How to Save Money on Everything with Kids Birthday Parties Including Gifts, Cakes, Decorations, Themes etc.
With budgets already tight, many families are struggling with the idea of either attending kids’ parties or hosting parties for their own kids. As a mother of four, aged 15 to 1 and growing up in a family of 9 kids, this is something I am experienced in.
I’ll share all my tips plus those of my friends and families covering everything from hosting to going, gifts to food and more.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for products and services we use.
Who doesn’t love a birthday freebie? Check out our huge list of Aussie birthday freebies, not all of them can be used by kids but if you have a student id for them or something proving age, most can be.
How Many Kids to Invite?
The first thing you usually need to establish is how many kids are you going to invite. Some parents allow only a few close friends, others do 1 child per year of age of the birthday kid (so a 5-year-old can have 5 friends) and some do whole class parties.
This is a personal choice but it does help if everyone in your social circles such as school, church, sports etc are on the same page. Given the rising cost of living now is a great time to have these conversations.
Otherwise, consider having them at the start of each year for each thing you are involved in so all parents are in agreement. It will make things much easier for everyone if rules are established early on.
Whole Class Parties or Not?
Some places establish the rule that all the kids in the class must be invited. For some families, this is simply too much.
If you do have to do it or want to do it, there are a few ways you can keep costs down such as:
– A combined party with another child who has a birthday around the same time.
– Easy themes at parks such as a bike party where all the kids bring their bikes.
– Hire a local hall and do a bunch of games.
We’ve lived in a few cities around Australia and the expected value of a gift has ranged from $5 through to $100 depending on the city and incomes of the area. A few of the things we do to reduce the cost of giving gifts are below.
Each guest either brings $5 so the birthday kid has the cash to buy something they want or someone collects $5 from each guest before the party to buy one larger gift.
With younger kids, having a stack of notes or gold coins is exciting. Think back to when you were a kid and how good it felt to have lots of coins or notes.
A Gift Box
Get a box or bag to store items you can use for gifts. Check clearance sections of stores, items on sale and pay attention to what is popular or commonly used.
As an example, when my older kids were younger we often looked for Barbies, LEGO sets, cute staionery and similar when they were on sale or in the clearance section. Later, it was beauty items, boardgames, sports gear and things along those lines.
Often, we have put together a gift worth $50 to $100 but it cost less than $10. The key to this is ensuring the items are immaculate and storing them well. Know what kids want, or at least what the kids your kids are friends with want.
Look for multipurpose items and gifts that will last a long time. For example, the stationery, toys and sports gear all worked well. Food items you need to check the use by date, the same with some beauty items.
How to Maximise Getting Things on Sale
Kmart, Big W, Priceline and similar stores have regular clearances. There are also ways you can get discounted gift cards for these stores and cash back so you spend even less.
- Sign up to their loyalty programs.
- Sign up for cash back programs e.g. Cash Rewards and Shopback, both free to join.
- Add the clearance items to your cart
- Use your discount for the store
- Use discounted gift cards to make the purchase.
I go into this in more detail outlining exactly where to get discount gift cards, how to get the coupons and more to truly maximise your savings in this post: How to Combine Discounts to Save Even More.
Gift Cards on Sale
Throughout the year gift cards go on sale for 10 to 15% usually. They are typically valid for 2 to 3 years as well.
Choose the ones that don’t have a fee to purchase and you can have a stack of gift cards for any party that are worth more than the cash you paid. Plus if you are purchasing them from somewhere with a loyalty program, you can earn points.
Also look at these 5 ways to get free gift cards. One of the great things about the gift cards is being able to use them for your own kids for Christmas if you don’t end up using them throughout the year.
The Ultimate Gift Cards e.g. for teens, for men, for women, active, baby etc have a selection of stores they can be used at and are popular. As are the Visa or Mastercard ones.
Give your favourite book or have your child select their favourite book. Write a message inside about why it’s your favourite and how you hope they enjoy it too.
This is a thoughtful and useful gift. So many toys end up in landfill but books can be read over and over. Another bonus is then you don’t need a card as you can sign and date it for whatever birthday it is.
