3 Ideas for a Low-Cost Kid’s Birthday Party

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We recently hosted a handful of guests for my daughter’s first birthday. In the days leading up to her party I realized that I’ve adopted a couple money-saving practices that help me as I throw parties for my kids. The biggest thing I do to keep costs down is start planning early.

Your turn: There are dozens of ways to keep the cost of a child’s birthday party down and I’ve shared a few. What do you do?


Two months before my child’s birthday I get into birthday planning mode. Not so I can throw an exotic party, but so I can pick up the items I need while they are on sale in the weeks ahead. Some examples will help illustrate this:

Meals. I try to serve a meal to my guests versus just snack food items and can usually do it for less than $15. I often use ground beef-based recipe like sloppy joes, chili or taco bar, but have considered pulled chicken or beef sandwiches when that meat is priced low enough. Serving a heartier meal means I need fewer snacks, which can often add up.

Snacks. This time of year I serve a veggie tray using whatever I can get on sale at Aldi. For around $5 I picked up carrots, peppers, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes for my most recent veggie tray. Sour cream keeps awhile in the fridge, so I buy it and dried soup mix ahead of time for the dressing.

Beverages. Generally, I use 2-liter bottles of pop, water, coffee or pitchers of Kool-Aid and Crystal Light (which you can often get free in the summer).

Cake. I make homemade cakes using boxed mixes. The ones in my pantry now cost something like $0.25 each when I matched a $1/box sale with a coupon. I’ll talk more about cakes in a minute.

Ice cream. Ice cream is on sale for dirt cheap this week at my local grocery store. I plan to pick some up and set aside in the deep freeze until my daughter’s party at the end of March. It’s a party staple and getting a nice brand for $1.50 per quart is much better than paying $6.00 per quart the day before.

Paper products. Throughout the year I buy paper plates, napkins and plastic silverware when I can get them for $0.50 per package. These can be a huge budget buster when you buy these last minute.

Party Games

My kids are still fairly young so we’ve been able to do simple games with simple prizes. I always check the Dollar Spot at Target with my eyes out for clearance-priced items that are either $0.25 or $0.50 each. They make great prizes and good bag stuffers.

My oldest daughter’s birthday is in April and we always do a birthday egg hunt. It’s just like a plastic Easter Egg hunt, but the occasion is different.  Establishing a tradition like that helps me plan for what I need, buy in advance and creates great memories for the kids.


Do you know how much a fancy store bought cake can cost? I want an adorable cake, but don’t want to spend the money for it. I can get both, by making my own cut up cake at home. In the mid-1970’s Baker’s Coconust published cake cut up recipe books with ideas for cute do-it-yourself cakes:

I make my older daughter a rabbit every year:

My mom and I made my younger daughter a butterfly, which would be cuter if the purple frosting were darker, but oh well:

These are SO EASY to do that you have no reason not to. You make a cake mix in a regular pan, whatever size is called for in the recipe for the design you want, then you cut it into a few pieces, lay it on a large tray and frost.

Other friends of mine love the pre-formed cake pans that come in different shapes, like ducks, trains, Car Bears and about anything else you can imagine. eBay sells a ton of these from trusted sellers for $11-15 each. If it’s something you’ll use year after year, as a tradition, then these could be a great investment.

Of course, I can’t forget that on a child’s first birthday, if you live in the Twin Cities, you can get free cake at Byerlys/Lunds and Kowalskis. If you live elsewhere in the country I think it’s worth a call to your high-end grocery stores to see if they have any birthday promotions or specials for kids. I passed this up for my youngest daughter since I did a cake cut up for her older sister I did one for her too (and who needs all that extra cake sitting around?).

Birthday Freebies

Lots of restaurants and other establishments give you something free on your birthday. Some have special freebies for kids. Check out all the birthday freebies ever mentioned on Pocket Your Dollars.


  1. Sarah says

    We also took advantage of the free birthday cake at Byerlys/Lunds for my oldest child's first birthday. They requested to see a copy of the birth certificate, so be prepared to show that. I think I'll do it again with my second child's first birthday in March! (Their cake is my favorite!).

    Thanks for the tips Carrie!

  2. Jennifer Thunstrom says

    Party City has a great sale going on for designed tableware. All designed tableware products (tablecloths, cups, plates and napkins) are 50%! They also have lots of themes on clearance too.

  3. Shannon says

    I agree the planning ahead for party favors for guests and other things is what saves us money. That and I have a 'theme' each year — that theme helps me to focus the things I want to use and do.

