Holidays, Money Wise (aka Budgeting), Parties

No Budget Birthday Bash

My daughter’s 5th birthday loomed, and try as I might, I had absolutely no money.  Please don’t think that I’m being modest, I literally had nothing after our check went to bills and necessities.

I thought to myself – “Ok, I’m a creative woman, I can do this!”  So I went around the night before and put together a party.  I needed decorations, cake, party food, activities for the kids, and some sort of gift bag for the guests.  (I figured that was bare minimum for a party.)

I figured out what resources I had.  Do you remember the movie “Princess Bride”  when they are getting ready to storm the castle and Westly says, “why didn’t you list that among our assets?”

First, think about what you have.  Old Christmas wrapping/ribbon?  Kid’s art supplies? Paper and pencils? Use what you have, the stuff you were saving for a special project.  It’s special project day!


I told you in an earlier post that I have LOTS of beautiful scrap booking paper on the shelf, that I am no longer using.  So I cut out the words -HAPPY BIRTHDAY and my daughter’s name.  I liked some of the patterns on the papers and so I cut them into squares and other shapes and hung them with tape on the walls (just random patterns and orders).

Birthday decorations

My daughter was at a sleep over at her cousin’s house, and so I worked on the party that night when everyone was asleep.  When she came in for her party – she was amazed!!!  So much so that after the party, she hung the decorations up in her room.

Other ideas for decorations –

  • Have your guests make artwork when they come and hang it up, say you’re having an “art show.”  Then they could take their masterpieces home, or you could “auction” their pieces.
  • Have the guests make the decorations from construction paper (or any other paper you may have.)
  • Go outside – what do you have?  Flowers? Pretty leaves? Rocks? (your guests could paint rocks – they’d love it!)  Dandelions?  Even those dandelions would look nice, tied up in some ribbon or in some small vases.
  • Toys – they can be great decorations.  You could have a “toy store” and have the guests take turns buying and selling the toys.


My mom always made the most amazing cakes for our birthdays.  One year she made a cake based on Eugene Field’s poem The Sugar Plum Tree, there was a giant tree branch on the cake and candies were tied to it everywhere.

But I didn’t have that.  I had a cake mix and some candy.  I decided to make a castle cake, and again didn’t have all of the ingredients for a typical cake (you know, ice cream cones for the towers, etc.)  So again, scrap book paper to the rescue!

My attempt at a Castle Cake

I just split a regular (9″x13″) chocolate cake in half.  Then I slathered (don’t you love that word)  basic butter cream frosting Frosting Recipes in-between the layers and frosted the outside.

For the turrets, I rolled up the card stock and glued it together.  Then cut up circles out of paper.

My niece loved it so much, she made paper princesses for the cake.

A few weeks later my two year old had her birthday.  I RUINED the train cake that I was making for her and so I made a regular (9″x13″) cake and we decorated it with polly pockets, different frosting colors and (wouldn’t you know it) leftover easter candy.  She loved it.  Mostly because I let the girls help me decorate.

An easy, inexpensive, tasty, and much-beloved cake.

You could do it with action figures or toy cars as well.  Homemade cakes and frosting almost always taste better anyway.

Party Food

What do you have?  Remember Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special?  Peppermint Patty wanted a thanksgiving dinner and Charlie and Snoopy came up with – buttered toast, pretzels, ice cream sundaes, popcorn and jelly beans.

In my case,  I did a veggie tray and some fruit (to counteract the sweets).  Kids don’t typically care.  We did cheese sandwiches and apple juice one year at a “tea party.”  Any fruit and veggies look beautiful when freshly cut and arranged on a plate.  My favorite dip is Ranch dressing.

recipe image


I made a list of things that we could do.

Butcher paper on the tables and brown paper bags were set up for art fun when they arrived.  I had them decorate the table and the brown sack became their goody bag.

Art time!

It was Easter time and so we had left over candy and eggs – yay!  Easter egg hunt!