Make a Gift
What can you make or your kids make that would be of interest? Scrunchies, friendship bracelets, note cushions, jewellery, puzzles, keyrings etc. All those things can be done thoughtfully and personalised for the recipient.
Do Kids Really Want These Gifts?
My older two kids are 14 and 15 so I asked them and the ideas above were from them. Also, both clearly expressed that the most important aspect to them was that their friends be there.
If it was a choice between their friend not coming because they couldn’t afford a gift or their friend coming without giving a gift, they would ALWAYS want their friend to come!
They were also the ones who said their friends could always make a gift, do a drawing, or anything that was meaningful between them. So yes, kids do want those sorts of gifts.
As for the cheap gifts, who knows if the item is from the clearance section unless you tell them? If it is in immaculate condition and is brand new, then there’s no difference other than you saved money.
Hosting a Party
Attending is one thing, but hosting is often where the huge expenses come in. Below are some ideas for cheap parties that either I or my siblings have done for our kids with extremely positive feedback.
Most of these ideas were requested to be done more than once and after some, we had kids begging to come to their future parties. None of them cost much either.
Things to Remember
We don’t need to go all out with a Pinterest Perfect Party. Kids want to spend time together, to play and do things they don’t normally get to do in large groups.
Many of the parties we have done such as a bike party at the park where all the kids bring their bikes might sound too simple. But how often do they get to go do things like that in a big group?
It’s about memories and experiences. You do not need a $500 professionally done cake. Get a basic mud cake or use a cheap packet mix, cover it in icing and lollies and they will be excited.
If you do want a more elaborate cake, there are heaps of tutorials for basic ones. But kids don’t like the taste of buttercream or fondant icing usually, so why bother? Get the chocolate-based icing or whatever their preference is and do things simply.
Old school games are still fun! You don’t need to hire a jumping castle or entertainment. Kids just want to have fun!
We found it easiest if we had a theme for the party and based things around that. Some themes can be extremely simple, others took a little more planning.
Have every kid meet at a park at a specific time. Bring some drinks, some bags of chips, a fruit platter and the cake then let them do whatever. You can organise races and bike games if you want but if you go to a bike park or somewhere with a track, the kids are likely to be happy doing their own thing instead of you taking over.
Do the cake at the end or somewhere in the middle so they can burn off a bit of the sugar. Keep drinks easy to access and this will possibly be one of your easiest parties ever. Yet, it is one that is often requested by the kids.
During primary school we did a spy party for my second child at the local park. I looked up spy games on Pinterest and found some easy ones to set up.
The invitations were printed with Secret Agent on them and told to come to spy training. All kids were asked to dress in black.
When they arrived we did ‘training’ which included a scavenger hunt, a laser course (using red string tied around things as if they were lasers or do it on the ground and they have to hope through it. If they touch any string, they got lasered. Kids watch this like hawks!)
After a few games, they had a mission which was a series of clues to figure out. Each clue took them to a different section of the park with the next clue. The final clue took them to the box they had to recover as part of their mission and in it were their party bags.
We had some snacks but for the most part, the kids just wanted the cake and games. They loved it and it was talked about at school for ages.
Monster High/Barbie/Any of Those Types
For this style party, my sisters and I dressed up as the dolls for the kids, much to their delight and the parent’s surprise when they dropped them off.
We had a dress-up station where all the kids got to play dress-ups, we did fashion shows where they walked down the hallway to music into the lounge where the parents or my siblings and I were. Mini makeovers such as nail polish, hairstyles, and face painting (all with parents’ approval beforehand).
The kids decorated cupcakes to take home and to my surprise, at the party the favourite was the fruit platter with loads of fruits the kids didn’t normally get.
Day Spa Party
Let everyone get their pamper on with a little spa party. This has been a popular one with teens who are starting to work out makeup, skincare etc.
Some salons will offer samples, as do some bigger brands so you can get a selection of items together and go over it with the kids. Or you can make some items such as bath bombs, bath salts, body oils etc.
We are doing it this week and the gift bags they’ll take home include some of the products my teen uses since all her friends ask about her skincare regime all the time because she has the best skin.
Another option is to host a party e.g. The Body Shop style party where they can learn about skincare from someone else. We all know teens are more likely to listen to other adults a lot of the time.
