Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 15, 2024

Great Low-Cost Birthday Celebrations

Make your childs special day nice without spending a lot its in your attention to details!

feat_cupcakes.pngThe time has come to start planning your child’s birthday party, but how do you plan one that celebrates your child’s life without spending too much? It’s actually easier than you think. It takes creativity, some time planning and a budget to create a birthday your child will fondly remember in the years to come.

Consider this: In years to come, it’s possible that your child will only remember the friends and family who came … but you can help make the party more memorable with special touches. Remember, too: Let the good times roll! Depending on age, a lot of kids are happy with water pistols and fun music playing in the background.

Start your birthday party planning by first defining your intention. This may sound silly, but a lot of people don’t think about the underlying reason for the urge to splurge. Do you want a birthday party to show off how much you love your child? Or do you want a birthday that gives you the greatest convenience?

If you answered yes to the first question, you’ll definitely be able to create a low-cost celebration. Define your child’s birthday party by its singular purpose: celebrating him.

Engrave Your Budget in Stone

Setting the budget is the first thing you must do. If you have a monthly budget, extract the money you normally allot for entertainment. Use your budget as your guide, not the number of invites. Many people are able to throw a magical birthday party on $50 total. It doesn’t take much, especially if your child is little.

Adopt the “envelope system” espoused by financial writer Dave Ramsey: Grab the amount of cash money you have allotted for your child’s birthday, and spend directly from that envelope. When the cash is gone, you’re done. It really forces you to edit your purchases. It also activates the creative side of your brain.

Dollar Store Decorations

Your neighborhood dollar store is an amazing resource for planning a successful birthday party. Not all of the items in the dollar store are cheap and tawdry, most are actually incredibly priced and useful. The things you can buy from the dollar store include specialized balloons (the ones in the shape of cupcakes and butterflies), paper plates and plastic utensils, candy, party favors and decorations. You can also buy do-it-yourself crafts and ask your kids to help.

Let Them Eat Cake

You may think that you can’t bake your own cake, but you can! With great books and the Internet, everything is possible. Sites like AllRecipes and YouTube help even the novice baker create a masterpiece.

“You can also find great books to help you create a beautiful cake,” says Julie Anderson, Nashville mother of one. “I always want to do something my daughter will like, and sometimes a store just doesn’t have it. Making it yourself gives you that advantage.”

All it takes are ingredients and some imagination. Making your own cake gives you the most flexibility, and is very cost effective, shaving as much as 90 percent off of a store-bought price.

Food for Kiddies

Serve finger foods your guests will want to eat. Stay away from fine French cheese when you’re hosting 5-year-olds. Think more along the lines of Goldfish. Instead of crackers, think potato chips – the baked, good-for-you kind. Serve ice cream and cake, homemade punch and save candy for the goody bags.


This is the part that requires the most creativity. How do you entertain a bunch of kids whose attention spans are equal to their age? Have a lot of activities planned so kids are happily engaged. Again, use the Internet to learn about fun party games at home.

If you want to create a more cohesive atmosphere, consider throwing a talent or variety show. Invite the kids to dress up and create characters for them to act out before everyone. It’s inexpensive, encourages imagination and it’s fun!

Other tips: consider the idea of a sleepover, if you have a girl, or a camping trip (in the backyard) for the boys.

Your child’s birthday party doesn’t have to suffer because of a limited budget. If you allow yourself to consider the possibilities, you’ll realize the only thing limited in the first place was your thinking. You are more resourceful than you think!

Erin Annon is a mother and freelance writer.

homemade cakes with flair!

feat_cake-book.pngLittle Sarah wants a castle cake for her birthday. But can you find the right one at a bakery? Why not make it yourself? Annie Rigg’s book, Birthday Cakes for Kids (Ryland Peters & Small; $19.95), is chock full of ideas sure to spark your imagination – and make little Sarah happy.
– Kiera Ashford

getting good ideas

storybook party

Turn your child’s favorite book into a birthday fantasy world and watch the “characters” come to life!


Photocopy the cover of your child’s favorite book, such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or Harriet the Spy. Replace the title with the name of your party, such as “Luke Melvin and the Goblet of Fire Party” or “Stephanie the Spy Party.” Add party details in the empty spaces or around the edges. Ask the kids to come dressed as a favorite character from the selected book.


