Woman happily smiling with balloons surrounding her

How to plan a birthday party for kids — and stay on budget

Birthday parties are one of the best parts of being a child. Friends, games, presents, birthday cake, and all the attention on you. What could be better? 

As parents, we love to see our kids happy and we want these special moments to create memories that will last. Planning a great birthday party is a way to do that while also celebrating ourselves for managing to hold all the pieces together for another year. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You know you deserve it. 

But now comes the question of how to plan a birthday party your child will remember. It can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to make it extra special — but don’t worry. We’ve got your guide on planning the perfect birthday party without breaking the bank.

How to plan a birthday party in 3 steps

When planning your child’s birthday party, it's easy to get carried away. They’re your child after all, and this is their special day. It can be tempting to splurge on a once-a-year celebration.

The pressure to have a huge blowout bash might also come from outside. The kids birthday party scene has gotten a little competitive over the years. If you have a large family, you might feel like you need to rent out the biggest party venue you can find to fit everyone on the guest list. 

But birthday party planning can be fun if you use our tips and tricks. Here are some key steps that will help you give your birthday person a party they’ll love without emptying your savings account.

1. Start with a budget.

How to plan a birthday party: father talking to his children

Any event or big purchase is easier to take on if you have a budget in place, and a kid’s birthday party is no different. Before you jump into the birthday party planning process, it’s important to know how much you’re willing to spend and on what. 

Start with the maximum amount that you want to spend on this party. (You’ll break it down into different spending categories later.) This number will vary from family to family, and it depends on your regular expenses, upcoming events or expenditures, and how your other savings goals are doing — among other things. 

While budgets sometimes feel like restrictions or deprivations, they actually help us get more of what we want, whether it’s saving more money or planning a great party.

2. Decide on the top party priorities.

There are many elements that go into planning a memorable kids birthday party. Once you figure out which the most important ones are to your guest of honor, you can both decide where to prioritize spending on the party and where you can save. Start with a list of choices and sit down to rank them together with your preset budget in mind. Here are some important elements to consider.

Number of guests

It’s not a party without people, but whether there’s going to be a lot of people or just a few is something you’ll want to know early on. If a lot of friends and family members attending the party ranks high on the list of importance, you may have to find ways to lower the cost per person in order to fit it in your budget. 

Some ways to do this might be having an outdoor party or BBQ in your backyard instead of renting a large indoor space. You could ask for smaller or no gifts but make it a potluck instead of catering. If an indoor venue is a must, you may have to be flexible on dates and make sure to book early. Last-minute bookings can get quite expensive. 

Party food

Food is a major ingredient in a great party, and it can be one of the most expensive parts, especially for a meal-time event. If you have a little foodie on your hands, you might want to discuss how you can stay on budget by slimming down the guest list. 

There might be cost-efficient solutions that are trendy and fun, too. Some of the most popular food options in both child and adult birthday parties right now are DIY pizza or taco bars. These are fantastic ways to bring fun and food together that won’t break the bank. Don’t forget the cupcake or ice cream bar for dessert. 

Bonus points here if you can work out together how much it would cost to feed each guest based on different menus. Then, figure out how many guests you could afford to invite based on each menu and your already agreed-upon budget. 

Birthday party themes and decorations

Blindfolded girl hitting a piñata

We just talked about several ways to entertain at a kids birthday party, but what if your child is looking for a little more pizazz? After all, sometimes it's all about making a splash. While a themed party usually calls for a bigger budget, let’s look at how to plan a birthday party that ticks all the boxes but also keeps to the budget. 

Since the cost per party guest for a themed party will most likely be higher, paring down the guest list is your first move. If a smaller guest list is just not an option, consider saving the fancy stuff for a more exclusive and intimate afterparty. A post-party event for your child and their besties might fall within your budget, and everyone who gets an invite will definitely be talking about it the next day.

Keep in mind that a themed party doesn’t have to cost a lot. DIY party decorations and invitations can save hundreds of dollars. Electronic invitations can also keep costs low and make tracking the RSVP list easier. 

DIY decorations and party favors might seem like a challenge, but you’d be surprised what you can learn to create from social media and online tutorials. It’s also a great opportunity to involve your kids in crafts for the party, which can make the event more rewarding and personal. 

Reach out to friends and family members to see if there are any hobbyist photographers or DJs who are willing to help you out. That can be another great way to save some cash. 