  4. Sarah o. says

    The ways we keep costs down: 1) We have discovered most Dairy Queen's do "customer appreciation" sales that are 50% off cakes and novelties. If you buy the boxed full sheet cake place a piece of wax paper in the box and it will stay fresh without having additional flavors sneak in. 2) We use the dollar store for our parties because they have themes available and costs us roughly 75% less than a party store. 3) Favors: we do our best to avoid the small stuff that is easily lost. Instead we do things like get the 20pack of playdoh post holiday at 50% off (cans aren't decorated, only the packaging is), or the 3 pack of crayons the dollar store has, or find a craft that isn't too hard as their prize that also keeps them busy (not much need for games in this idea). 4) For food we have a very large family who loves to offer help so often times I just keep a running list of what is needed and give others an item to bring such as the veggie tray or fruit tray. 5) Call around to local businesses. We have found quite a few (like Godfather's Pizza in MN) that will allow you the space for free, you can decorate as needed, use the tvs they have as needed (superbowl?), and bring in most of the food yourself. This is helpful because it keeps costs way down, and allows you to not have it in your home (our home is too small for our large parties) which can save much clean up. I know there are non-resturaunts that will allow you to use the space for parties as well.

  5. JoAnna says

    This post is perfect timing for me, Carrie. I was going to ask this on Thursday for the open mic but I will do it now instead. I am looking for inexpensive places to have a bday party out and about for 4 yr olds (in April). I know the least expensive option is at home but I am not ready to have a bunch of 4 yr olds at my house for a party (also, not sure that parents would leave there kiddos at my house so then we would also have to entertain the parents). ! was not planning to have a kiddo party for my daughter's 4th bday but she has been talking about it so much (since she has been to a few parties) that I am going to go for it anyway.

  6. Sara says

    We do a taco themed lunch for birthdays at our house. I have written down the quantities of what I use (such as how many pounds of ground beef for tacos) and I make notes about if we ran out or not. These notes and knowing what I need allow me to plan well in advance and take advantage of sales so that I'm able to buy items that keep well in advance. The final fixings such as lettuce and tomatoes are often the only thing that I'm finding myself buy right before the party.

  7. Stacey says

    So funny that you mentioned the cut-up cake recipe book…my mom used that for all of us kids growing up & this past summer as she was cleaning out her attic she came across it & mailed it to me! I loved it as a kid & can't wait to use it for my own family!

  8. Ruth says

    n December we had a b-day party for my now 9 year old daughter with 12 girls total. It was very inexpensive and a couple of the girls said ti was the best party they had been to (i was floored).

    We did a formal English tea..

    –invites were standard blank notecards with print outs glued inside. (way less than 2 packs of

    regular invites)

    –homemades scone (very easy)

    –made finger sandwhiches with cucumber and cream cheese and orange marmalade and

    cream cheese.

    –store bought cake (Nana does this on party years) — i do homemade cutouts the other

    years and yes my mom handed down her book to me and we love it!

    –fancy tea cookies bought on sale with coupons and stored till party time

    — ice cream bought ahead

    –tea, hot cocoa and pink lemondae.

    We used china and champagne flutes so there was no paper product expenses. Nothing was broken either!!

    we play crown the queen (pin the tail on the donkey) and made our own queen and crowns

    we also played memory try game

    the one big expenditure was a pinata and fillings which came to about $18 total but they are

    a tradition at our parties so I keep an eye out for fillers year round.

    All told this party cost about $65 for 12 girls. Not to bad.

  9. Cath says

    There are lots of games appropriate for a bday party online, too. My sister recently threw a party for her two children and found a flower-themed bingo game. She printed the cards with a color printer and glued them to paperboard. Then she filled a few cups with the glass "stones" you can buy by the bag at the Dollar Tree. It was really cute!

    (And if she's reading this, HI to my sister, D.!)

  10. says

    These are fabulous ideas! I've also seen "cupcake cakes" where cupcakes with different color frostings are arranged to make things like bunnies, fish, etc.

    If it is for a first birthday, my Walmart SuperCenter gives you a free 4" round cake when you purchase a regular size cake. Perfect for that first-taste-of-cake messy photo!

  11. Jasmine says

    Carrie, where is there cheap ice cream this week? I'm in Mpls as well, but looking through your price comparisons I couldn't find what you were referencing!

