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Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Throw a Frugal Birthday Party

To me, being frugal is a lifestyle. I thank my mother 100% for that! Some moms teach their children to cook, or sew or be a homemaker, but my mom taught me how to be frugal! She can smell a bargain from a mile away, really without searching, and has passed that talent on to me. I am proud to say I have passed that talent on to my daughter.

One area that I carry my frugality into is in planning birthday parties.

To me, my kids' birthday parties are extremely important. I typically like to do them at home, or at least a portion of them at home. And, I don't like to do the normal "Star Wars" or "Princess" type parties. I want them to be unique. I had told my older two kids that I was done throwing birthday parties after their 10th birthdays, but I didn't last very long at that. Kids are only kids once and, especially, in a home with 4 children, they deserve to have a big day devoted just to them. But, I am not about to let even that sentiment break the bank.

Brynne's party was yesterday and we had it at the zoo. You can see my previous post.

How did I pull it off and what did it specifically entail?

I'm glad you asked !!

1. I started planning this party in about December of last year. I was at Target, having coffee with some girlfriends at Starbucks, and came across some resin plates and other goodies with a zoo theme on them in the $1 bins. I called my husband and said, "How about a zoo theme for Brynne this year?" Knowing I'm a planning freak, he spared me the "honey, that's 9 months away" speech and just said, "Sure, that sounds fun!" So, I bought 8 plates, 8 plastic cups with lids and straws, paper napkins and bowls, treat bags and 8 ice packs with the same zoo theme (since the party was going to be in August and the temps can sometimes be 100* plus at that time, I thought those might come in handy). So I spent about $20 at that time.

2. Then later in the spring I found some little vinyl diaper bags at The Dollar Tree with zoo characters on them. I purchased 6 of them for $1 each. So, I spent about $6 at that time.

3. Next, I had to start thinking about the admission fee for all of our guests into the zoo. The zoo admission price is about $8 per adult and $6 per child. And we were inviting the parents and siblings of our guests to come along. That was going to cost us! We just happened to be needing to renew our family zoo membership and considered the options. I found that it would be cheaper if I upgraded our membership one level. It would give us 4 free guest admissions every time we went to the zoo and 10 free guest passes to use throughout the year. That would take care of 14 guests for an additional $65. (That saved me $25 off what I would have paid by just paying regular admission.)

As you can see, I spread the cost of the party out over several months. Planning far in advance allows you to do that. It allows you to have your ears perked during those several months for inexpensive ideas!

It was now time to get serious about planning the party.

1. I prepared an electronic invitation from a website online (there are thousands of them) and had the invitations printed at our local Walgreens. The total cost was about $8. (I can't for the life of me remember which website I used so I could give them credit!)

2. While at the zoo previously, I purchased 20 tokens for riding the train to include in the invitations. The total cost was $20.

3. I found some zoo chicken nuggets at Aldi the week before the party for $3.99 a bag. (I was planning on serving lunchables, but these were more economical and went with my zoo theme perfectly!) Then we served individual bags of chips. Since there were parents there, I purchased two foot-long sub sandwiches (one turkey, one ham) from Wal-mart at $4.98 each. (They were so yummy ... even better than Subway, in my opinion). I made a two-gallon jug of sugar free cherry koolaid and had bottled water for the adults. So, the total cost of the food was about $25. (btw ... I cooked the nuggets at home before the party and took them to the zoo in my travel Pyrex dish with the microwavable warmer. If you don't have one, invest in one!)

4. We arrived at the zoo an hour before our guests and pulled in all of our party supplies on a wagon. We found the perfect shady spot (that I had picked out on a previous trip) and set up.

5. For the table decorations I used green plastic tableclothes and added stuffed animals you would find at the zoo. I placed the tableware on the table. And, voila, a cute table setting.

6. For activities at the party we took advantage of the free activities at the zoo .. the playground, the free elephant show and the free viewing of the tortoise feeding.

7. The kiddos and adults enjoyed lunch.

8. Then we had cupcakes. Okay, seriously .. I used to spend $25+ on a professional themed cake at our local bakery, or even Wal-mart. But, what I have found, is that rarely people eat it. So now I have gone to just baking a couple dozen cupcakes and trying to decorate them to the theme somewhat. For her party, I just made some Funfetti cupcakes with sprinkles and put some Animal Crackers on top. The kids totally didn't care, and Brynne was happy with it. The total cost for this was about $3.00.

9. After she opened her gifts, some of the families had to leave and the others spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the zoo.

10. We gave each family a "diaper" bag from above. Included were the party favors ~ a resin plate, a cup, an ice pack, a zoo-themed activity pad and a goodie bag with a package of animal crackers and two packages of zoo-themed fruit snacks that I found at Aldi a couple of weeks ago. The total cost for the goodie bags was about $4, and most of the things in it had been reused in the party somewhere. (I do this a lot! I try to buy cute plates and/or cups and such that the kids can take home as party favors!)

Whew! I'm exhausted, are you?

Here's the lowdown.

I checked the zoo website to find out how much it would have cost to put on this party through their birthday party service. I won't go into great detail, but without the full lunch or train ride, it would have cost right at $300 for 10 total guests. (Heck, that's almost just our family).

I was able to do all I did above, for 21 total guests (including adults) for about $160. And the cost wasn't too shocking because I had spread it out over 9 months.

And the kids had a blast!

Like I said, I have done cheaper parties than this, but I was able to do a really nice party for so much cheaper than just having the zoo do it through their service. Yes, it took more work on my part and a whole lot more planning, but I wouldn't have changed this for the world.

My general advice about planning parties ...

1. Plan way in advance. I already have Eli's party mapped out for December and a good working idea for Brynne's party next August, as well as some ideas for future parties for her.

2. Utilize cheap or free local fun events for kids. For Eli's party last year we had a construction theme. We started the party at our local Lowe's and built gingerbread houses. The kids got to do a project, receive free aprons and safety goggles (aka free party favors) and it was all FREE! Then we finished the party at our house. You can see all the details here. For his party this year, instead of paying $175 plus for a generic party at our local Putt 'N Jump, we are going to take advantage of one of their monthly Open Houses where you can do unlimited jumping/playing for $6 per child. He wants a Mario Bros. party, so we are going to start at our house making Mario and Luigi caps, having our snacks and such, opening gifts and then going to the Putt 'N Jump to play. The boys will wear their caps, and mustaches, and will run a planned obstacle course to save Princess Peach (aka Brynne). Sounds fun, and much cheaper, to me!

3. Have parties at your house. Last year for Brynne's party we had a Backyard Beach Party. You can see all the details here. The kids loved it and still talk about it!

3. As you find cheap things, buy them! Think about snacks, party favors, etc.

So, there you have my very lengthy advice.

If you ever need help in planning a party, shoot me a comment, or an email to I love to plan parties and I'd be more than happy to give you some ideas for yours.


  1. you are amazing and have such a glad you all had such a good time....and you saved SO MUCH STINKING MOOLAH!! I am so impressed

  2. Way to go girl!!! Sounds like a wonderful party. I like the unique one's too.

  3. That sounds like SO much fun! We had an "animal" theme for a birthday party once, and, not having the resources to spend a ton, I told the kids to bring down all the stuffed animals they had, and those were the decorations! Worked out great! Thanks for sharing....looks like it was an awesome Birthday!


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