It’s a new year, which can mean only one thing—at some point, you will have a birthday party to plan for your child.
If you’re anything like us, you probably have fond memories of your own birthday parties as a kid. Pin the tail on the donkey. Ice cream cakes. Piñatas. It didn’t take much to make us happy.
These days, however, it seems a bit harder. “Party creep,” or elaborate, over-the-top birthday parties for kids, are rampant, and can make even the most secure mom feel like simple balloons and cake won’t cut it. (For more on competitive parenting, read this.)
This year, add a new resolution to your list: Resolve to end party creep while still hosting a fabulous party … or two.
You can do it, we promise. Choose from any of our seven simple, fun party ideas (all planned to include 12 guests, but you can customize) and you’ll spend $7 or less per kid on the best birthday for your child and your budget.
Red Carpet Glam Party for $6 per Kid
Any birthday girl or boy would love being pampered and in the limelight, and a red carpet glam party is just the way to do that.
Invitation: Write party details on a piece of paper and glue it to a piece of red velvet; $6 for 12 guests.
Décor: Welcome guests with a red carpet runner and add sparkle to the table with a gold starburst centerpiece. Hang movie posters or celeb photos from magazines, and make your own Hollywood sign; $10 for 12 guests.
Activities: For older kids, have guests dress up as their favorite celebrity and play “guess that star.” Play movie charades, or have the kids plan and act out their own skits; $0 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Popcorn, soda and a red velvet cake, of course! Also fill little tummies with kid-friendly canapes (A.K.A. grilled cheese and tomato), or roll up slices of cheese in ham or bologna; $30 for 12 guests.
Favor: Reward kids with VIP necklaces for their stellar performances; $24 for 12 guests.
Little Chefs Party for $5 per Kid
Kids love cooking, so they’ll really enjoy a “little chefs party” where they can get creative in the kitchen. Just be sure they’re old enough to stand near an oven or use cooking utensils without breaking them—this party is best for kids in kindergarten and older.
Invitation: Use an index card to describe the party’s ingredients (fun, food, music, friends) and instructions (mix ingredients together for a terrific birthday party!); $2 for 12 guests.
Décor: Decorate the party table with cans full of kitchen utensils and get a chef hat for each child; $6 for 12 guests.
Activities: Let kids decorate sugar cookies with frosting, sprinkles, colored sugar and candy. Older kids (10 and up) can play a more active role, like taking things in and out of the oven and measuring out the cookie recipe without your telling them what to do; $20 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Set out bowls of cheese, sauce and different veggies, and let kids assemble their own mini pizzas. Supply fresh lemonade and, once the cookies have baked, serve them up for dessert; $30 for 12 guests.
Favor: Buy small birthday treat bags for the kids to take home the extra cookies they made; $4 for 12 guests.
Animal Lover Party for $5 per Kid
A real crowd-pleaser, this party theme works well for young kids, as well as the older set. It’s super easy and inexpensive to pull together—a time-starved and budget-conscious mom’s dream.
Invitation: Make colored copies of an original photo of a pet or animal and write party details on the back. Don’t forget to alert parents that the party will include painting, so they should feel free to send kids with smocks or clothes they don’t mind getting messed up; $5-$10 for 12 guests.
Décor: Stuffed animals, animal books, animal toys and anything with an animal theme works well; $0 for 12 guests.
Activities: Purchase face paint and animal tattoos and have an adult decorate each child’s face. You could also let the kids paint Wiggle Eye Animal Sun Catchers to take home after the party; $19 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Stock the table with hot dogs, animal crackers and cans of gummy bears; $30 for 12 guests.
Favor: In addition to their sun catchers, send little guests home with a safari pen on a rope; $5 for 12 guests.
Jet-Setter Party for $6 per Kid
Grade schoolers are fascinated with travel and transportation. Send kids on an imaginary adventure and engage their minds and creativity with a jet-setter party.
Invitation: Invite guests by writing party details on a white paper airplane; $0 for 12 guests (if you have white printer paper at home).
Décor: Hang signs (made with printer paper) that read: Gates 1-14, Departures and Arrivals. Decorate the party table with maps and old vacation photos; $0 for 12 guests.
Activities: Play bus, bus, plane (in lieu of duck, duck, goose), and have the kids design their own postcards. Play pin the tail on the airplane (check out how to DIY this game here); $7 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Buy individual packs of pretzels and chips and set up a small table that looks like a beverage cart. Or, go the “international” route, and serve quesadillas, pasta, fortune cookies and veggie sushi. Use an airplane cake mold on top of a sheet cake frosted sky blue; $35 for 12 guests.
Favor: Send the kids off with their very own disposable cameras; $24 for 12 guests.
Who’s the Fairest? Party for $6 per Kid
Most little girls love princesses. This party lets them actually be one.
Invitation: Invite guests by sending party details on mirror board card stock; $10 for 12 guests.
Décor: Make the room magical with white Christmas lights and scatter fake rose petals on the table. Set up a throne for the birthday girl with a fancy pillow on a pink ribbon-decorated chair; $3.
Activities: Ask guests to wear princess attire, if possible. Borrow as many princess dresses as you can from friends and have the girls take turns trying on different ball gowns. Have each girl decorate a foam tiara and read the birthday girl’s favorite princess story to the crowd; $12 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Tea party fare works perfectly, meaning finger sandwiches, cookies and apple juice. Don’t forget the heart-shaped cake with pink frosting; $41 for 12 guests.
Bubble Fun Party for $7 per Kid
Broaden the definition of ‘bubbles’ by having a party that celebrates all things bubbly, fizzy and fun.
Invitations: Cut out circles of construction paper and invite friends for “a bubbly fun time.” Let parents know water play is involved, so it’s best to bring a bathing suit; $0 for 12 guests (if you use paper from home).
Décor: Decorate by tying colorful latex balloons (which you’ll find at any dollar or drug store) to each guests’ chair. Buy (or borrow) a bubble machine to really impress the little guests; $38 for 12 guests.
Activities: Make your own bubble solution by mixing together one cup of water, two tablespoons of light Karo syrup or two tablespoons of glycerine, and four tablespoons of dishwashing liquid. Fill a kiddie pool with it. Let the kids stand in the pool and use a hula hoop to create a giant bubble around each child by having the child stand in the middle of the hoop in the pool and then lift it. Have the kids make their own bubble wands with pipe cleaners by moving the stems into shapes, like hearts or circles; $16 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: For food, think “round,” like melon balls, grapes, bagels, donut holes and popcorn chicken. For drinks, think “fizzy,” like seltzer water and carbonated punch. You could also provide chocolate milk, with plenty of straws to blow bubbles. For dessert, bake your own polka dot cake by frosting a round cake with brightly colored smiley face dots; $25 for 12 guests.
Favors: Send kids home with Birthday Bubbles; $6 for 12 guests
Out of This World Party for $7 per Kid
Grade schoolers will best understand and appreciate the “cool” factor of a space-themed party where Gatorade passes as alien juice and the Ice Cream of the Future is served for dessert.
Invitation: Provide party details on an astronaut printout; $0 for 12 guests.
Décor: Hang a solar system ceiling decoration over the party table. Decorate the table with foam space shapes; $12 for 12 guests.
Food/Drink: Serve individual flying saucer pizzas, cosmic fruit salad (pineapples cut into star and moon shapes) and alien juice (Gatorade or some green-colored juice). For dessert, kids love the futuristic Dipplin’ Dots ice cream; $40 for 12 guests.
Favor: Kids will love these cut and fold paper spaceships and crystal rock candy pops; $17 for 12 guests.
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