Raising kids is a costly proposition, but one thing that doesn’t have to break the bank is your child’s birthday party. If you want to show the kids a good time without splurging too much, here are six ideas for at-home parties, ranging from super-simple to very creative, eleven ideas for inexpensive places to have a party, some specific to the Charlotte area, as well as some general money-saving tips for birthday parties.
Frugal At Home Birthday Parties
All of these parties have been approved by actual birthday kids and their friends.
This is a messy one, so prepare by buying a bunch of cheap ponchos. Then try one or more of these fun pie activities:
- Pie making: Buy individual graham cracker crusts, mix up a few flavors of instant pudding, and let kids create their own mini-pies and decorate with sprinkles and other toppings. You could buy to-go boxes or just have them eat the pies at the party.
- Pie eating contest: Fill plates with whipped cream and a set number of gummy bears. Without using hands, each kid tries to get the gummy bears out and spits them into a cup. The first one to get them all out wins.
- Pie throwing: Decorate pieces of cardboard as people and cut out holes for faces. The targets stick their faces through the holes while the pie throwers throw whipped cream pies at them. For the pies, put some Nilla Wafers on a paper plate, for heft, and then fill with whipped cream.
Tip: You’ll go through a lot of whipped cream, so shop at bulk at a warehouse club like BJ’s or Costco for the whipped cream.
This one seems almost too simple. But if you have a preschooler you should see the appeal. Create a city out of old moving boxes. Then…let the kids tear them down. You can paint windows and doors on the “buildings.” But one mom reports that she didn’t do any painting and the preschoolers at the party were still perfectly happy tearing down the city. Maybe add to the Godzilla fun with “Pin the tail on Godzilla.”
This is another one that’s such a simple idea but is so much fun for kids. It’s also a great idea for cold-weather months. Buy enough bubble wrap to cover the floor. Get the kind with large bubbles, like this one. Turn on some fun music and let the kids jump until they wear themselves out. Which might take longer than you think.
Make an inexpensive, no-sew superhero cape for each child. To turn it into a party activity, have each child design his or her own superhero logo and attach it with spray glue to the cape, for a take-home party favor.
Here are some superhero games to play:
- Joker’s challenge: Each kid gets the chance to be the Joker and gets one minute to make the others laugh. The joker gets one point for each kid who laughed.
- Superhero obstacle course: Create an obstacle course with superhero challenges like running through hula hoops, karate chop a “bad guy” (could be a couch cushion), bust through a wall made of cardboard boxes…you get the idea.
- Bean bag attack: Paint 2-liter bottles or soda cans bright colors and then glue printed out pictures of comic book villains to them. The kids have to knock them over with beanbags.
This will be a sure hit with the dog loving kids. Try one or more of these activities:
- Paint the kids’ faces like dogs. Here’s a video tutorial.
- Have the kids make dog ears out of black headbands (from dollar store) and felt.
- Create an obstacle course, like a dog agility course, with hula hoops, traffic cones and hurdles made from PVC pipes. Be creative!
- Buy inexpensive stuffed puppies from the dollar store or Amazon and let the guests each adopt one and bring it home.
- Decorate the goody bags as “doggy bags”
- Have the kids pair off and teach each other dog tricks and them share them at a “dog talent show.”
- Fill up a laundry basket with tennis balls or soft toys and have the kids pair up and compete against other dog/human pairs in fetch races.
- Serve up Scooby Snacks. (The kind for humans.)
Recruit a couple moms or older sisters and set up stations for painting nails, fixing hair and applying makeup. If the adults are brave, the tables can even be turned!
Frugal parties out and about
Here are some ideas for inexpensive parties out on the town, with some Charlotte exclusives.
- Go for a scavenger hunt on a Greenway.
- You-pick Farms: If the birthday falls during a growing season, bring the kids to a you-pick farm. Get each child a bucket from a dollar store and let them decorate it. Then let them pick fruit to fill their buckets. (Call the farm for details.) Most farms are free to visit and some have wagons to take visitors to the fields or orchards, and some have animals to fields. In many cases the only cost will be the fruit (or pumpkins!) Then just share a cake picnic. The fruit bucket is the “goody bag.” Here’s a big list of you-pick farms in the Charlotte area.
- Contact your fire station and see if they have a community room open for parties. The City of Concord Fire Department offers community rooms at just $25/hour for city residents ($30/hour for non-residents.) Depending on availability tours may be available.
- ImaginOn is free to visit and there’s plenty for kids to do, including the Page Stage, where kids dress up in costumes and perform impromptu plays, and a puppet theatre. Make sure that you have an appropriate adult/child ratio, out of consideration for other families enjoying the space. Follow this up with a picnic in First Ward Park.
- Picnic Shelters at local parks are inexpensive to rent. Most small picnic shelters, for up to 20 people, are $52 on the weekends. And dirt cheap–$21–during the week. Many are right next to a playground.
- Or forgo renting the shelter at all and set up a picnic on big blankets next to a playground.
- Go to a birthday venue, like a trampoline park or bounce place, but don’t get the party room. Have the cake afterwards, at home. It’ll save a lot of money, and you’ll only pay for the kids who do show up. Also, make sure to look on Groupon because there are often deals for kids activity venues.
- Village Park in Kannapolis: A highlight of this park is a ride on the Rotary Express train. Tickets are just $1.50. There’s also a splash pad ($1.50) and a playground. (Seasonal)
- Dan Nicholas Park in Salisbury: Worth the trek from Charlotte, this park has a host of inexpensive, fun features for kids, including a nature center (free), old-fashioned carousel ($1), mini-train ride ($1), gem mining ($8), mini-golf ($4), water plaza (free) and more. (Seasonal)
- Summer camps: Contact local summer camps and see if they have any birthday party offerings. Here’s an intriguing one: Camp Canaan, in Rock Hill, has a yurt where you can have a pow-wow for up to 40 people, and then cook s’mores around a campfire. $125 for four hours. Add a sleepover for $10 extra.
- Piggyback on another event: Charlotte has a ton of festivals every year, and many of them are family friendly. If your child’s birthday is around the time of one of those festivals, why not bring the party to the festival? There will be lots of free activities and entertainment (just make sure you bring along enough adults to supervise.) Consider the Fairy House Festival ($5, but ages 4 and under are free; you must get tickets in advance) at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in February, the Dragon Boat Festival at Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius in May, or the Hummingbird Festival at Reedy Creek Nature Center in August.
Money-saving birthday party tips
- Have the party between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., when guests won’t expect a meal
- Send out invitations by email, or by using evite
- Shop at dollar stores instead of party stores
- Buy solid-colored paper goods instead of themed items