink on a different day and let them gift your child a card with a twenty in it, but don’t invite them to the actual party if you know they’d much rather be posted up at a bar watching the game with their friends.

Also consider not inviting your child’s entire class. *GASP* We know, this is sacrilege. But guess what? Kids have close friends, and why not make the event even more special by keeping the friend group contained to a small number of close friends? (Admittedly, Jack isn’t in school yet, so if you want to berate me for this one, I’m really not speaking from experience here.)

5. Utilize your resources

I am not a Pinterest mom. I use Pinterest to search for things like lists of milestones Jack should be hitting by his second birthday. Not once have I looked up “Daniel Tiger birthday party,” even though I’m about to throw one.

But you know who probably has searched that? My friend Sarah, who’s a master baker and party planner, and who will forever be responsible for Jack’s birthday cake.

You’d think I’d have shelled out a fortune last year by looking at his birthday cakes, but when one of your best friends makes them, it’s actually pretty budget friendly.

Know an artistic teen? Hire then for $10/hour to facepaint.

Have a crafty baking friend like me? You’re the luckiest mom alive because that makes inexpensive birthday party ideas that much easier to obtain.

Did you enjoy this post about tips for kids’ birthday parties? Drop your own party tips and tricks in the comments!

Looking for other ways to make parenting life simple? Check out some of our other tips and tricks posts!

It’s Time We Get to the Bottom of Mom Guilt

How to Travel with a Toddler Without Losing Your Mind

How to Include Self Care and Community Care in Your Busy Life

5 thoughts on “Kids’ Birthday Parties: Keep it Simple and Inexpensive

  1. Best boy’s birthday idea I have seen…..parents had load of top soil dumped in driveway for planned yard work. Held party prior to yard work and let kids play on that dirt with the little trucks they handed out for favors. Score! Great idea, good party favor, not a lot of prep work, kids LOVED it!

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