Throw a Fun and Stress-free Kid Birthday Party on a Budget

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Kid’s birthday parties can be, without exaggeration, terrifying, nightmare-inducing, panic-filled, stress machines. 

Well, maybe a little exaggeration. 

But there is a reason businesses can command a small fortune to host kid-parties and you still have to book months in advance – parents will pay handsome sums to offload the stress of a houseful of hooligans.

We’ve had our fair share of kid-parties where we couldn’t wait till they were done. But, over the years, we’ve also started to find a rhythm where we can host, keep the cost down and stay fairly mellow (– and no, we don't just lock them in a closet and drink wine for a couple hours). 

Here are our best tips:

Start with a great theme:

  • Think outside the Birthday Box. One of my daughter’s favourite birthdays was a visit to a local teaching animal hospital; it was almost less than $10 a kid and they provided a craft, activities and a behind the scenes tour of an amazing facility.   We found out about it after our son went on a trip there with Beavers - they did such an amazing job - we called them up and asked if they'd do a party!  They'd never done it before but they were willing - and the money went to their foundation.  Such a heart-warming win-win!

  • Consider checking your local community event calendar and piggyback on a public event. There are many Winterfests, Pumpkinfests, Beach fests and other seasonal-fests with lots of free activities built in. Afterwards, you can meet back at your house for cake and presents and call it a day.  For no cost one of our daughter’s parties had a horse drawn sleigh ride, crafts and more outdoor fun than we would have had the energy to host at home.  We had cake back at the house with hot chocolate to warm up.  Heck - our group was even in the paper during our hayride.  How many other (non-socialite/trust-fund) kids get their birthday party in the paper?  That won't happen at home.

  • Know your kids' personality.  Consider your child's temperament. If they are a low-key kid, like our son, they may prefer a low-key party.  Crazy as it might sound, maybe they just want a simple party where all the kids play Lego or watch their favourite movie on TV. If they don’t want to go party-crazy, don’t force it.

  • When you have a theme – Google it. Free Printables, party games and music playlists geared to your idea abound and are a click away. Don’t reinvent the wheel when someone is giving them away for free.  

For example, if you have a Minecraft fan or a kid into all things Secret Agent – we’ve got tons of ideas for you.  Most of them are simple.  ALL of them are fun!

  • Check out Pinterest, of course, but keep in mind: real parties rarely look like these photos.  They are highly stylized versions of kids parties, with details kids would never themselves notice or appreciate.  Take the essence of the ideas you find and normalize them into something that emphasizes simple and fun over picture-perfect.

Time it right:

  • Longer parties not only cause more cost, but they bring on more stress. We accidentally made the time window for our son's second Minecraft party FOUR HOURS long. Yeah, not a typo.  We survived, but we went through all our of events and ended up with some gaming time at the end.  Don't make our mistake.

  • If you plan the party clearly between meals, parents will get the message and feed their kids ahead of dropping them off. You can still provide snacks and cake, but food prep stress and mealtime costs are both reduced.  Our favourite is a 2 pm to 4 pm window.

  • Sleepovers are Marathons vs. the Sprint that most normal parties are. Have kids arrive after dinner. Spread out the cake, presents, snacks and a few activities over the evening. Your job isn't to keep them constantly doing stuff - just fill in the blanks when they seem to run out of ideas. Pop in a movie or two around 'bedtime'. I say this because a lot of the kids will try to stay up as late as possible, Just go with it - you're sending most of the tired, cranky kids back to their own parents the next day. Breakfast can be pancakes or a cereal 'buffet' - both cheaper and lower stress than many other birthday party meal options.

The Guest-list:

  • Limit the number of kids attending. This allows you to do more for the kids that come and keeps the party stress lower for both you and the birthday boy or girl.

  • Avoid kids-and-adults parties. When the kids are toddlers, parents are a must have accessory at the party, but as soon as kids feel comfortable on their own, kick out the adults. While it may seem counter-intuitive to lowering stress, having grown-ups attend means your entertaining attention will be divided between keeping the kids happy and chatting with their parents. Plus, you’ll need to buy more food and drinks - basically you'll be catering two parties.

Decorations and Food:

  • Keep things to “kid-standards” – not Pinterest-ideals: Sure you could do everything from scratch and put ├╝ber-creativity into all the themey details, but you will go insane.  90% of your hard work will go unnoticed by the kids. Pick your battles – for example: kids care way more what a cake looks like than how it tastes, so bake from a box mix and then add toys or whatever to make it look awesome. Our new favourite: this easy ice cream cake recipe - that kids can make themselves!

  • Recycle your decorations – We’ve used the same Happy Birthday banners for our kids for probably 7 years now. We change the themes every year, but a few standbys fill in the background and no one ever complains. 

  • Decorate with Loot: Loot bags are part of the hosting deal. If you want to fill your house with balloons and other zany things, consider giving them away as the kids leave. Keeps the loot bag cost down and helps with cleanup too.  What kid doesn’t love their own helium balloon to take home?

Get the Party Started:

  • Plan many activities– keep things moving with several games, a short movie, a simple craft, whatever. Have more ideas than you will use. Having a houseful of bored 6-year-olds is way more stressful than having leftover activities you didn’t get to.

  •  Make the craft part of the loot bag - more memorable than another piece of candy.  Keep it really simple and only use paint if you've got older kids.  Younger? Think stickers and glue.

  • Go with the flow. Finally, when the party is on, there will be chaos. As long as no one is bleeding, choking or crying, they are probably having fun. Relax and let your kid enjoy the party and be ready to adjust the plan for what the kids like to do.

Here're more of our Super Fun (and Affordable) Kid Birthday Party Posts:

Minecraft Birthday Party: Minecraft Printables, Crafts and Games!

Even More Minecraft Birthday Party Ideas, Games and Printables 2.0

Secret Agent (Spy) Birthday Party: Ideas, Printables, Games and More...

Ocean's Eleven-style Heist with Games and Printables!

Have fun!  Seriously - take lots of deep cleansing breaths - and have fun.


  1. Awesome ideas! Mostly, "go with the flow". I get so worked up and sweaty!

    1. It's like a good workout, Kyla? Feels great when you're done.

  2. What a brilliant, informative, and timely post! Thanks!! Look at all these fun ideas! Thanks for sharing!


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