Birthdays are very special events in our children’s lives, and naturally we try our best to make it the most exciting day of the year. After all, they have been counting down the days since the afternoon of their previous birthday, and asked for gifts every.single.time we dared passing the store’s toy aisle.
When you outsource, more often than not you will pay several hundred dollars for a party. To be honest, sometimes it isn’t possible to spend that kind of money, or a family may decide they don’t want to sacrifice that much for a fun-filled birthday.
To help you in your efforts to throw a fabulous birthday party and stay within budget, I’ve compiled a list of tips and resources in the Midlands. I set my imaginary budget at $100 or less, because that is the price range that seems to be hard to find options for.
Choose a Low Cost Venue That Has It All
There are two frugal alternatives that I know of in the Columbia area for a birthday party where all you have to do is show up and bring a cake.
- One of them is Chuck E. Cheese’s, where you can choose your package, and pay around $12.99-$22.99 per kid, depending on how many extras you want to add. I like that it is priced per individual instead of a fixed price, because you only pay for what you can afford by being able to keep the party smaller. Our family has actually hosted a birthday party there before, and it was surprisingly great. If you are willing to handle the noise and the usual crowd in the arcade, your child will have a blast. When you choose a less popular time of day, you can even beat the crowds.
- The other option is to take the kids to the bowling alley. Royal Z Lanes on Two Notch Road charges per individual, costing $12.95 per guest, but they do have a minimum of 8 guests per event. Since they provide everything but the cake, your cost still stays close to $100.
If these spots don’t appeal to you, don’t worry: You still have many options to throw a fun party for your child!
Host a Party at Home with a Fun Theme
When you choose a home gathering, you can afford to spend your money on food and entertainment only, instead of having to pay the extra fees for a reserved area. There are tons of fun themes and ideas all around the Web to help you get started. Here’s a fun and frugal spa party idea.
Throw a Party at a Local Park
Families may prefer to pick a park as the scene of the celebration. Kiddos can play on the playground and run around freely, while you save yourself the worry about cleaning up messes and spills. While a rented picnic shelter usually provides shade, a grill, close by parking and electricity, it is not absolutely necessary. You can always bring your own table and some lawn chairs, and ask you guests to bring theirs along too.
- Saluda Shoals Park offers a picnic shelter for 24 people; the cost is $50 for 3 hours. There are also picnic tables available by the playground and splash pad area, free of charge, but they are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Keep in mind that this park does have a nominal entrance fee.
- Sesquicentennial State Park is a beautiful park with a huge playground, a pond and trails. Sesqui offers picnic shelters as well as non-covered picnic pads, along with free picnic areas. If you reserve a smaller picnic shelter, your cost is around $35-$65 per day. Unfortunately, admission to the park is not included here either, but kids 15 and under are free.
- If you’d like to host at a smaller, local park, check the websites of the various park districts: The Richland County Recreation Commission, the City of Columbia’s Parks & Recreation department, the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission and the Lexington County Recreation & Aging Commission, to name a few.
But chances are, you already have a favorite park you frequent. Look no further! Invite your child’s buddies to the place where they normally hang out and host the party at a picnic table. No reservations, no fees required.
You neighborhood may also boast a pool, a club house, a playground or all three! These are also all cheap or free options for a non-home based event.
Keep the Décor Low-Key
This is one of my main goals when throwing a birthday party. Never, not once did my children truly notice matching plates, cups and tablecloths! Guess what? They don’t care! They look at the entirety of the party, not minuscule details of banners and pompoms. The dollar stores offer a great selection of décor for generic or themed parties, you are sure to find something you like.
Visit the Dollar Store
As I have just mentioned, dollar stores rock! You can find party décor, invites, food and keepsakes all in one place! Don’t pay for popular and overpriced items at Walmart or party stores. If your child insists on a particular theme, get a few balloons, a banner and a cake topper figurine all with the desired character on it, and the rest won’t be important.
Make it Fun with ChickFil-A
Once you decided on the locale, you could purchase a few of Chick-fil-A’s food trays, and the kids’ happiness will be guaranteed. For 10-12 guests, you can get their nuggets tray for $24, their fruit tray for $26, cookie tray for $15 and a gallon of sweet tea for $4.50. The nuggets tray can be easily combined with store-bought fresh or canned fruit, chips and individual drinks, for even more savings.
Make it a BFF Party
If your child is older, you may let her choose one or two close friends, and treat them to a movie, a manicure or other fun activity in honor of the birthday kid. It won’t break the bank to take out such a small group of kids, plus you can skip the rental fees, cake, décor and goodie bags too. Some places offer special kids rates too, like Mod Nail Spa on Two Notch Road.
Host the Party in the Afternoon
If you opt for a time of day when it’s not lunchtime or dinnertime, you can serve finger foods and snacks only, which is more cost-efficient than cooking up a main meal.
Make Your Own Cake
Yes, this will take a bit of time, but it will also cost way less than any cake you pick up at the store. With all kinds of boxed mixes readily available (allergy-friendly ones included!), cake-making is not completely out of reach, even if you’re not a baker. You can also find frostings galore, and add sprinkles, candles and all sorts of candies to finish off your homemade cake. Put your child’s favorite toy figurine on top (such as a horse, princess, car, etc), and you are all set.
Invite Fewer People
There`s nothing wrong with limiting the number of kids invited in order to be able to focus your resources on the food, entertainment and/or rental fees.
Skip the Goodie Bags
You don’t have to skimp on giving your guests a thank-you treat, but providing an individualized goodie bag for each child may not be required. A smart option is to provide a party activity that doubles as a thank-you gift. For example bursting a pinata full of candy is a fun way to give out a small prize and children can gather them up in a bag labeled with “Thank You.” Or the kids may participate in necklace making or drawing a huge town for cars you give out. A note, hand-crafted by your child, is also a genuine expression of his thankfulness for the guest’s friendship and generosity.
Let Go of the Guilt
This may be the last point, but arguably the most important one. Your child will not decide your worth and his love for you based on the birthday party you put together! She will not be deprived or shortchanged just because you could not afford to rent a bounce house or take all his friends to Frankie’s Fun Park!
You can involve her by letting her make some decisions during the party-planning process or by focusing on what you can have instead of constantly apologizing for what you cannot afford.
Growing up in a small country in Europe, I’ve never had an expensive birthday party. We celebrated at home, sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. We had homemade cake and sandwiches, games and music. I can’t remember décor, themes or anything else but that I had my friends over and I was special.
Don’t buy into the marketing lie that kids need material things in order to have a happy and full childhood! What your child needs the most is to feel one-of-a kind to you and cherished by you, daily.
When you give them your full attention on a regular basis and show them your admiration for who they are inside, birthday banners, cakes and party places won’t matter at all!
It’s your turn! What are your frugal party planning tips?