Do Children’s Birthday Parties Need to Be Expensive?

I think not.

We’ve been to many a children’s birthday party now that Monkey is in his second year of preschool, outside of family birthday parties for years. Each one is unique and fun, but when I look into what it might cost to host a similar party I am always in sticker shock. Most parties tend to cost around $30 or more per child who attends, not including food, decorations, and cake. Some parties require a minimum of $300 or 10 children before they’ll even consider your request. Sigh. That’s just out of our budget; a $500 party or more.

We’re not of the spendy mindset, i.e. we’re frugal, so we have decided that all of our children’s birthday parties will be at our house; just as ours were growing up. This does mean more work, effort, and time on our part, but we feel it’s worth it to host. Not only financially, but to also instill family values in our children.

Monkey has had the opportunity to attend to many different types of children’s parties. We don’t feel he’s being left out in any way. He also isn’t one to love large crowds or groups, nor has any close friends right now. So, he even requested to have a family party this year for his fifth. As he grows, we may consider a friend or group activity with a best friend or two, but right now this fits our family well and we don’t plan on outsourcing anytime soon.

This past weekend Monkey turned five! I can’t believe it’s been that long since my laboring experience with him, and all the months that followed. In our typical Frugal Momster style, we threw a fun afternoon party with family. For school, Monkey brought homemade cupcakes to celebrate the day before with his classmates.

More importantly, what did we eat?

Here’s some of what we had for his “Lego” themed party:

First up was a cut vegetable tray. I considered picking one up from Wegmans or Costco, but when I looked at their trays they weren’t that big and didn’t look super appetizing. I decided to cut up Monkey’s favorites and serve those instead with a greek yogurt onion dip.

Next up was the fruit. I cut up Monkey’s favorites again and paired them with a side of homemade greek yogurt vanilla honey dip. When I looked at the fruit trays in the store, they were mostly melon with strawberries and pineapple. I can tell you, this platter is far more appetizing to me and many others than lots of tasteless melons.

Monkey loves crackers and cheddar cheese, so I kicked it up a notch with some red grapes as well. The kids got a kick out of all three platters.

What I didn’t get a picture of was the buffalo chicken dip and chips, freshly popped popcorn from our popper (that my 4 yr old niece took home the leftovers she loved it so much), and a black bean 7-layer dip (from Costco) with tortilla chips. Oh, and I made a balsamic reduction with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes to top it all off.

Who made dessert?

Chris made a lego cake, cupcakes with lego men on them, and chocolates for goodie bags for all!

You need a few cooking or baking skills to throw a party, but all of these dishes were relatively simple and fed all 25+ people who were in attendance. I don’t think anyone was disappointed, and the kids loved all the picky food. Plus, it meant a lot less mess, no fumbling with knives, or even forks much for that matter.

How about pricey decorations?

In addition to making all of the food ourselves, I crocheted decorations. This was kind of fun and a new idea for me. I followed a simple triangle pattern and had fun with it making my own 5!

Now, the decorations can be folded up year after year for parties, instead of thrown out like our old paper ones that cost far more than making these. I spent about $12 on yarn, which I have a ton left over I’m going to use to make other seasonal decorations.

PLUS… Monkey said he absolutely loved them! And, that is the young man I wanted to bring joy to!

Monkey received a bunch of lego kits to grow his collection from our generous family. Chris couldn’t wait to dive in and play with him.

How did you keep the kids busy?

During the party, I set up a table for lego activities which kept the kiddos busy for almost two hours while everyone was snacking. Then we played a short game of lego twister (from Amazon) and setup for cake and dessert while the children played.

I thought in terms of typical party antics, where children play first with an activity, and then eat and enjoy dessert. It worked out perfectly and probably was the best children’s party I’ve thrown yet.

Example No. 2 – Crab’s 1st Birthday Bash

Another example is from Crab’s birthday last summer when he turned one. We had a barbecue and Chris made the cutest crab cupcakes you ever did see!

This would’ve cost a fortune at a local bakery, but alas, I’m quick witted. I gave Chris a cake decorating course several years ago for his birthday that has paid off in leaps and bounds. He has always loved baking, but now he has the skills to go along with it, as well as the imagination!

Chris learned how to make modeling chocolates through YouTube (we love the tube!) and created his own crabs for our Crab. Years ago, he did similar things for our Monkey when he was a sweet babe.

Surely, it must have been expensive anyway?

Here’s the overall cost breakdown:

ItemAmountFrugal Mom$ter Musings
Vegetables$18.00It was all of our favorites, so whatever leftovers wouldn’t go to waste.
Fruit$16.00Our favorites and they all went!
Cheese & Crackers$12.00A block of cheddar cut up with red grapes and club crackers.
Buffalo & Bean Dips with Chips$32.00Not sure the exact cost of the homemade buffalo dip, it was all items we had in the house. The bean dip was the only store bought prepared food.
Popcorn with Butter$1.00We used our air popper right before the party!
Drinks$7.00Soda cans and water left over from a previous event we received for free. We just picked up juice boxes for the kids.
Cake & Cupcakes$8.00store bought cake mix, homemade buttercream frosting (we had the ingredients), chocolates
Goodie Bags$16.00reusable Lego drink bottles for all the kids, homemade chocolates for all invited
Decorations$3.00crocheted decor
Paper Goods$4.00We had a bunch of things left over from previous parties, so just added a few lego themed items and voila!
Total Spent$117.00This was an overall estimate for the party. We picked up items during our weekly shopping trips for the past few weeks so they fit nicely into our food budget. We actually have several bags of chocolate to return, so this party might be under $100 when all is said and done.

All in all, each party was quite a bit less expensive than if we were to do the same type of decor, food, and desserts outsourced. I don’t believe we spent more than around $200 for either party and I would venture to say that’s on the higher side of costs. The Lego party I did buy two small sets of Legos for the kids to play, but that was part of our gift to Monkey as well.

For the Lego party I did buy two small sets of Legos for the kids to play, but that was part of our gift to Monkey as well.

Don’t forget your choices are your own. If it’s too much to throw an at-home birthday, find other ways to cut costs if that’s your goal. Each party, I honestly have a moment where I say to Chris, “I totally understand why everyone else just shows up somewhere and pays for other people to handle all of this!”

It’s a lot of work. Several hours before the party I’m cutting up fruit or vegetables, cleaning up from our mess, organizing how to lay out the food, and Chris is working on the cake and chocolates.

It’s not easy with a 5 and 1 1/2 year old running underfoot the entire time either! In the end, Chris always reminds me how much joy we get out of the process and the time spent with family. And since we’ve been throwing parties in our home since 2007, we’ve grown our skills tremendously in what works best for us.

In the end, Chris always reminds me how much joy we get out of the process and the time spent with family. I feel such joy when others remark how tasty a dish was or how great something turned out. I get so excited to share the items I’ve cooked or created.

And since we’ve been throwing parties in our home since 2007, we’ve grown our skills tremendously in what works best for us and what kind of “goes together” for each party.

We don’t feel deprived and nor do the children. If anything, I am thrilled to have happy relaxed people in our home, with no rush from activity to activity, to enjoy time to celebrate our little guys.

It’s also nicer to have healthier options to share with all. Frugal living suits us well, and showing our children how we make, put together, and throw a party within a budget is important to us.

We want them to know it’s totally awesome to have friends or family over to celebrate your milestones!