Budget-Friendly Birthday Party Ideas for Kids
Save the serious check writing for her Sweet Sixteen. These three parties (with throw-it-together themes) are big fun for the 10-and-under set. And not paying for a bouncy castle? That's our gift to you.
Target audience: 2- to 4-year-olds
Simple shapes are something toddlers clearly understand (in addition to “candy,” “toy,” and “That’s mine”). A circle party is all-around fun for them and a no-brainer for you. Think Cheerios, polka dots, bubbles, balloons—anything to keep the party rolling. Activities should be short and sweet, as kids this age would rather run free than sit still in circle time. Word invitations “From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the dot.” (By then, you’ll be ready to send those sugar-crazed four-year-olds home.)
Round fare can be a square(ish) meal. Start with open-faced jelly sandwiches on bread circles (cut with different-size cookie cutters) and clementines. Grown-ups can snack on Froot Loops or cherry tomatoes. For the main course, serve pizza bagels or turkey sliders. Round out the menu with jelly beans and retro satellite wafers (from $2, oldtimecandy.com). And it’s a safe bet that the parents will appreciate a little bubbly.
Think outside the box with a tiered doughnut cake (no baking required!). To build it, stack doughnuts and doughnut holes to form a pyramid-shaped tower, then sprinkle the whole thing with candy confetti. At serving time, if you want to sweeten the deal even more, fill the hole in each doughnut with a ball of ice cream (scooped in advance and kept in the freezer).
More Circle Party Ideas
One word: balloons! And lots of them. Dot the walls with colorful construction-paper circles, and cover the table with a polka-dot tablecloth, plus matching plates, cups, napkins, and straws. (You can decorate everyday drinking cups with plain round pricing stickers from an office-supply store.) Before the guests roll home, hand out goody bags stuffed with a bottle of bubbles and a lollipop.
Rustle up some bubble wrap for tidy (if noisy) fun, or create a ball pit by filling an inflatable kiddie pool with lightweight plastic balls (try Fun Ballz, $20 for 100, amazon.com). A battery-operated bubble machine (like the Gazillion Typhoon Ultimate Bubble Machine, $25, toysrus.com) will save you from blowing a wand and keep the kids running around in circles. (Plus, it will help them burn off some energy after that doughnut cake.)
Target audience: 5- to 7-year-olds
A mess is a theme? To you, it’s just another Saturday. But, really, this idea—devoted to splatters and spills (or, if you’re brave, dirt and goo)—will make you the coolest mom on the planet. And you can throw out the party-prep perfectionism (iced rosettes just so). Stock up on Silly String, set out paint (washable—you haven’t totally lost your mind), and serve food with graffiti-style toppings. Then let the kids go wild. As if they wouldn’t, anyway.
Start with melba toast rounds with guacamole and sour cream squiggles (place each topping in a resealable plastic bag, snip a hole in the corner of the bag, and squeeze). Follow them up with Sloppy Joes and gross-out candy: licorice laces that look like alien intestines, gummy worms and snakes, and chocolate eyeballs. Splatter jawbreaker pops are a fun treat or favor (try Paintball Pops, 24 for $40, groovycandies.com). Napkins—at all times—optional.
Make 24 cupcakes out of 1 box of yellow cake mix according to the package directions. For the icing: Thin store-bought vanilla icing with milk until it’s smooth and runny. Tint it with a few drops of food coloring and put it in a resealable plastic bag. Snip a hole in the corner of the bag and let the kids squeeze to decorate their own cupcakes.
More Messy Party Ideas
It can begin innocently—a Silly String war or a piñata filled with a slimy surprise, like cooked spaghetti. Then have a Jackson Pollock–style free-for-all with buckets and squeeze bottles filled with washable paint (tell guests to wear old clothes or bathing suits). To get really dirty, make an old-fashioned mud puddle. Fill a kiddie pool with potting soil and add water. When the party is over, hose off the guests and pass out clean towels.
One week her favorite color is red. The next it’s yellow. Definitely yellow. Her tastes are all over the spectrum, so make the rainbow connection and throw a multicolored extravaganza. Rainbow candy, primary stripes everywhere, and—should you decide to do a sleepover—a screening of The Wizard of Oz, with a sing-along to “Over the Rainbow,” will make this party an overarching success. Roy G. Biv himself couldn’t imagine a more vivid tribute.
It’s not going to beat the candy, but aim high with a bright crudités platter: multicolored peppers, purple cauliflower, cucumber sticks, and hummus. Do a taco bar with red tomatoes, green lettuce, and yellow cheese; skewer kebabs with cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew. Serve juice-and-seltzer spritzers in rainbow hues (red cranberry, purple grape, orange orange) with striped straws (try Biodegradable Straws, $16 for 144, greenpartygoods.com).
Inside, it’s a mind-blowing swirl of hues. The secret? Food coloring. Prepare 1 box of white cake mix according to the package directions. Before baking, divide the batter among 6 bowls and tint each with a few drops of coloring. Dollop the batters into 2 cake pans, keeping colors separate (they can touch but shouldn’t mix). Bake according to the package directions. Layer and frost with white icing; decorate with rainbow candies and top with pom-poms.
More Rainbow Party Ideas
Have guests wear their most colorful outfits. Or ask them to come dressed in an assigned color of the rainbow, then at the party, line them up against a wall, rainbow-style, for a photo. Give rainbow manicures (each nail a different shade), and make friendship bracelets with multi-colored beads or headbands (look for wide rainbow elastic at a fabric store, and attach feathers and beads with fabric glue).