My Story: The $22 Birthday Party

contributed by Lana

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This is for all the parents looking for ways to save money on children's birthday parties. My son had one of the best birthday parties when he was eight years old. It was also the cheapest party I have ever thrown at a total cost of $22. It was such a success that my sister and I revamped several of the ideas for my niece's sixth birthday party. Now, I happen to have lots of markers, crayons, stickers and paints already around the house, but even if you had to go out and buy these items, these activities could still be birthday bargains.

For my son's party, we made a simple pinata. First, we blew up some balloons, and I had my son tape them into whatever shape he wanted. (It ended up as a giant bee.) Then, I made a paste from flour and water, dipped newspaper strips in the paste, and laid them over the balloons until I covered all but a small opening for the candy. It took about two to three days to completely dry. (If you can, sit it in the sun keep it from molding.) Then, we just popped the balloons and painted the outside of the "bee." We filled the bee with a three-dollar bag of "Kiddie Mix" candy from Wal-Mart. It made a cute decoration for the party, but the important part was that my son got to tell everyone that he made it.

I borrowed some folding tables and chairs from my mother-in-law to create some "centers" for the kids to rotate around. If you didn't have access to any extra tables, you could have kids work on the floor and just designate activity areas using old sheets or, better yet, plastic tablecloths. I kept the centers simple enough that my older son and two teen-aged nieces were able to help me supervise them.

As each child arrived, they were directed to the "Decorate Your Goody Bag" Center. After making sure that each child had their name on a plain brown lunch bag, the kids were able to decorate their bag using markers and stickers. I had bought some pencils and erasers at the dollar store that were given out at this table.

Next, the kids were sent to the kitchen for the "Decorate Your Cupcake" Center. Cake decorating happens to be one of my hobbies so I had several of the fancy tips for the kids to try, but you could always use plastic sandwich bags with one corner snipped off as a "disposable" decorating bag.

From there the kids had a choice and could visit the "Modeling Clay Center," the "Body-Tracing Center," the "Hat-Making Center" or the "Drawing Center." I had found a package of 20 sticks of neon-colored modeling clay at the dollar store. Each child was given two sticks and told to make whatever they wanted. I placed some cookie cutters and playdoh tools in the middle of the table, and let them use their imaginations. Their creation went into a resealable bag, and then into their goody bag.

For Body-Tracing, I had gotten some out-dated, perforated computer paper for free from work. I was able to roll it out to the child's length and then tear it easily. The kids laid down on the paper and had their body traced by an adult. Then they drew in the details. They were rolled up, tied with yarn, and put in the goody bags also. They could also be cut out and hung up as party decorations if you did them early enough in the party. As for the paper, poster board would work with small children, or you could just do the upper body of larger kids. Also, some newspaper offices will give away the ends of rolls of paper that are great for all kinds of art uses.

We made the hats from more old newspapers. The old-fashioned, triangle fold hat (looks kind of like a "Robin Hood" hat) is the easiest and could be made ahead of time, if you didn't have time for the kids to make their own. My husband took the kids out on the porch to help the kids paint their hats. They were dry by the time we finished the cake and ice cream. (You could just let them decorate with markers, too.)

In between these activities, the kids were content to draw pictures with the extra paper that I laid out. I had bought sidewalk chalk for the kids to use out on the patio as another activity, but they were so busy that we just didn't get to it. I just added a piece of chalk to their goody bags as they left. If you felt like you needed even more entertainment than this, you could play some music or even a video during the activities, or set up some simple games nearby.

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After all the kids had visited all the "centers," we took turns hitting the pinata. Of course, an adult should supervise this! We used an old mop handle for the stick. After it burst, the children got a good handful of candy for their goody bag. I asked the older kids to help the younger ones before they took theirs and that cut down on the stepping on each other to get the goods. Then, it was time to clear the tables and serve up the cupcakes with some ice cream. The kids were so busy, and were having so much fun, we almost forgot to open the presents!

Cost Breakdown:

Bag of Candy…..……$3
Lunch Bags…….....…$1
Modeling Clay………$1
Sidewalk Chalk………$3
Refreshments……..…$12 (Includes cake mix, icing, sprinkles, ice cream & juice)

Total Cost for 10 party guests: $22

For my niece's party, we did the "Goody Bag Center" and the "Modeling Clay Center" pretty much the same, but since her theme was the Disney Princesses, we added a "Jewelry Making Center," where the kids made necklaces and bracelets by stringing Froot Loops on yarn, and a "Castle-Making Center." For the castles, each child was given a castle "kit" on a paper plate that consisted of graham crackers, gum drops, mini and large marshmallows, pretzel sticks, bugles, teddy grahams, and mini ice cream cones. Using canned icing as glue, the kids got to create their own edible castle. Also, instead of making newspaper hats, my sister bought some silver and gold cone-type birthday hats and let the kids decorate them using glue, buttons, pipe cleaners, feathers, fake jewels and ribbon. They turned out adorable! My sister spent a little more on the store bought goody bag fillers than I did, but the kids still liked the things that they made the best.

My son's party took place at home, but my sister was able to reserve our church's fellowship hall for my niece's party. Some churches will let members use their facilities for events like birthdays, if they will clean up after themselves, or pay to have someone else do so.

I hope this will be of help to those of you looking to cut birthday party costs. Kids parties don't have to cost a lot to be fun!

Updated September 2013

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it to

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