Children’s birthdays are joyful milestones for families to celebrate, but they can also be a major source of overspending and financial worry for parents.

Given that the cost of booking many popular birthday party venues is now between $350–500 per party, you could be spending – or saving (if you choose an alternative) – as much as $5,000 on birthday party costs alone by the time your child turns 10.

If you have more than one child, that’s more than $10,000 that could be kept in your household budget to help pay down your mortgage, take a family vacation or two, or put away for savings like your children's future education.

So how does a budget-conscious family balance celebrating each birthday milestone with a party that doesn’t break the bank? Planning and booking ahead, and keeping things simple, will help avoid last-minute and overpriced party purchases.

Other major ways to make birthdays your source of serious savings depends on the ages of your children and the type of party you want to throw.

Birthday parties for babies and toddlers

It’s worth asking yourself at this stage of your child’s life who a big birthday party is really for? Most parents would agree that celebrating a birthday for babies and toddlers is really more for the parents, so why not keep it simple and the costs low?

  • Make a birthday party for your little one a fun, family affair at home or in the backyard – enjoy the delight your small child takes in the simplest of things and the ease of celebrating with the people that know your child best.
  • If space is a concern, and you or a friend or family member live in a condo or apartment, consider renting out the building’s party room – this affordable option means you simply bring in all your food and drink supplies, while the tables, chairs and cleaning is included in the rental fee.
  • Try a DIY approach to cakes, decorations and party favours for extra savings on birthday parties for kids at this young age.
  • Have a potluck party and ask guests to bring food and drinks, instead of gifts. You can provide a few simple games and toys for any young guests to play with.
  • In warmer months, the local playground or splash pad is a free, fun place to hold a simple picnic-style party on a weekend afternoon.
  • Hire your neighbourhood babysitter to come and lend a hand for the party – the cost for a few hours of extra childcare help will be minimal, but the time it allows you to relax and visit with family and friends will be priceless.
Kids’ birthday party hacks that can help save money

By elementary school, the desire to spend more on an out-sourced birthday party is often motivated by exhaustion: at the end of an already long week of work, school and extracurricular activities, it’s hard to find time and energy to clean, decorate, shop, cook, host and then clean up again afterwards.

The appeal of booking a party venue and outsourcing the planning, hosting and cleaning is undeniable, but so is the high cost of many off-site venues. Thankfully, there are some budget-friendly and kid-approved options for both out-sourced and at-home parties for elementary school children:

  • Use digital invitations instead of paper and reuse, borrow and share any decorations you can among friends and family.
  • Your local community centre, YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada offer reasonable rates for party rooms and on-site activities for active kids at this age – often for less than $200 for a group of up to 12 kids.
  • Local museums, nearby pick-your-own orchards and farms, or your public library can often accommodate a birthday party with unique activities and reasonable fees.
  • Search for group deals online for tickets to local attractions like zoos, community pools or even a movie theatre: you don’t have to book the party room to still make a day out a great party with your child’s friends.
  • Sledding and skating parties at the nearby hill or outdoor public rinks are low and no-cost party options for the winter, while beach or neighbourhood splash-pad parties make for affordable fun in the warmer months.
  • Simplify the menu with order take-out – kids at this age rarely refuse any chance to eat pizza – and pick up pre-made fruit and veggie trays.
  • Enlist your kids to help make a cake from scratch or a box before the party – party guests at this age also love to decorate their own cupcakes as an easy and delicious activity.
  • Save money by skipping the loot bags – make the party entertainment a simple craft they can take home instead, such as picture frames, jewellery, cookies or a bird feeder.
  • Create your own scavenger or treasure hunt for a fun, low-cost game for school-aged kids around the house or your yard – use pictures for beginning readers and more elaborate clues and riddles for older kids.
  • Don’t be shy about sharing the classic games from your own childhood for free party entertainment – kids today love charades, the limbo, musical chairs and pin the tail on the donkey just as much as you did.
Kids’ birthday party hacks that can help save money

Teenagers still love to celebrate their birthdays, and you have much more flexibility at this stage with the types of activities to include at their party. Involving your teen in setting and sticking to the party budget is a great way to give them more hands-on smart spending and saving practice.

And while on-site adult supervision is still important for a teen birthday party, kids at this age will most certainly appreciate a more subtle, sideline approach to chaperoning at their soiree.

  • For a home party, pick a theme your teen loves and build the activities around it – a jewellery-making night, video gaming tournament, spa or cooking party can all be fun and affordable.
  • Consider inviting your teen’s friends over for a dinner served in the backyard on a long table with candles and strung up lights, or in the cooler months, an evening bonfire complete with folding chairs, cozy blankets, a marshmallow roast and a few guitars.
  • Teens still love to go bowling or for a round of mini-gold with a group of their friends – or reduce the guest list and treat your teen and a couple of friends to a pedicure, a dinner out or movie tickets.
  • Slumber parties are still favourite options for teens, and as long as you are willing to give up a few hours of sleep to host one, you can save big with an at-home movie, pizza and sleepover for your child and a few of their best friends.
  • At this age, skipping the party and treating your teen to a weekend family road trip away can equal both savings and fun – even an overnight in a local hotel with a pool and an in-room movie can be a special, budget-friendly way to celebrate your teen’s birthday with family.

And while you’re enjoying all your savings from your child’s fun and low-cost birthday party, why not consider passing the savings to your child’s guests too? Try opting for a no-gift party by collecting donations for a charitable cause your child wants to support on their special day.

Ultimately, other than keeping your young guests safe and entertained, there is no rulebook for throwing a party for your child: it’s up to you how much you want to spend and save, and how lavish or simple to make the celebration.

One thing is for sure: your child will be thrilled with any party that involves spending quality time with their favourite family and friends – which means you already have what you need to create a memorable birthday celebration without spending a cent.