Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Throw a great bash for little cashBy Jacqueline Tourville
April 1, 2009
It is your little one’s big day, but an elaborate birthday party seems a bit too pricey to
pull off this year? Turn your child’s special celebration into a festive, frugal good time with these wallet-friendly expert tips.
Simple, do-it-yourself birthday parties keep costs low and only require splurging on two items: time and effort.
A few weeks before your child’s birthday, pick a theme for the party. According to Kit Bennett, an experienced DIY party thrower and founder of the popular Web site, AmazingMoms.com, “Basic themes such as princess, superhero, animals, favorite colors, or sports work best because they leave a lot of wiggle room for creativity.” By keeping the theme general and staying away from parties focused on specific
cartoon characters or kids’ TV shows, you can also skip the pricey brand name character decorations.
Next, set the time and location. “Little kids’ birthday parties held from 10 a.m.-noon or 1-3 p.m. are perfect for budget-conscious families because there is a no mealtime involved. Besides a few fi nger foods, if any, all you need to provide are beverages and the birthday cake,” Bennett said. As for the party’s location,
the back yard is the perfect place, or designate one room in the house as the party area.
“Instead of holding activities in one room and then eating cake in another, try to have it all in the same place. This will save time and money because you won’t have so much cleaning up to do before and after the party,” she said.
When deciding on how many kids to invite, the editors of Kaboose.com, another helpful Web site for birthday party ideas, advise basing the guest list length on your child’s age plus one or two. At a 4-year old’s birthday, for example, inviting fi ve or six
playmates is a enough of a crowd for party games and activities, but not so many it becomes difficult for your child to interact with each guest.
What about invitations? Call or e-mail guests or send postcard invitations (postcard stamps only cost 27 cents each). Postcards are easily made by cutting a piece of plain white poster board into 3”x 5” rectangles. Have your child decorate one side and fl ip it over to add party information.
Finally, set a budget for the big day. “Decide exactly how much you want to spend on food, and how much on decorations, crafts or activities and party favors,”
advises Laura Young, crafts editor at Kaboose.com. To really stretch your budget, hit local dollar and secondhand stores, borrow from friends and family and see
what you already own that fi ts the party’s theme. On the Web, Kaboose and other sites offer free coloring printouts and birthday crafts templates.
“Most families can get by on party decorations with stuff just lying around the house and won’t need to spend very much any money at all,” Young said. Have a stack of paper plates and some basic craft supplies? Paint plates with glitter paint and string together a festive birthday banner. Have extra tinfoil and a piece of cardboard? Cut into star shapes, glue together, and use leftover holiday ribbon to hang up a twinkling constellation.
For Bennett, decorating at each of her children’s parties always begins with spreading the same plain white sheet over the table. According to the birthday
expert, “Scatter sequins, paper confetti or candy on the cloth for an instant party look. Because it’s a white sheet, it goes with pretty much any theme and if the sheet gets stained, throw it in the washing machine with a little bleach.”
When buying paper goods for serving food, another budget-friendly tip is to pick one item that goes with the theme (i.e., cups with princess designs on them) and then stick with a solid color for the rest.
Bennett notes, “Decorative paper products get can pretty pricey, but solid colored plates and napkins are usually on the inexpensive side. And, any leftover solid colors can be used on other occasions.”
Trying your hand at a homemade birthday cake? If your cake decorating skills are lacking, secure small action figures or dolls to the top of the cake with toothpicks. For an older child, adorn the cake with edible flowers, or choose frosting shades to match
favorite sports team colors and create a centerpiece by surrounding the cake stand with small pieces of sports equipment (baseballs, hockey pucks, etc.).
Pin-the-tail on the donkey, musical chairs, scavenger hunts, hot potato and three-legged races might seem a little passé to adults, but for the 6 and younger
crowd, these traditional party games are still fresh and exciting. Customize according to your theme and make it “pin the crown on the princess,” “pin the parrot
on the pirate” or “pass the robot.”
When planning a party for an elementary-school age kid (and older), consider organizing a soccer match, volleyball game or dodge ball tournament as
the focal point of the festivities. On the invitations, assign each child to wear either a red or blue shirt so teams can be instantly formed upon children’s arrival.
Craft activities are another frugal birthday favorite – especially if you pick art projects that use recycled items. Young suggests saving juice boxes from lunches and snacks and turning them into puppets. “Before the party, cut the bottom off each box, rinse, and let dry. With glue, construction paper, googly eyes and other odds and ends, kids can turn the boxes into princesses, soldiers, aliens, robots… Pretty much anything they can imagine.”
Juice box puppets and other simple crafts can also serve double duty as party favors. According to Bennett, if at least one of the craft activities is of the
“make and take” variety, parents can skip the cost of end-of-party goody bags. Some inexpensive ideas to consider include decorating a large sugar cookie or cupcakes, fi nger painting, and making homemade play dough. For older children and tweens, hold a groovy tie-dye party and send kids home in their own pieces of wearable art (supply old T-shirts or request guests bring dyeable items with them).
And when it comes to entertainment, sure you can crank a playlist of your kid’s favorite tunes, but don’t discount hiring a children’s performer. Many local
entertainers offer surprisingly reasonable rates and pack lots of value into the services they provide.
Amy Conley has been entertaining children and adults for more than 20 years. According to the longtime performer, “Professional entertainers are a great
way to provide something ‘different’ and there is often an educational quality to them, such as music, animals, drama or art. One way to save money is to host
a joint party with a friend or neighbor, or to ask the grandparents if they can fund a quality educational entertainer instead of a gift.”
For no-cost entertainment, recruit a few of the more outgoing party guests to put on a skit or lead everyone else in song. Conley also suggests tapping a talented friend or relative to lead an activity or even asking your child’s teacher if he or she would like to make some extra money organizing the party’s art, music, and games.
Is all this effort and planning worth it? Bennett regularly puts on birthday parties for well under $50 and feels good about this accomplishment. “It’s easy to save money because what you are really spending is creativity,” she refl ects. One last tip from this mom of four: don’t forget to take lots of pictures!
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer from Nashua.
Last updated by Parenting NH Administrator Apr 22, 2009.