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Kids' Birthday Parties Don't Have to Break the Piggy Bank

A limited budget shouldn't stop you from planning your next big event.

With two birthdays within two weeks of each other, it’s officially "birthday season" in the Holtzhafer household. That means getting creative to save money!

This year’s theme for our 4-year-old son was “Dr. Seuss."

Naturally, I could hop online and Google “Seuss birthday party” to generate a list of resources offering everything from customized Dr. Seuss paper plates with my child’s face printed on them to adult-sized “Cat in the Hat” costumes.

But that’s just not the frugal way to do things. I don’t want to spend that kind of money, nor do I want to pay shipping fees.

Instead, I planned this party using some of the resources already mentioned in our previous Patch Frugal Family columns. Put them all together and save some big bucks.

1. Yard Sales: The theme was Dr. Seuss, so we wanted to find as many Dr. Seuss items as possible to set the scene.

The first thought was to scope out some gently used Dr. Seuss hardcover books. These can be used as decoration as well as take-home favors. Who doesn’t love a ‘new’ book to add to their home library?

After searching yard sales for a couple of weekends, I was able to obtain a small collection of hard cover books such as “Green Eggs and Ham,” “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and “ Dr. Seuss’s ABC” book. Most were purchased for 25 cents or less. Some were as little as dime. A couple were even donated for the good cause.

Not only did these add color and dimension to the party, they also generated unique ideas for food (“green” hard-boiled eggs, ham for the entrée, red and blue Swedish fish as cupcake toppers, and “Hop on Pop-corn.”)

We lucked out by finding a couple of stuffed Dr. Seuss characters to set around the house. Simple, but cute!

I also stumbled upon a colorful striped tablecloth that was a perfect fit for our theme. It was $2 and added just the right burst of Seuss-color to our kitchen.

2. Dollar Stores: Naturally, paper goods are essential to any party. “Dollar stores” are a great resource for inexpensive supplies. I stocked up on paper plates and napkins in a variety of red, blue and yellow colors.

The great thing about dollar stores is that you never know what you might find to add that little “extra something” to your party. They’re constantly rotating their stock.

This year, the “Dollar Tree” (my dollar store of choice) had a full supply of long, Seuss-like plastic horns. They matched the primary color-scheme of the party and were the perfect favor.

I even found a perfect “Cat in the Hat” hat for the birthday boy to wear! It was a little damaged, so they gave it to me for fifty cents. What a deal!

As an added bonus, colorful pinwheels and free toothbrushes accompanied the horns for each child. The pinwheels and toothbrushes came in packs of three, so the cost was even more affordable. For less than $10, the kids had a fun treat to take home … much to the parents’ chagrin.

The average “set” of favors (horn, toothbrush, pinwheel) per child was approximately $1.75 including tax. Not bad.

3. Facebook: Facebook can be a great resource for frugal networking. In this case, I asked friends and family for items or suggestions as to where we could find these Dr. Seuss-themed items.

Several friends quickly offered additional Seuss books from their own collections, while others offered to keep an eye out at yard sales.

Not everyone has a Facebook account, but if you do, use it to your full advantage in order to save some money. 

4. Freecycle: Freecycle.org is a fantastic way to eliminate unused items in your home. It’s also a great resource for finding needed items. It runs through Yahoo.com and is nationwide.

When looking for something specific, you simply join the Freecycle groups in your area and post an request to each group.

I didn’t have to use this resource for the party, but if I had, my post would have said something to the effect of “In search of Dr. Seuss books, games, or other related items for birthday party décor.”

If anyone on Freecycle was looking to rid their home of Seuss-related items, they could contact me directly to make an arrangement to meet. You can’t beat free!

5. Don’t get cake crazy. Even if you want something fancy to set the candles on, you don’t have to sell your second car to afford it.

Get a small “personalized” cake rather than a large cake to feed everyone. By ordering a smaller cake – just for the person of the day – and making your own cupcakes, you can save a bundle.

A typical cake from a local grocery store costs between $20-40 depending on the number of guests you plan to feed. A box or two of cupcake mix costs as little as $1. Throw in some icing and a few sprinkles and you might be up to $4, but you’ll have 24 cupcakes. That’s a lot cheaper than a $40 cake that feeds 24 people.

Plus, cupcakes are the trendy thing these days.

So, next time you start planning your party, keep these frugal tips in mind. You’ll save money and still have a perfect party!

Tweed June 14, 2011 at 05:11 PM
These were terrific b-day party ideas for a 4 year old. However, how about a nine year old girl?
Jenae Holtzhafer June 14, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Not having girls, I'm not sure what a 9-year-old girl might be interested in doing as a 'theme' for her birthday, but the great thing about the dollar stores is that you can go in and build ideas based on what they're selling in that particular season. I've seen some fantastic 'tiki' themed items which are fun for any age. They have lots of neat hair and beauty accessories if you'd go with a 'spa' theme. A 'candy shop' theme could be used by stocking up on unique glass jars and filling them with different dollar store candies. Or on that note, an ice cream sundae theme. I guess it's just up to the individual as to how you'd want to decorate, but the ideas I discussed were just examples. You can use these resources for any kind of theme or party. Let your imagination go wild! :)
mimi June 14, 2011 at 09:00 PM
I have a nine year old, and she had a mini makeover bday party from dollar tree items as well, colorful hair extensions, nail polish and eye shadow from dollar tree. My friends daughter also nine had a luau bday also from dollar tree.
Steve Zany June 17, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Really good ideas, especially in these tough economic times. I passed along a lot of your advice on my blog to other parents. http://www.zanymagic.com/news/2011/06/cheap-kids-party-ideas-worth-trying-to-stretch-your-budget/ I hope they can benefit from your wisdom!
Jenae Holtzhafer June 17, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Hi Steve! Thanks so much for sharing this with your network. It's always nice to help others save where they can. For some it might be common sense, but if it helps just a few to learn a few tricks, we're always happy to help. If anyone has any other "frugal" ideas, please send them our way!

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