Party entertainment and experiences

No birthday blowout is complete without party games and entertainment. And while there might be some very specific games and attractions on your kid’s wishlist, it may come down to what fits the budget. The good news is there are so many fun birthday party ideas that don’t cost much money at all: 

  • Music and dancing

  • Karaoke 

  • Photo booth or photo wall with DIY or dollar-store props

  • Water balloon fight

  • A pool party

  • Old-school party games, like pin the tail on the donkey, sack races, or musical chairs

  • Craft stations

  • Piñatas

  • Costumes, dress up, or face painting

  • Scavenger hunts

All of these can be fun options that don’t cost much and can be adjusted for different age groups and interests.

3. Fine-tune the budget and shop for your party supplies.

At this stage, you’ve decided on your spending cap and what your party is going to include. So you’re ready to start divvying up your budget into spending categories and shop for your party supplies. Be sure to include your child in this step.

Birthdays mean we’re a little older and more mature. In your kids' case, each birthday brings them closer to the importance of financial literacy skills like saving and budgeting. It also means they’re a year closer to needing critical money management skills. What better way to help them advance those skills than to bring them into the planning and budgeting conversation for their party? 

When you include your kids and teens in financial planning, you help them understand money management and learn the importance of saving and planning. 

Greenlight can help you teach your kids about budgeting with Spend Controls. This feature lets you set a maximum spending amount at individual stores, so it’s perfect for helping your kids experience budgeting IRL. 

You can deposit and transfer the budgeted money into your child’s Greenlight account and use Spend Controls to allocate amounts for different stores. Then, your child can help with party shopping and see how far their budget goes at the party supplies store, the bakery, or wherever else they want to spend.

Keep in mind, you can adjust your budget as you go. If you spend less in one area than expected, you can reallocate the savings to another feature of the party. Or use the extra money to teach your child about saving and investing with the Greenlight app. 

Gift ideas for a birthday party on a budget

Father showing his phone to his son

Now that you know how to plan a birthday party, don’t forget about the gifts. A present doesn’t need to be a toy, a gadget, or clothes, especially as your kids start to get older. A gift can be something that helps your kids get a headstart on their financial journey. Taking advantage of compound interest early can be very powerful, and Greenlight offers the tools you need to do it.

Here are some gift ideas for your kids — whether it’s from you or from a friend or family member.

A new or updated Greenlight subscription

Give a Greenlight subscription that lets kids and teens learn about money and apply their knowledge with the Greenlight app. 

If you’re already on Greenlight, consider upgrading your subscription to give your kids the ability to learn to start investing — and much more.

A custom Greenlight card

Make your child’s Greenlight debit card as unique as they are with a customized photo. Create their custom card in the app and feature them, your family, their pet, or a group photo of their friends. They’ll smile every time they take it out of their wallet. 

Get paid 💸 through the Greenlight pay link

Bring birthday cash into the 21st century with the pay link to your child’s Greenlight account. Instead of slipping a check or bill into your child’s birthday card, your guests can send their birthday gifts via pay link. The funds will go directly to your child’s wallet (once approved by the parent on the account). Then, discuss how to spend, save, or invest the money together. 

Charitable gifts

We all want our kids to understand the value of money, but we also want them to be kind and giving people.

Birthdays are a great time to practice charitable giving. See if your child would be willing to have guests donate to a charity on their behalf or if they’d take part of the money given to them and send it to a charity of their choice.

The Greenlight app makes charitable donations extremely easy with the Giving category. You can move money into your child’s Give account so they can donate to the charity of their choice. If they’re not sure where to donate, they can select a category based on what they care about, like Animals or Community Development, and browse non-profits through CharityNavigator.org to find the best organization for them. 

Plan a birthday party for the ages

Planning a birthday party on a budget doesn’t have to be about doing less. Start with a list of priorities that your guest of honor wants at their party. Discuss how the guest list, food choices, party theme, and entertainment will impact the budget so your child can make decisions about where to spend and where to save. They’ll value their experience all the more when they’re involved in the plans.

Keep in mind that conversations about money can be tough, but they don’t have to be. You know your child better than anyone, and you probably have a pretty good idea how much they are ready for when it comes to planning and budgeting discussions. Keep the conversation light and take it slow when you first bring up the topic. Your child won’t be an instant money expert, and their age and maturity level will dictate how much you discuss with them. 

Upgrade your kid’s piggy bank on their birthday bash — set them up with a Greenlight debit card so they can save, spend, and invest on their own. You’ll even enjoy a month on us! Together with Greenlight, this will be a birthday party they’ll remember.

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