  12. Tami W says

    JoAnna-we did my son's birthday party at McDonald's in Apple Valley. If I recall it was around $6 or so per kid and that included EVERYTHING – even cake, goodie bags, games, prizes!

    • JoAnna says

      Tami–thanks for the idea. We had parties there as kids but I haven't heard about them since then. I will call the McD in Eden Prairie (since they have a playplace and my local McD doesn't) to see their cost. $6 per kiddo would be great!!

      • Kierstien says

        my daughter (5yr) went to a bday party in dec at mc donalds in AV and she had a GREAT time!! didnt stop talking about it plus they usually will rent out the play place for you (so no others in there)

  13. Lisa Cunningham says

    We just celebrated my twins' first birthday. The first celebration was on their actual birthday — just my husband, the babies and me. It cost us $10 for a full day of fun at the Mall of America! The second celebration, on Saturday, was pretty reasonable price-wise, given that we had 15 guests.

    Party 1 (at the Mall of America): All children 18 and under get a free wristband to ride all day at Nickelodeon Universe. Details at http://www.nickelodeonuniverse.com/birthday-detai…. Parents can ride for free with their children on any rides that require a chaperone. We went on the merry-go-round a bunch of times and on a few other rides that were baby-friendly. We also visited Underwater World, where we have a one-year family membership that we bought at half-price a month ago. (On Tuesdays during the school year, you can get a family membership for about $48. Ask for the Toddler Tuesday discount.) We had lunch at Ruby Tuesdays using a 2-for-1 coupon that came with our Sunday paper. The babies got a free birthday dessert, and my husband and I each enjoyed a free Godiva chocolate using the deal that Carrie wrote about here.

    Party 2 (at home with family and friends): We ordered family-size pasta dishes from Buca for 50% off using coupons we received from Buca's eClub. The coupons give you $10 off a $20 order. My husband picked up one order ($11) and I picked up the other ($10). We got pizzas for 10% off at Davanni's from their Davanni's Insider club. And for dessert, two free 8-inch cakes from Byerly's. (You have to show your baby's birth certificate when you order the cake. They let you pick the flavor, and you can pick from three designs. You don't have to buy anything else — it's a great deal! I'm told that Kowalski's and Rainbow have the same cake deal.)

    • Kierstien says

      i have a friend that works in rainbows bakery i'll have to ask her if they do this as well! i could go get cakes from all of them :) and have an assortment and $0 oop! wohoo

    • Kierstien says

      also THANKS for the MOA info :) my daughter loves the rides there but its "spendy" not now! plus we live 15min away so not far at all :) YAHOOO! Telling friends about this!

  14. Karin Heil says

    A friend of mine had her son's party at the local fire station. The boys were given a tour of the station and were allowed to climb on the trucks. They then went to Davanni's for make your own pizzas in their party room. She said it was GREAT and CHEAP!

  15. Alison says

    I agree – I was nostalgic when I read about that recipe book – my mom always did that for our birthdays growing up. We were able to have a party every year growing up, but we never did anything expensive. I have many wonderful birthday party memories and now continue to do this for my kids. What perfect timing for this post as today was my son's 3rd birthday – we just had his party this weekend and I had been doing many of the things you suggested Carrie – planning ahead, have a theme, do at-home games, make my own cake, etc. It was a blast….now about 2 more weeks until my daughter's 5th birthday and one month for my son's 1st birthday….it's birthday time around our house! Great post!

  16. JoAnna says

    You can google for cut-up cake recipes/designs and get many of the old ideas. This is how I found the elephant cake to make for my daughter's 2nd bday.

  17. JoAnna says

    You can google cut-up cake recipes/designs and get many of the old ideas. This is how I found the elephant cake to make for my daughter's 2nd bday.

  18. Tonya says

    Eagle's Nest in New Brighton isn't too bad (at least it wasn't)price wise…and it is fun you can get a party room (for more money) or not. Kids play as long as you want and a 4 year old would not get bored!

  19. Kierstien says

    Wow! I am so excited that this was posted today :) My daughter will be 1 in july and i am so excited to start planning already! We are probably gonna do something big because she was born 14weeks early so we didnt have any baby showers etc and she is "stuck" in the house till summer when flu/rsv season is over so i am THRILLED to see the freebies and such, THANKS Everyone!

  20. Kelly says

    For those of you planning a 1st birthday for your child, Lunds and Byerlys offer a free cake from their bakeries for a 1st birthday. Just bring in the birth certificate. You don't get to choose the design, but it's usually something supper cute like yellow duckies.