Check out a bunch of similar books from the library and set them around the room. Reproduce items or scenes from the story using construction paper, poster board and markers. Inflate helium balloons, download and photocopy the faces of the characters and tape them to the balloons so they float around the room. Hang pictures or phrases from the book on the wall or use them as place mats.

Games and Activities

What’s My Line?

Read first lines from a variety of favorite stories and have kids guess the titles. Or, read lines of dialogue from the book and have the kids guess who’s talking. You could have the guests all make their own Harry Potter wand!

Trivia Quiz:
Ask trivia questions about the featured book and have teams race to answer.

Write It Yourself:
Have the kids brainstorm a new plot for the featured book or turn it into a comic book.

Scene It:
Act out a favorite scene from the book, with lines and parts for everyone.


Choose foods from the book or make your child’s favorite foods and give them names inspired by the book, such as “Potter’s Pot Pies” or “Spy Soup.”

Birthday Cake

Make a rectangular cake and decorate it to look like the book cover (you can have a photo cake made at the bakery if you prefer).


Send the kids home with a goody from the book, such as a Harry Potter wand or Harriet the Spy magnifying glass.

Penny Warner with Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kits. Find more great ideas at

planning a dinosaur party

feat_party-dino.pngA prehistoric theme can be a lot of fun when the next birthday comes around.


Use blank cards and add clip art, stickers or drawings to the front. Type up info on the computer, print it and paste to the inside of the card.


Purchase animal print fabric or felt at your local fabric store for a few dollars. This is perfect for tablecloths or use brown or gray disposable tablecloths and napkins. Use wicker baskets or wooden containers to hold spoons, forks and napkins. Scatter green leaves and toy dinosaurs down the middle of the table. Make a large centerpiece of a palm tree and several large plastic or stuffed dinosaurs.

Games and Activities

Go on a dinosaur hunt. Hide small toy dinosaurs in the yard or house. Supply a map with clues and let kids hunt. Another fun activity is to have children create their own dinosaur stencil T-shirt. Purchase plain T-shirts, dinosaur stencils, fabric paints and paintbrushes. Lay down newspaper for children to work on.


Green Kool-Aid makes great caveman punch. Make dinosaur pebble salad by mixing miniature marshmallows, butterscotch chips, walnuts and whipped cream.

Birthday Cake

Make a shaped cake or cupcakes and decorate them with tiny plastic dinosaurs.


Send the kids home with goody bags made from animal print fabric and decorated with their names. Include rock candy, dinosaur bone candy and other fun treats. Later in the week, have your child send out dinosaur shaped thank-you cards for his gifts.

a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy (or cowgirl) party

feat_party-cowboy.pngHere are some rough and ready ideas that will please even the toughest cowpokes.


Make invitations in the shape of cowboy hats, boots or pistols. Use card stock and let your child help you decorate the invitations. Mail them out about two weeks before your party.


Use picnic tables or even wooden crates. Use red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Bowls lined with bandanas make great serving dishes for chips and other snacks. Fill a metal bucket with ice and juice bags.

Games and Activities

As your child’s guests start arriving, hand each one a bandana. Then, direct them to the craft table (already set up). Supply each cowboy with a paper bag that has been cut down the middle and two arm holes and a neck hole thave have been precut. Let them decorate their vests.

Then move on to more fun on the range. Here are some fun activities for little cowboys and cowgirls:

Theres a Snake in My Boot: Use a pair of old cowboy boots and some small plastic snakes. Two children can go at once with two boots. Allow each child a turn to toss three snakes into the boot from a designated distance. Give out gold nuggets or some cowboy treats to winners.

Horsin Around: Have a stick horse race. You will want to plan ahead for this. Include a note in the invitation or make sure you have enough stick horses on hand.


Hot dogs and hamburgers with chips and salsa.

Birthday Cake

Bake a cake in the shape of a boot or do cupcakes and place a plastic cowboy on top.


As your tired cowpokes head home, send them off with a bag full of cowboy goodies for the trail. Small burlap bags (you can sew them yourself in minutes) filled with “gold” (corn pop cereal), licorice ropes, plastic cowboys and Indians, water guns, sheriff’s badges or gold candy coins are all great ideas.

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