This can also make gifts a little easier in the sense that the kids can buy from the party and the host gets a gift. Instead of organising party bags or anything along those lines, it’s all done for you.
*Note: I know these are classes as MLM or party plan and are considered predatory. I am not advocating for them or suggesting you have to join or get your kids involved in all hosting parties etc like it used to be done years ago.
Outdoor Sports Party
Head to your local basketball court or football field with a bunch of sports gear and have a few hours playing different sports. If you don’t already have any gear, you can usually get some fairly cheap at second-hand stores or stores such as Kmart and Big W, etc.
Drive-Ins or Movie Night
If you have young kids you can create some cars out of cardboard boxes and paperplates to then line them up in front of the TV to make the ‘drive-ins’. Pop some popcorn, give them a juice box each and it’s a fun little time.
Alternatively, create a bug cubby house or fort somewhere near the TV and let them watch a movie or play there.
For older kids, a sleepover or even a late night with movies, pizza and popcorn is an easy option.
Get a bunch of cheap art supplies and let the kids create their own masterpieces. If you want to be a bit fancier, use a specific YouTube tutorial and tools. Alternatively, gather loads of recycling supplies, glue, paint and so on and let their imaginations run wild.
Bake and decorate cupcakes or cookies, learn a new dish (easier with older kids) or do an international cooking day where you make a few easy recipes from different cultures.
As an example, my kids are part Tongan and love ‘otai which is an easy watermelon drink. That combined with making rice paper rolls for Vietnam, crepes for France or similar would cover 3 nations and the kids love it.
Relax on the decorations a little or look at ways to make the party games part of the decor. For example, with the Monster High party we did, we had a big poster of the Monster High skull with bows for the kids to do ‘pin the bow on the skull’ as a game. It doubled as a decoration.
In one corner was the dress up rack, another had a beauty station and another area pass the parcel and a few pieces. The table was covered in food and I didn’t feel the need to go over the top with anything else other than a happy birthday sign and some streamers.
You do not need to go over the top and have every little thing about the party connected to the theme. Plain napkins, plates and cups work exactly the same as decorated ones and kids don’t remember anyway.
You can make the food match the theme if you want or go simple with some platters, chips, dip and the cake. Often, kids don’t care much about the food, it’s the adults who notice or comment.
Party pies, sausage rolls, snack foods are usually easy to prepare, can be cheap and can be eaten by the family if the kids don’t eat it all.
If you host the party mid morning or mid afternoon instead of over lunchtime or dinner time, you don’t need to serve as much food either.
A few food themes we’ve done:
– Build your own burger bar: These had buns, burgers I made, salad options and we did chips made from sliced potato which we called Cowboy Chips. The kids loved them.
– Scary foods: An orange made to look like a Jack’o’latern spewing chunky dip, with veggie sticks next to it. Ghost cupcakes, pretzel broomsticks etc.
– Fruit platter with in-season fruits and fruits most of the kids wouldn’t get normally such as berries.
– Make your own pizza bar: A pizza base each and a selection of toppings so they could make their own. Pizza dough can be made ahead of time for less than buying it as well.
Invites and Party Bags
We always made our invites with Canva or my kids drew something and the invite was done on that. As for party bags, it depended on the party.
One popular one I got a pack of reusable plastic cups, added a few lollies to the bottom then a cupcake on top since we couldn’t have cake at the venue we were at.
Another one, kids decorated their own mug to take home. White mugs with permanent markers then bake the mug (or plate or whatever you choose) to seal it.
Party bags don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Check out Amazon and eBay for packs of things and try to think about reusable items or items that will actually be used instead of cheap plastic junk they will throw away.
Seedlings so all the kids get their own plant. A recipe in a jar so the kid can bake some cookies or similar at home with their parents. Giant cookies wrapped in cellophane. Art kits with some stationery and supplies you got on clearance or in bulk.
Lollies or cheap toys aren’t the only options for party bags.
Remember, if you plan on partying at home, or anywhere really, it is important you do so safely. Simple things such as checking your smoke alarms, which you should do regularly anyway, can make a real difference.
Be sure to implement the party safety tips shared on Porch to ensure everyone has a great time, safely.