Birthday Party On A…Budget?

You can’t really be married to any particular activity when you have a birthday party for a four-year-old. Chances are just as good that everyone is going to want to just play cars in the playroom as want to do the carefully prepared crafts you’ve laid out. You just have to kind of go with the flow.

This past weekend we had the Little Miss’ birthday party. She’s not quite four yet, but her best buddy from preschool is leaving next weekend for a summer-long trip to Europe, so we had to have the party a little early. We had a few of her friends from preschool over to the house to just kind of hang out and play. I planned some stuff, but it was all just-in-case kind of stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday party with so little planning – I’m a planner! I own it! – but it was a surprisingly relaxed, quiet afternoon and it went really well.

We almost always have our birthday parties just here at the house, both because our kids prefer it, and because we figure it’s less expensive. But after Little Miss Sunshine’s party on Sunday, we were totalling up the expenses in our heads and both Sir Monkeypants and I were surprised at the results. I definitely could have gone the frugal route in a couple of cases, and saved some dollars. But even cut to the basics, I’m no longer convinced that it’s cheaper to have an at-home party than to have it out somewhere.

So in the interest of scientific research, I’m going to lay it all out for you and see what y’all think. How does our budget compare?

Invites for us are inexpensive – I design them on my computer, have them printed at Staples in full colour for less than $2, then mount them on bristol board and put each invitee’s name on the back. Here they are, aren’t they cute?

Kitty Invites

I’d love to take credit for designing them, but truthfully I found the whole cat/pink/dots background on the web and just added the text. But I had to choose the font! And it took ALL DAY LONG, because do you know how many fonts there are in the world? YES IT IS IMPORTANT, DAMMIT.

Anyway, total cost of invites is around $3.

The day of the party dawned cool, windy, and overcast. Originally we were going to spend the morning playing outside in the backyard, frolicking in our wading pool, swinging on the swingset, blowing bubbles, and squirting water guns. That would have cost $0, since we had everything already. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so instead I had to put together some inside activities.

First up, the kids made their own PlayDoh, Each kid got a bowl and mixed up a goopy glob made up of flour, sugar, a little oil, a packet of Kool Aid, and water. Then we spent some time playing with the PlayDoh with various toys. In the end each kid got to take home their ball of PlayDoh in a snap-lid container.

Playdoh Prep

Total cost for supplies was around $10, including the take-home containers. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Just wait.

I also had a second craft for them to do. I cut out a large letter for each kid – the first letter of their name – from some bristol board I had lying around from a previous project. Then each kid decorated their letter using glue and buttons, ribbons, and a wide variety of sparkly jewels.


Total cost for this craft was around $15 for the jewels, from the dollar store and Michaels – I had the paper, buttons, and ribbons lying around.

Then we had lunch – take out pizza. We got three large pizzas and that was WAY WAY WAY WAY too much. We could have easily done with just two, but we weren’t sure how many parents would be required to stay by fussy kids, so we over ordered. The total cost of the pizza was $45. We also had chips and cheesies, a variety of fruit, juice and lemonade, but I won’t count that – instead we’ll just pretend we only got two pizzas and the rest of the $45 went to the other food, shall we? It works out.

Then we had cake. The Little Miss drools over the cakes at Loblaws every time we go past the bakery section – it’s the icing flowers that draw her eye. We can’t eat those cakes though, due to food allergies, so I made my own and decorated it with sugar flowers bought at the Bulk Bark for less than $3, and a giant “4” candle for $3 more.

Pretty Cake Flowers

I know, it all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? But there’s more.

We decorated with balloons. Both Sir Monkeypants and I never were allowed balloons as kids, it was considered a wasteful expense. So of course now I totally indulge my kids with balloons on every single birthday. I probably could have passed on these but I love balloons, so festive, so happy, and every kid loves to take one home.

Balloons and Streamers

These were around $20 from the Party Mart. We also had streamers and party hats (the Little Miss INSISTED on party hats, and then she was the only one who didn’t want to wear one, FIGURES), for a total decorating cost of around $30.

The last activity was a pinata. Along with a cake with flowers and party hats, that’s the only other thing the Little Miss wanted. I think she saw it on Dora.