I had several other games –

  • Duck, duck goose
  • Hide and seek
  • Pass the present (wrap a present in lots of layers.  Each time the music stops, the child holding it will open a layer.  the winner is the one who opens the final layer).
  • Dance and freeze game (dance until the music stops, if you don’t freeze, you’re out).
  • Question game (I put the kids on teams and they answered questions for points.  I had differing ages so I had easy –what color is a firetruck?, and hard  – Who is the president of the US? questions.)

Use library books to find games that will fit your ages, needs and budget. With a little planning you can find a lot of entertaining games that will keep everyone laughing.

Gift Bag

I’m no “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” able to give away swag bags.  Did I mention that I had NO budget ;)?  I looked through my closets and cupboards and decided that as well as the candy easter eggs, I could make chocolate chip cookies for their take home bags.

I made little packages by wrapping  three cookies in saran wrap and tying it with ribbon. Then I took my handy scrap booking paper and made home made “thank you” cards.

Again, look round.  What do you have?  Can the kids make a take home item?  Maybe they could make cookies.  We love to make snickerdoodles because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand and the kids can help me roll the dough in sugar.

Speaking of having things on hand, I have two “standby” Emergency Party Recipes that I make whenever we have a function to go to and I need to bring something but have no money to get anything special.  (Are you sensing that this is a theme with me?)

Now, it’s not going to win a Martha Stewart award or anything, but my daughter was SO happy because I had taken time and put effort into her day.  I also made a silly crown and my sister had curled her hair and pampered her at the sleep over.

Another thing that I did was made a card and wrote about all the special things that I loved about her.  She had me read it to her 10 times that day.

If I didn’t have a modest present, I would have made a coupon book for her.  You know, good for:

  • In home movie night
  • Home mannys and peddys (or mani/pedi)
  • Trip to the Library
  • 1/2 hour -your choice – fun time

It just needs to be full of activities that are HEAVY on your time.

It’s not a theme or expensive birthday, but it’s what we had.

So, please share some ideas of yours.  What party time ideas have you done “in a pinch” and “on the dime”?


12 thoughts on “No Budget Birthday Bash”

  1. Ok…I’m a bit freaking out about kids bday parties. We never had parties growing up, and I was acutally fine with that, so I don’t really get the whole birthday party racket honestly. My sister does friend parties every other year, and my friend Char does friend parties every 4 years. I think I want to go with Char’s idea! But I tell you what just made me roll my eyes, was right before James turned 1, I got this OB-SNOB-XOUS cataloug in the mail for bday party crap. I could have blown thousands of dollars on party decos, swag bags (and there is my other peeve, why am I expected to give away junk??) funiture, pinatas etc etc. In the end we just had cousins at the park, decoed cupcakes, no gifts please and it was a huge smash. In fact, many of my cousins (who are moms now) commented that they liked this no frills approach. However, I want to commend you on your amazing party on a zero-budget. I could not have done it, honestly.

  2. Ok, I did have a 16th bday party — it took me a mo’ to remember it. My mom hid presents at all my friends houses and we had to go on a scavenger hunt to all their houses to get them and the presents — in the station wagon no less!! We all ended up back at the house for a big pancake breakfast and teenaged giggling.

  3. Here’s an idea for you:
    At my kids’ last birthday party, I combined the treat and activity. Each guest got to decorate his or her own cupcake and then eat it. It was a huge hit!
    (and SOOOO easy for me.)
    Then we stuck a candle in the birthday kids’ cupcakes and sang to them.
    Cake, treat, and activity– three birds with one stone!

  4. Here are some super cheap ideas –

    *Kids love backyard water parties – even if you hand out cups and have a barrel of water in the middle of the yard, they will have fun. (We do cupcakes with Swedish fish so that you won’t have the expense of plates and forks.)

