5 Easy Swaps for Throwing a Birthday Party on a Small Budget

We celebrated baby Bella’s first birthday last weekend. It was supposed to be a “You Are My Sunshine” theme, but it turned into a lemon/no-theme-at-all-really theme very quickly. It really didn’t matter the theme, though, because the birthday girl got to enjoy her cake for a really (and I’m talking really) long time. As long as she was happy, I was happy. The guests (our immediate families) were also thoroughly entertained by our cupcake decorating contest. It was a great party even though we had pretty much no budget!

Trying to celebrate your child's birthday without breaking the bank? These 5 easy swaps can keep you on track with your budget and still allow for a really fun party.© anoli / Dollar Photo Club

I’ll admit that I couldn’t wait for this party to just be over with. Even though I didn’t participate in gift giving and shopping for Christmas, it was a stressful time. Right after New Year’s, I realized that her birthday was soon going to happen, and I wasn’t ready for it. Even the day before the party, I just wasn’t ready. I think in the future when we decide we’ll be throwing a party for Bella, I will start planning in the summer. Believe me!

5 Easy Swaps for a Tad Bit Cheaper Birthday Party

If you find yourself in a tough spot (job loss, medical bills, etc.) come birthday time for one of your kids, you might feel like throwing a fabulous party just isn’t possible. You can still have a ton of fun without spending lots of money. Instead of using a credit card to “afford” your party (and then paying even more for all that stuff because of interest), use some of these easy swaps to make the party just a tad cheaper.

Email Invites

The first swap that you should consider when throwing a party on a $0 budget is inviting everyone by email, phone or in-person. Mailing tangible invitations can run your budget through the roof, especially if you consider that stamps alone are just shy of 50 cents each. Evite has a fabulous selection of FREE invitations that you can customize and send through email. If you aren’t ready to ditch the snail mail invites quite yet, maybe you could make your own invites.

For both of my daughter’s first birthday parties I made the inviations in PicMonkey. I actually sent the invite through the mail for Sofía’s party, but for Bella’s party I just sent it through email.

Make the Cake

I would have loved to call up a cake decorator to make a custom cake for my Bella. I probably would’ve blown my budget on this one part! I decided against this, obviously, and made a smash cake for her that cost less than $4. I also made cupcakes instead of a big cake for everyone to eat. I just used a box mix and frosting from the can. I know I could’ve made both from scratch, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it all.

Give Small Prizes and Treats

Party favors might feel like a burden when you can’t even buy a cake for the birthday boy or girl. I would love to buy little trinkets and candies and wrap them up in cellophane and promptly hand one to each child as they leave the party. That is a dream right now. To keep within budget, though, I decided to give one package of fruit snacks to each child and give one tub of cotton candy as a prize for our Cupcake Decorating Contest.

Give Useful Handmade Gifts

Ah, the gifts for the birthday kid. As a parent, I really do want to give my children the world, but it’s just not possible. I also don’t want them growing up thinking that they deserve this or that just because they aged. I always received great gifts growing up. My husband, on the other hand, grew up getting nothing for his birthday. I think we both turned out just fine, but I see the biggest problem with the “give-me” kids over the kids who have very little.

That’s why for Bella’s birthday I got supplies to do sensory bins. This is a gift that will help keep her occupied for much longer than a normal toy. It will also help her learn through her senses. I definitely prefer to give my kids handmade gifts over toys.

Do a Contest as the Activity

The cupcakes turned into my most genius idea yet. Instead of buying Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey or a piñata, I just used the cupcakes for a Cupcake Decorating Contest. It occupied the kids and the adults for the majority of the time. We were happy to be able to use our creative sides that day! You could also just play Duck, Duck, Goose or Ring Around the Rosies for a toddler party.

Free Printable Birthday Party Budget Worksheet - Great for sticking to a budget for your child's party!Since sticking to a tight budget for a birthday party is tough cookies, I made a nice little birthday party budget printable for you! Download it now.

Party Cost Breakdown


Pineapple juice: $1.28
Cake mix (2): $2.00
Frosting (2): $2.00
Ingredients for cake mix: $1.70
Ingredients for smash cake: $3.70
Chips: $2.00
Salsa: $2.50
Candy and goodies to decorate cupcakes: $8.00

Decorations & Supplies

Streamers: $3.00
Balloons: $2.00
Tablecloth: $1.00
Napkins: $2.00
Cupcake liners: $2.50


Sensory bin stuff: $7.00

Party favors and prize

Fruit snacks: $3.00
Cotton candy: $1.00

Total cost $44.68

Even though I spent less than my guest blogger, Erin from It All Matters Mom, last month, I don’t count it as beating her (see her guest post HERE). She actually gave her daughter some fabulous gifts by shopping yard sales. I just don’t go to yard sales, but I think I’ll start doing that this year!

Have you ever had to throw a party with very little money?

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  1. Great tips! I have two birthdays in the next few weeks and don’t want to spend too much. I love the cupcake decorating contest idea!

  2. Such good ideas for keeping costs down! I recently did my sweet girl’s 2nd birthday and kept costs down with lots of DIY. Now it’s 5 months til little man’s 1st birthday! Time to start planning!

  3. Julie Bavington says:

    Great ideas! My son usually doesn’t want a party so we do a special family trip to celebrate. This year he wants a themed party and I’ve figured out how to keep the costs relatively low (doing some of the things you suggest). I will be making one GF cake and the kids won’t know the difference. (Ordering a GF cake is ridiculously expensive!) As a “Goodie Bag” take-home item, My son and I are going to make themed (gluten free) rice krispie treats. We will be ordering pizza as a splurge item. But I will make his GF pizza ahead of time for him. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!!

    • You bet, Julie! I like the idea of doing a family trip in lieu of a party. In the future, when my girls are older, I’ll have to remember that. Thanks for sharing your plans! It sounds like it will be a wonderful party!

  4. Julie Anne says:

    Regardless of budget I have a hard time spending a lot on party favors because when my kids bring them home they play with them for a few days and then they end up in the trash. One way I have found to keep cost down is to look for clearance items after holidays. My twins had a monster party and I gave all the kids monster color packs with stickers, crayons and a book I got after halloween for 30 cents a piece. For my daughters rockstar party I used the same idea and gave, lipgloss,nail polish and other stuff that I got from sets on clearance after christmas for super cheep.

    • Wow, what a great idea, Julie Anne! It never really occurred to me to buy those kinds of things after holidays. I would have only thought of buying specific holiday decor, but I’m definitely going to start searching for these kinds of things. Thank you! By the way, I like your middle name 😉


  1. […] How to Celebrate On a $0 Budget {Humble in a Heartbeat} […]

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