Pretty Pony Pinata

I was really worried about how the pinata would go, but it caused MAJOR excitement and everyone loved it. I gave each kid a brown paper lunch bag with their name written on it to collect stuff that they grabbed. Of course there was one kid – you know, THAT kid – who scooped up half the stuff. But everyone else was both reasonable and happy with what they got so it worked out well.

The pinata was $10 on sale at the Bulk Barn, and I spent $25 on dollar store toys and candy to fill it up.

Lastly, there’s the loot bags, I always splurge on the loot bags because a) I prefer to get just one thing instead of the bag of little things, and so that means a higher minimum value, b) I like our guests to feel like they had a really, really good time as they are leaving, and c) it’s a home party, that’s less expensive, right? So blow it on the loot bags!

I bought each kid a Playmobil or Lego set that came to around $10 per kid, plus I had to buy the bags themselves (small pink and purple gift bags from Zellers), so total loot bag expense was around $80, because I got one for all three of our kids in addition to our four guests.

Discuss: should the birthday boy or girl receive a loot bag? It’s causing a philosophical schism here in the Turtlehead household.

So, adding it all up, we have:

Invites – $3ish, crafts – $25, food and cake – $50-ish, decorations – $30, pinata – $35, loot bags – $80. Total cost: $223.

Is that reasonable? To me it seems like a lot to spend on a small party held at your home. I definitely could have cut back on decorations and the loot bags, maybe food too, but I doubt I could have pulled it in for under $150 no matter how frugal I went.

MyFriendJen did a party for her son at A Gym Tale in Barrhaven a few weeks ago, and it was a couple hundred dollars for ten kids, plus it was totally supervised, and there was no mess in her home, AND lunch was included. She still had to add on loot bags and the cake, and she also provided a craft to do too. But essentially, for not too much more than I spent, she got everything done for her and the kids had an AWESOME time.

So, is the home-based party worth it?

How much do you budget for birthday parties?

11 thoughts on “Birthday Party On A…Budget?

  1. OK I’m WAY past the birthday party era, so I can’t weigh in on that but I will tell you that I TOTALLY agree with you about the fonts!

  2. MrsCarlSagan

    $223 sounds high for an at-home party. However, when you broke it all down, it sounds like you did really well and I don’t think you overspent on anything. You could have saved a few dollars by making hotdogs instead of ordering pizza, but sometimes it’s worth it to pay the extra for the convenience of not having to cook yourself – especially when you’re already busy running a birthday party.

    I like the one – item gift bags too rather than a bag full of dollar store crap that gets thrown out or breaks the same day and you end up spending about the same amount. Instead of buying loot bags, a more frugal way to go is to have the kids decorate their own using brown
    paper lunch bags and stickers/markers etc. as one of the crafts. In the end though, this will only save a few dollars.

    When we’ve had parties at our place, the birthday kid doesn’t get a loot bag – the rationale being that they are already getting birthday presents and the loot bags are just for guests.

    You did well – sounds like the party was a great success and everyone had fun.

  3. Oh Lynn, I’m so happy right now. I had all my kids’ early parties at home because I always thought I was more comfortable in my own environment. Then Eve really wanted a Gym Tale party, so we went offsite – and ohmygod, someone else did all the work and I didn’t have to clean up before or after. And when I added up what I spent for a home party I always came up at around the 200 dollar mark, so I started doing more parties at party places. And you are a shining beacon of practicality and frugality for me, so I feel SO intoxicatingly vindicated right now. That said, your party wasn’t any MORE expensive than a Gym Tale party, and had a lot of individual detail and I’m sure the kids loved it, so it was the right choice. But if you want to explore outside venues for future parties, I would go for it (did I mention the not cleaning up?).

  4. We’ve done both – Edie prefers to stay home, Grace likes to outsource. I had to admit, I prefer outsourcing, easy clean-up, pay someone else to entertain. The home party was much cheaper than yours though? I LOVE the make your own playdoh idea.