  21. Jenn says

    Carrie, THANK YOU! I too made a butterfly cake for my second child's (a girl) 1st birthday last year!!! I used 2 boxes of cake mix – poured most of it into two round pans and just a little bit into four silicone cupcake things. The 4 cupcakes was the "body" of the butterfly (we used strings of twizzlers to be the antennas!) and the two round cakes, both cut into half, were the wings. It was super cute, and super big… Everyone loved it! Made my own frosting – I had so much fun decorating it – her bedroom setup was (and still is :)) butterflies with a pink, purple, and green color theme so that was the color theme of her cake with soft yellow writing to say HAPPY 1st BIRTHDAY JULIANNA!! :)

    My son is now 4 and we did a pirate theme for him this recent November – he went ballistic over the cake. I seriously think it was one of the best cakes, ever :) Maybe I am biased, though!!! I am more than willing to share how I did it and to share pictures if anyone wants to see how/what we did each year. When he was 1, we had a train theme. When he was 2, we had a baseball theme. When he was 3, we had an airplane theme. All of them from scratch! I hope I can keep the tradition going :)

    My daughter will be 2 at the end of March, and I am just like you, Carrie! I have three ice creams in my deep freezer and am saving one for the big day… I'm looking for boxed cake deals, though! AND party ware deals. If only I could think of a theme…

  22. Sarah says

    Affordable Favors-

    We use the Michae's 40% or 50% off coupons to get nice favors/prizes that are in the stores dollar section. They are nice toys for 50 or 60 cents.

  23. Dawn M says

    My daughter is too old for parties anymore but when she was small we did them parties on a budget.

    One year we did a lion king party and got decor from a theater when they were done with their cut outs. I made cupcakes with dirt on top and a gummy worm coming out. (oreo cookies for dirt.

    Another time we did 101 dalmations. I made puppy paws with white fabric and black spots plus made puppy ears on elastic. Then cut hearts out of the fabric that had 101 dalmations on it and made a matching game with stickers on the other sice of the hearts.

    I became the go to at church for kids parties! An easy cake is a football. Takes one square and one round to make into a football. Cut square on diag. and then add one to each end of round cake.

    I found Disney themes to be really easy. But any thing a kid loves will work. I helped a friend with a lady bug party as her daughter loved them. In one of my magazines (think all you) it showed cute grad cupcakes using peanut buttercups (mini's) and flat choc covered cookes for hat.

    I have pictures of some of them and my daughter still loves that her parties were always a hit. .Re-using the lion king decor from theater is green as they were going to throw away.

  24. Beth says

    My daughter got an easy bake oven for Christmas from her dad which inspired her 7th birthday party. We were able to round up three ovens total to use for the party. My daughter had three friends from her class and two friends from church who are older as "helpers." You actually can use boxed mixes and milk to make the cake in the little ovens. I had them use store bought frosting and large $1 sprinkles from Target. We had the party between lunch and dinner so I served fruit, veggies, cheese and crackers with juice boxes.

    In between waiting for the cakes to cook then cool they decorated pink and purple aprons from Micheal's ($1 each). They played Clue "Who Ate the Cake?" version and had a easy-bake obstacle course. We already owned clue. For the obstacle course they had to wear an apron, chef hat and oven mitt to hold the stick with the pan from the easy-bake oven set that my daughter already had. They went up, over and under things and had to get the pan into the play oven in my daughter's room. The treat bags I did had a cook book, a colorful set of measuring cups and set of spoons. All bought at the Target dollar spot for a total of $3 a treat bag.

    With the decorations I got creative and used silver tinsel garland that I picked up after Christmas for 20 cents each. I have tiny 3M hooks that I leave up and used them to hang the garland and tie pink balloons up with purple ribbon. I also bought 7 mylar balloons the day before at the dollar store and I picked her up after school with them in the back seat to surprise her on her actual birthday. I used these as decoration for the party as well. I got the invitations at the dollar store along with other paper products.

    The helpers who are 10 and 13 lead the games which allowed me to breath a little. All of the girls had a great time. When the parents dropped off/ picked up their girls they commented on how nice the decorations looked and that they loved the party theme. But most importantly, my daughter had a great birthday that she will always remember and I didn't go broke making it happen.

    I love hearing everyone's great money saving ideas. Carrie, I just found your website a few weeks ago through a friend and I've already been so blessed by it. Thank you!


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