    *Play in the park parties are free and fun (cupcakes/balloons)

    Some more expensive/ time consuming ideas –

    *Mad Hatter Tea Party (everyone wears a hat – giant tea party table)
    *Teddy Bear’s Picnic (everyone brings a bear – eats on picnic blankets)
    *Princess Party (Girls come dressed as favorite princess – then you can paint their nails – do their hair and make-up, etc.)
    *Book Party (everyone bring their favorite book and have Nana read them to the kids)
    *Construction Party (collect several boxes and have the kids build something)

    General ideas:

    *Time it so that it isn’t near lunch or dinner so you will only have to provide cake, maybe ice cream.
    *Break out the old fashioned games (red rover, hide and seek, duck duck goose, sardines – kids love it).
    *Have party music in the background.
    *Ask relatives who ask if they can help to bring snacks.
    *As long as there is yummy cake the guests will be happy.
    * Only go one hour for kids four and under.
    *Maybe two hours for kids five plus, but much more after that begins to drag.

  5. I don’t really have any ideas myself, but I will second the idea about having the kids decorate and eat cake/cupcakes, the manicure/pedicure party, and Fiona’s water theme idea! (The other ideas are fun too, but those are my favorites.)

  6. *I went to a birthday party where we played “penny, penny, who’s got the penny” and watched “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and played “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. I was pretty young, but I still remember having fun.

    *When my niece turned 1, my sister printed off pictures of my niece with different family members (you could do friend pictures) and taped them inside a piece of pink construction paper that was folded in half. She numbered the outside, and the little kids got to play “Memory” with pics of the birthday girl.

    *I loved making hand puppets out of brown paper lunch bags. I would use construction paper and pipe cleaners to decorate.

    *Homemade Playdough. You can color it with Kool-Aid or Jell-O mixes to add a scent to it.

    *Something else I’ve always wanted to do was have a party where people put a wish for the birthday girl/boy on a slip of paper, and then you put it inside a balloon, fill it up, and let it go. You can get a bag of balloons at dollar stores. It takes a little bit of money, but not more than a dollar.

    *I have a friend that purchases character/shaped cake pans at Deseret Industries (like Salvation Army or Goodwill). I bought a star-shaped pan for $4 and it has saved me in a pinch! Now I always keep my eyes open for

    This isn’t birthday specific – but when I was in 3rd grade, Ballet West had a performance with programs that had the Mona Lisa on the cover. My 3rd grade teacher wanted us to do something with the Mona Lisa, so she talked to Ballet West and asked for all of the extra programs after the show finished the run. That’s another resource for gathering art for masterpieces.

  7. Jamie writes:

    “Instead of using helium my sister ties ribbons to balloons and tapes them to the ceiling, it’s simple and makes the room look great. I also have a good friend that hangs fabric on his walls to decorate for parties. I don’t know how expensive fabric is, but it can have an awesome affect.”

    I think that the fabric is a FANTASTIC idea!

  8. Hi Laryssa! I love your blog!

    For the boy birthday parties at our house it is all about sports and dinosaurs! Dave mowed a baseball/kickball field into our yard complete with spray painted bases. We played kickball for Stratford’s birthday (7) with all of his cousins/aunts/uncles/grandmas/grandpas etc…
    My boys also love to dig! You could hide “fossils” in the dirt or sand and then have them go digging. Use old toothbrushes, paintbrushes, shovels and they are set. Then whatever they find is what they get to take home in their party bag.

  9. Suzie, thank you!!! Some really great ideas. I only have two girls so your perspective is SOOOO helpful. But I guess they’d be great parties for girls too. We’re just stuck in the land of “princesses and unicorns” and my husband Bryan is going a little nuts! 🙂

  10. I think all these birthday ideas are great. I thought I might add a few we did when my children were small. We tried to do something different for each of our seven children. One’s birthday was in December so we helped the children make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and then they decorated them with all sorts of candy. Another year for the same child we made sugar cookies and the children decorated them. For our October birthday we had the children paint on small pumpkins. Carving would have been fun but they were too young. A couple of games come to mind. I remember my sister playing “musical washcloths” with her children so I stole the idea. The kids really enjoy it. It’s like musical chairs but so much easier because they sit on washcloths instead of chairs. Freeze dance is an all- time favorite; young or old.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s