Party on a Budget

Party on a Budget
By:  Angela Pounders
I told myself that I would not be the type of parent who would go all out and spend a lot of money for my children’s birthday parties.  Instead, I would buy a few themed items and work around that with what I had and/or buy some inexpensive items to go with it.  My parents never went all out and I have some of the best birthday memories.  To me, it’s not about how much money you spend, but about the time spent together.
This year, Sweet Girl, my (now) four year old, wanted an Elmer the Elephant party.  (He’s a patchwork elephant featured in books by David McKee.)  I couldn’t find party stuff to buy so I had to be creative. Love Bug, my (just turned) two year old, picked a Thomas the Tank Engine theme.  Of course, there is a ton of stuff out there with Thomas!  However, I ended up spending about the same for each girl’s party with these easy, fun and inexpensive ideas.
Plates and Napkins:  I always let the girls pick out plates and napkins that go along with their chosen theme.  We have done solid colored plates and printed napkins before as well.  I found the cutest elephant napkins that stand up.  There is a wide variety of designs available.  So, not only did we have napkins, but a table decoration at each spot! 
Tablecloth:  Go with a solid color and something that can be reused.  If you are having a bunch of children over, plastic tablecloths from the Dollar Store work great.  Oriental Trading has a good selection to.  We used our nice cloth tablecloths (you know, like the ones you pull out for the holidays) this year for the girls and it made them feel so special.
Decorations:  A lot of money can be spent in this category, but it doesn’t have to be.  I printed out color pictures of Elmer and his friends and also of Thomas and friends to hang around the living/dining rooms. I also printed some in black and white so the girls could color them and used those as decorations, too. You can find a lot of free printables online to go along with any theme.  I found some elephant party invitations at the Dollar Store and used those for decorations and for making Sweet Girl’s birthday card. Remember, think outside of the box!  Also, streamers and balloons in colors that go with your child’s theme are an inexpensive addition to the décor.  The Dollar Store is the best place to go for these disposable decorations.
The new idea I came up with this year is free!  I thought it would be fun to decorate using books.  Yes, the kind you read.  We went to the library and checked out a bag full of books for each girl’s theme.  We set the books up around the living/dining rooms.  They decorated the rooms and were in reach when the girls wanted to look at them.  You could also buy some new books for your child and put them out the morning of his/her birthday as a surprise.
Activities:  Again, you can find many free printables online with patterns and craft ideas.  There are also a variety of BINGO type game sheets that you can print out, too.
Sweet Girl really wanted to look like Elmer and asked if I could paint her.  Um, no, but how about coloring a t-shirt to wear instead?  I drew a checkerboard on a couple of t-shirts and let the girls go at them with fabric markers.  I even made one!  What child wouldn’t think it was neat to draw on and make his/her own shirt?  You could prep each shirt with a picture related to your child’s theme (draw it on, iron-ons, etc) and have each child decorate his own shirt.  An activity and party favor in one!
Cake:  Maybe you feel like you’ve saved enough money with everything else to buy a bakery made cake, but why not make one at home?  Whether you make it from scratch or a box, it is so fun to have the birthday child make the cake with you.  Sweet Girl even wanted to help place the animal cake toppers (which doubled as toys afterwards—another money saving tip!) on her cake.
I hope these fun, easy and inexpensive ideas help you with the next party you plan.  Remember to think outside of the box and be creative.  Think about how things can serve double functions to save even more money.  Spend more time and less money and everyone will benefit from it!
Angela Pounders is a transplant to Prince William County Park from Arlington.  She is blessed to be a stay at home mama to two beautiful girls.  As a former teacher (as well as preschool director and Children and Family Director), she is always on the look out for fun, easy and educational things to do with her girls.  She shares her ideas on her blog, The Master’s Daughter.