We recently celebrated my older daughter’s third birthday. Aside from being traumatized by the realization that my baby girl is now a pre-schooler (How did that happen? When did that happen?), I was worried about how to make her birthday both affordable and fun. It turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. Kids’ birthday parties have become big business, but it is possible to have a fun party without clowns, ponies, bounce houses, or frustrated actors in giant plush costumes.
Let your child lead. I asked Scooter what she had the most fun doing with her friends. She told me “playing in the water and drawing pictures”. So we had her party in the backyard. We turned on the sprinkler, filled the kiddie pool, and bought the family-sized pack of sidewalk chalk at the Dollar Store. We also made our own bubble goo and had a bubble-blowing station.
Keep it manageable. Four or five kids and two hours of activity is more than enough stimulation for one three-year-old birthday girl.
Sometimes simpler is better. We used a good coupon from the local pizza joint and ordered several cheese pizzas, and set out a platter of fresh fruit and vegetables. My rule for party food – don’t serve it unless you’re willing to eat the leftovers.
Let ‘em eat cake! I bought cake mix because it was on sale for cheaper than I could make it (under a dollar). I baked one layer and made the rest of the batter into cupcakes, so each child could have their own, then decorated them with sprinkles and gummibears. Cakes don’t have to be airbrushed with cartoon characters on them – remember when we were kids and our moms made our birthday cakes? Decorating with candy is a cheat that I’m especially fond of – it distracts from my complete lack of cake decorating artistry. And it’s yummy.
Gift bags… from a budgetary standpoint, I hate them, but I also think they are a great way to keep young partygoers from thinking about all those cool wrapped presents that aren’t theirs. This is a great time to visit your local dollar store – hot wheels, individual bottles of bubbles, cool looking pencils/pens/erasers and notepads, and stickers are all great gift bag stuffers that won’t break your bank. I also like to wander through the party favors section of Target for little toys to add, because they come in sets of four or six. The big hit from Scooter’s gift bags? Glow-in-the-dark bracelets, available in packs of 12 for about $1.50.
Another bonus to having the party outside was that we could keep decorations to a minimum. We got a Happy Birthday banner from the Dollar Store, along with some colorful paper plates and napkins.
If your backyard isn’t party-friendly, look into having the party at a local park, zoo, or botanical garden. They’re free, pretty to look at, and they have lots of space for kids to get their wiggles out.