Partying big on a little budget

I confess, I am something of a party nut. Every year I would spend months dreaming up and creating fun themed parties for my three children’s birthdays. Imagine my horror when my youngest son asked for a ‘Just plain party’ for his sixth birthday. No theme, “just balloons and pass the parcel and jelly, please mum.” Of course it’s part of my party philosophy to give the kids what they want, but this? I could do this in my sleep, and where’s the fun in that?

So I set myself the challenge of creating the party for under $100 for everything – food, prizes, entertainment, decorations, the lotWith a combination of re-using, upcycling, dollar-store shopping and a bit of ingenuity and creativity, the party was a whole a load of colourful ‘just plain party’ fun.

Here’s how I put on a great party for ten kids for under a hundred bucks.

  • Dress-ups. I went through our mountainous pile of dress up clothes and pulled out a bunch which we were happy to part with. When the guests arrived they could choose a costume to wear and keep. This helped me clear space in our cupboards and sent each guest home with a cool new dress up outfit – a win all round. (Cost: zip).
  • Face-painting. We pulled out our collection of face-paints and upon arrival, the guests had their faces painted by my daughter and her friend. I love getting the big kids involved in running the party.
  • Lemonade stand. Where would I be without my trusty Lemonade Stand? I built it myself for a carnival party. It cost nothing because it was made out of ripped-up decking timber and leftover paint. You could easily build something very similar using pallets found free at the dump. (Cost: zip).
  • Decorations. I had bunting and a ribbon chandelier that I re-used (the more bunting the better, I say). A clever friend whipped me up a strand of gorgeous vintage sheet bunting in exchange for a book. (Cost: one book).
  • Games and prizes. The birthday boy requested pass-the-parcel, a treasure hunt, musical chairs and a sack race. For the prizes we made use of unused Happy Meal toys (cars, packs of game cards), as well as outgrown DVDs and a few other repurposed bits and pieces. (Cost: zip). I pulled out some felt “toadstools” I made for a fairy party six years ago to use as the ‘musical chairs’, and used old pillowcases for the sack races. I did splash out on a $2 medal for a prize for that one. (Cost: $2).
  • Upcycled games. Pass the Parcel can be a bit ‘meh’ for those of us watching on, so I added a couple of surprises in some of the layers along with the inevitable lollipop between each layer, just to shake things up a little. Three random layers contained a note saying, “To get a lollipop you must…sing the National Anthem, hop on one foot for ten seconds while patting your head, stuff these six marshmallows in your mouth and say ‘fluffy bunnies’ three times.” Hehe.
  • I tried to juggle cuteness, colour and party-cool with the birthday boy’s requests (balloons please) and the restricted budget. By shopping at the dollar store and making use of every colourful dish and plate in my possession, the eclectic style screamed ‘fun’. I found paper straws, cups and plates at a fraction of the price of the ones you see in boutique party stores.
  • Food and drink. The birthday boy had requested the classics: jelly, chips, cheerios, cupcakes, fairy bread, fruit kebabs. The menu was a wonder of simplicity and could all be made ahead of time. I gave the non-themed food a bit of pizzazz with colour – I made rainbow jellies in individual cups, and rainbow cupcakes. The drink was simple budget lemonade, with my own hand-drawn labels stuck on to make the bottles look fancy.

To say the kids had fun would be an understatement. There was nothing difficult about putting together this party – it was just the tried and true favourites put together with a bit of colour and plenty of balloons. You can so easily do this, for less than the cost of a McDonalds’ party.

lovely time at the party














Tips for a Budget friendly party:

  • Keep the things you make for one party to be reused at other parties. Keep the crafty leftovers from one party to the next. I collect all my leftover bits and bobs in file boxes – ribbons, string, tickets, feathers, fabric, you name it. You just never know when that stuff can be used again. Toadstool mats from the fairy party will come in handy again, as will the lemonade stand, the ribbon chandelier, the bunting. The tin cans you carefully collected and peeled labels off for Boy vs Wild, will be reused and/or repainted. Save yourself time and work by keeping what you’ve already made.
  • Collect and invest in things that can be used again and again. Like a face paint collection you add to bit by bit, a glass drinks dispenser, mini glass drink bottles, whitewashed crates, mini blackboards, cake and cupcake stands.Over time these generic items have accumulated until now we have enough cool stuff to whip up a stylish party at a moment’s notice. They have all been used again and again.
  • Plan ahead so you can shop on sale. If you know what the plan for your next party is well ahead of time, you can grab the bargains when you spot them. Adding a bag of sweets or cake decorating bits (when you see them on sale) to your groceries over time also helps absorb and spread the cost.
  • Be clever. Instead of spending 10% of your budget on a bunch of helium balloons, buy a pack of long balloon sticks for $2. Or make faux helium balloons like I did here. Don’t buy branded soft drinks – get Home Brand and then add your own printed labels (use my freebies; I have loads of styles). Use what you have, borrow what you don’t; enlist friends and even your kids to help run the party instead of parting with cash for entertainers and face painters.
  • Remember that the most important thing is that the kids have fun – not that your party is fit for Donna Hay. Take the pressure off and simply enjoy celebrating your kid.

Party on, my friends!

Simone Graham

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About Author

Simone Graham

Simone is prolific writer who has written many an article for Parenting magazine over the years and who blogs at She covers a broad range of topics from dyslexia to DIYs, recipes to motherhood, and adventures to quirky kids. She is mum to three and uses all that spare time she has (now that the kids can make their own lunches) to read books and plan parties.

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