    (p.s. I burned the Dora Pinata DVD)

  5. Sounds about the same as we spent on a recent party. Part of our expense was BBQ food which we supplied, but we would have gone way OVER budget if other family members hadn’t contributed back by making some key purchases.

    I can’t imagine it’ll get any cheaper until we decide that birthday parties are cut off!

    All seems worth it when they have so much fun, though.

  6. It all sounds pretty reasonable. The only thing that stood out as a bit pricey, where you could cut some costs were the balloons. Why not buy balloons in a bag, blow them up yourself, and stick them to the walls or things in nice arrangements? That has got to be cheaper, even if it is less fabulous than the Party Mart ones.

    You can also try getting more stuff from the Dollarama (not just any dollar store though. Dollerama is kind of like the King of dollar stores and has more and better stuff). For example, you might have saved on the party hats and craft jewels.

    Plus, I’m pretty certain that food (candy or otherwise) at the Bulk Barn is actually more expensive than what you can get at some stores, like Dollarama or Wal-Mart. Bulk Barn is really only good for when you need just small amounts of something.

    On a side note, totally good call on mom vs. balloons. Mom *hates* anything that’s senseless fun with no purpose. Balloons are the epitome of that.

  7. I kind of hate birthday parties. The last one I hosted was at the university gymnastics centre, and it was less than $200 and I invited the entire kindergarten class. I also spent about $40 on food. No mess, totally supervised, kids had so much fun.

  8. smokingtoaster

    Yeah, after Mason’s and Evan’s parties this year, I kind of wondered whether we were any better off having the party at home.

    First off, we have separate parties for the kids, but a lot of the same kids get invited, so it seems sort of inefficient to me. I should have combined them, but now that M’s going to school in the fall, his next party is probably going to be school friends, and so combining a party with E’s won’t be as effective.

    We did mostly what you did, except crafts: grocery store cake (decorated with an edible icing design bought from ebay), pinata (which is way cheaper than what it costs to fill it — who knew?), single-gift goody bag (higher value, as opposed to plastic junk that gets thrown away), bubbles and balls for outside play. We did mostly email invitations, except for school friends, so there was no cost there. I didn’t get a bounce house or balloon guy, as I had thought of doing, which would have added around $150 each to the cost.

    I think our biggest downfall is inviting too many people. We had between 20 and 25 kids, and parents come, too, so there’s lots of pizza to be ordered.

    I’m sure it cost at least $400 for M’s party, which is the cost to host 10-12 kids at a local party place. Then there was all the mess to clean up. It took all evening and some of the next day for the two of us to do it. It hurts when you have no family to help out.

    Friends of ours had a party for their son at a local bounce/party place and they said it cost them $800 including food and goody bag gifts! They skipped having a party for their younger kid.

    Then there’s all the stress involved with planning and executing. I swear I’m still recovering from the serious bout of facial acne that resulted. At one point I emailed “Death to Goody Bags!” to a friend. And I meant it.

    The birthday party thing is definitely out of control. The only party of mine that I really remember (without the assistance of old photos) is my family and 3-4 of my classmates going to Mother’s Pizza for dinner. I really loved that place. Do you remember it?

  9. We have our birthday parties at the park. Which is a great way to avoid the mess. 🙂

    Our biggest expense is food. We usually make the cake and serve fruit and veggies. I try not to spend more then $75 on food.

    I try to send the kids home with something, but usually it is something I have made. Like a CD with the kids favorite stories on it. Or homemade play dough. I need some more good ideas for homemade loot bag ideas!

    (Oh, and with the kids born two weeks and two years apart I make them have a oint birthday party 🙂

  10. We did that math a long time ago after the first couple of at-home birthday parties, and now we have them out whenever possible.
    Though this year my 9yo decided to just have 3 friends come over for a sleepover with pizza and a movie. There were no crafts to set up, and little mess, so now I am finally OK with getting back to the at home party.

    And P.S. When they are older you can just email out the invitations; but we are lazy that way.

  11. I really like this, did you also know the plan to Protect Rural England and
    Keep Britain Tidy are fully behind bringing in the 5p tax on all carrierbags.
    By reason of this even more people will be buying their own bags and
    taken them to the supermarkets.

Comments are closed.