FUN, NOT FANCY
If you've ever seen the MTV show My Super Sweet 16, then you know about the parents who spare no expense to indulge their child's every desire for one birthday party extravaganza. Judging from our research, this kind of out-of-control spending doesn't break out just for the Sweet 16, but for every birthday party leading up to it. We've read about a themed birthday party for a child turning five that included pony rides, a rented merry-go-round, giant inflatables, hired magicians, and, well, more, for a final tab in the neighborhood of $6,000. Frugal parents, unite.
STICK TO A BUDGET
It's always a good idea to set a budget for any event, and that goes for children's birthday parties. Costs can spiral if you're not paying attention. Knowing the size of the kitty goes a long way toward helping you stand your ground as you peruse the party store with all the tempting knick-knacks on display.
Save money and make the invitations yourself. Choose the cutest picture of your child, have it developed in a 4x6 size, and request as many copies as the number of invitations to be sent. Print the birthday party details on 4x6 paper (or lay out the information four times on a desktop document, print on a regular sheet of paper, and cut apart), affix the logistics on the back of the photos using double-sided tape, and you're done. For the greatest savings, send electronic invites using a free service like Evite or create a Facebook event.
HOST THE PARTY AT HOME
Hosting a kid's birthday party at a venue can cost hundreds of dollars. In the Columbus, Ohio area, for example, prices start at around $200 for just two hours. While some sites are a blast for kids and take a lot of the planning and organizing stress off parents' shoulders, renting a venue is an unnecessary expense when you can organize a fun-for-all party at home for free.
LIMIT THE GUEST LIST
If want to save money by hosting at your place but you're concerned about space, limit the guest list (both kids and adults). The birthday party is for your child, after all, so think about who has an impact on his or her life. Include their closest friends and your immediate family, but don't feel obligated to invite acquaintances and assorted relatives.
The best time to host a cheap kid's birthday party is during the afternoon -- after lunch and before dinner. This way the youngsters aren't too tired or cranky (presumably after having just woken from a nap) and you don't have to serve a full meal. You can get away with setting out a few snacks, such as pretzels and fresh fruit.
BAKE THE CAKE
About the birthday cake, make it yourself. There are plenty of online videos that show how to create a cake that will wow the children. A quick search on Pinterest turns up hundreds of birthday cake recipes and tutorials on decorating an animal, princess, sports, and other themed birthday cakes.
FIND CHEAP SUPPLIES AND DECORATIONS
Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's, and other warehouse stores are excellent sources for plates, plastic ware, table cloths, and snacks. Outlet party stores stock even more birthday-themed gear, and superstores like Walmart also carry cheap party supplies. Check out the local dollar store, where you may be able to load up on birthday party balloons.
DECORATE WITH WHAT'S ON HAND
Get creative with the resources already lying around. If you're throwing a first-year birthday party for your child, try this: Pick out a favorite onesie from each month of the year. Use a clothesline and clothespins to string them in size order. Clip a picture of your baby wearing each one next to the onesie. Guests will enjoy seeing how your child has grown and, as decoration, it will be much more memorable than balloons and streamers.
FORGET THE HIRED ENTERTAINMENT
Set up a craft station instead of hiring birthday party entertainment. Have little guests paint or create something on their own, which will keep them entertained for a bit and give them a sense of accomplishment as well as a small token to take home.
TABLE DECOR AS FAVORS
What child doesn't love candy? If you have a bunch of empty baby food or small Mason jars, all the better. Fill them with jellybeans and suckers for pops of color and place them strategically around the party room. Let guests take a jar home as a cheap and edible birthday party favor.