Frugal Birthday Ideas

Where was it written in the “Handbook to American Culture” that we need to spend a lot of money to have fun or make someone feel special?

I’m not convinced that kids need fancy (read: expensive) birthday celebrations in order to feel special. Celebrating the birthday child?  Important. Spending my monthly grocery budget to do so?  Notsomuch. Here are a few ideas for a frugal birthday celebration.

Allow the birthday child to plan the day’s menu. Every kid has their favorite foods.  Today is the day to make a meal just for them.  Funny thing is, they’ll likely pick something less labor intensive than your normal fare.  My girl?  “Cereal and blueberry muffins for breakfast, please.  Grilled hamburgers for supper.”  I can swing that!

Write a Happy Birthday message in sidewalk chalk to welcome the birthday child home from school.  Not only will she have fun stepping on each letter on her walk home, but her friends will enjoy the view, too.

Hang a Happy Birthday banner overnight. It’s fun to wake up to a birthday surprise first thing in the morning!

Dust off a special plate just for the day. This Happy Birthday Plate is so much fun, and the You Are Special plate could serve many celebratory purposes.

Send a note in the birthday child’s school bag or lunch box (or both). Maybe write a note for each year of their new age, with  “time to be opened” instructions written on the front.  If you want to get really creative, insert a photo of her at each age with every note.

Pick some wildflowers or cut some from your garden to brighten up the table. Place birthday cards around the vase.

Make cupcakes and arrange them in the celebrated age. Cupcakes can easily be served as the base of strawberry short cake, alongside ice cream, or as a special treat all their own.

Whether you’re strapped for cash or just desire to live simply, frugal birthday celebrations are a great place to start.  What low-or-no cost things do you do to make someone’s birthday special?

Visit Life as Mom for more frugal ideas.

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  1. Thank you for the great ideas! We have three May birthdays at our house, and I’ve been searching for some low cost inspiration.

  2. You are so right. Our kids don’t necessarily want an elaborate birthday party, they are satisfied with much less than we would give them credit for. We need their innocence don’t we?!

  3. Great ideas! We keep birthday celebrations simple and at the house. I serve up cake and drinks on real dishes… no extra paper supplies to buy and the kids think they’re big stuff. 🙂 I never buy cakes or snack trays (too pricey and not as tasty as homemade!)…

    Love, love, love the crocheted doily under your flowers… I have some nearly identical ones made by my grandmother that I cherish.

    • I’ve got quite the stash of doilies made by my grandma and great aunt. Sad that I forget what treasures they are until someone else notices them!

  4. Our favorite way to keep the cost down for birthdays is to hold the party at a park. Why spend a ton to rent a room at a party establishment and buy their overpriced food when you have free entertainment around the corner? We invite close friends and family and strategically schedule it for between lunch & dinner so that we don’t feel obligated to provide a full meal for 20 people. Cake & ice cream do the trick while the adults visit in the shade and the kids run themselves silly in the sunshine. So far I’ve been blessed with two kids with birthdays during warm weather. I’ll have to think of something else for a winter kid if we get one of those someday.

    • Guess where we’re headed this afternoon for a birthday/Mother’s Day cookout combo? Yep — the park! 🙂

  5. For the past 10 years or so I’ve hung a cluster of colorful balloons from the light fixture in our eating area. It’s the first thing they see as they walk down the hall in the morning. They love it…it makes their birthday “official”. One year I didn’t do it the night before…and my son was crushed. Hard lesson learned!! I’ve done it religiously ever since!

  6. We keep birthdays simple, too. One of our best and most frugal parties was for my oldest son’s 4th birthday; we asked the local fire department if they would send a truck over, and they did. The big red truck turned the corner with all the bells and whistles going… all the kiddos ran out of the party to see what the ruckus was! Needless to say, they had great fun looking inside the truck and meeting a couple firemen, ALL FOR FREE. The fire department considered it a public service and wouldn’t take a dime from us, but we did convince them to at least snag a few fireman cupcakes instead ;o)

    Jaime G

  7. My husband and I often offer special chores on birthdays. He might clean out the garage for me, I might organize his closet and/or make a special dinner of all his favorites. A massage is always appreciated. Price is zero, and the rewards are invaluable.

  8. Great ideas! I don’t really have anything to add, since our son is only about to be 2 (and our other child hasn’t arrived yet!). However, I agree 100% that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a birthday party for a kid! We’ll be using some of the ideas in this post in the years to come.

  9. Those are some great ideas! I love the writing of chalk on the sidewalk. My kids would get such a kick out of that surprise!

  10. Catherine says:

    I just have to share this story. In our area, the high schoolers and middle schoolers ride the same bus, but the high schoolers get on first and then drive to the middle school to pick up the rest of the kids. Well, my sister was in high school and my brother was in middle school at the time, so on his birthday, my sister made a HUGE banner, got all the “cool high schoolers” to sign it and hung it on the side of his bus! He saw it right when he got out of school! And then as they got off the bus, ALL the kids sang “Happy Birthday” at the top of their lungs! WOW! He was one of the “cool” kids that day – he’ll always remember it and it didn’t cost much more than the price of paper. 🙂

  11. I just ordered napkins and plates from for much cheaper than I could have gotten them at the store. I have a coupon for $4 off a Publix cake and I’m going to get a small one and make Rice Krispy treats and cupcakes to go along with it. We’re having the party outside and we usually decorate the driveway before those kinds of parties. I’ll probably host 60 or so people for about $60. Woo hoo!

    • What a fun party! I definitely think a small cake surrounded by cupcakes and/or other treats is the way to go for a crowd.


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