Cost of Kids’ Birthday Parties and Ideas to Save Big

I remember the week leading up to my birthday party in third grade. My second grade teacher’s son had come into school to visit his mother (he went to a different school) during the last week of the previous school year, and I had a secret crush on him. My mother gave me invitations to hand out to my friends I wanted to invite and I had gotten up the nerve to revisit my second grade teacher and hand her an invitation for her son. He said yes! Leading up to the party I felt butterflies in my stomach. The party itself was amazing—he even held my hand during one of the slow songs. Sigh!

As adults we don’t normally throw annual birthday parties for ourselves (though I did just throw my husband a bowling party in true sixth-grade style last month), so it’s nice to have birthday parties for children while they are still kids. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun. But just how much money does a typical birthday party cost?

While researching prices of children’s birthday parties I learned a few things. First of all, there are a large number of venues that host birthday parties. Variety in venue also reflects how varied the pricing is (I surveyed these venues in the Houston region, so this may vary in other areas). In the chart below I’ve given a sampling of the types of parties that are available and the cost for each. I based each price on a party of 10 children (where this did not fit the party model offered I’ve made a note), and choosing the cheapest package in instances where there was a choice.

Event Cost Cost per Child What is Included
Bowling $181.30 $18.31 2 hours of unlimited bowling, rental shoes, 1-2 slices of pizza per child and unlimited soda, party decorations, bowling pin for guests to autograph for birthday child, invitations, goody bag with a free bowling game for each child
Paintball $160 +tax $16.00 +tax One hour of paintball, 200 paintballs per person, semi – auto marker, & unlimited CO2
Rock Gym $150 $15.00 2.5 hours of rock climbing, safety training, access to tables and benches, free rental shoes for the birthday child
Chuck E. Cheese’s $129.90 +tax $12.99 +tax 2 hours of table space, 2 slices of pizza and unlimited sodas for each child, 20 tokens per child, Party host, tableware and decorations, 3 ft. balloon for birthday child, inflatable crown with 8 tokens for birthday child, email invitations
Roller Skating $110 +tax $11.00 +tax Admission, skate rental, reserved seating, paper goods, decorated tables, vanilla ice cream cups and drinks, party host, 20 game tokens and a free roller rink pass for the birthday child
Zuma Fun Center $109.90 $10.99 90 minutes at a reserved table, 1 soft drink per person, balloons/tableware, party host, 10 arcade tokens per child, 1 outdoor attraction ticket, gift for birthday child
Houston Zoo $285 zoo members; $385 non-zoo members $9.50 or $12.83 (for 30 people) 30 admission tickets for children or adults (all day), two-hour rental of an outdoor pavilion with 2 tables and 5 round tables, table covers, clean-up by zoo personnel
Michael’s Craft Party Approximately $70.00 Approximately $7.00 per child Personal room and party host for 2 hours (party host cleans up), choice of one of several crafts to do like Messy party, Tub of Fun, Dr. Seuss, Build-A-Bear, etc. You purchase the craft supplies (that is the approximate $7 per person) at a 10-20% discount off of everything, they provide a list depending on which craft you choose
Renting a Pony $150 Website does not say how many children recommended 2 ponies for 1 hour

 

Party Ideas to Save Money

It seems like kids will be happy so long as they get cake, have kid-friendly food, get to hang out with friends, feel special, and there is an activity involved that would be considered “cool”. As long as you satisfy this list it doesn’t matter if you spend several hundred dollars or under $100.

I decided to brainstorm and research some alternative ideas for great birthday parties that will help your budget. Obviously the age and gender of your child makes some of these choices great and others completely unrealistic. Also, time of year will play a role in many of these activities. Pick through the list and see if you find anything useful—I’d love to hear your own ideas in the comments below!

  • Sleepover: This is definitely a larger time commitment than the others, but I used to love sleepover parties of my own and at my friends’ homes. If it’s in the summer, everyone could even camp out! We only needed the following for a fantastic night: rented movies, frozen pizza, munchies, any popular board games of the time (can you believe I used to own Mall Madness??), and nail polish.
  • Craft Party: I think Michael’s offers a great deal above because you basically just pay for the craft supplies and food you want to serve. However, you can do the same thing in your home, with the advantage that whatever the guest makes is their take-home “goody”. Make slime, sand art (just like at the carnival!), beaded or other jewelry (craft stores have a great selection of jewelry-making items), tie-dye tee shirts, etc.
  • Rent a Popular Movie Around its Release: Is your child’s party around the release date of a really popular movie? (I am thinking in the past this would have been Harry Potter, Twilight, High School Musical which my niece was gaga for, etc.). Make a themed party in your living room complete with gourmet popcorn, hangout chairs, and movie posters. You could also purchase a cake with the movie characters on it.
  • Scavenger Hunt: This can be either indoors or outdoors, and could also incorporate the internet. Divide the party into teams that make sense for the number of people you have, and then give them a custom-made scavenger hunt to follow along. Depending on where you are located, you might want to give out compasses. Be sure to splurge on a few prizes for the winning team to up the ante.
  • Dig for Treasures: I came up with this idea when I saw our neices’ sandbox. Kids love to hunt for treasures (don’t we all?), and so it would be so much fun to bury them in sand and have a treasure hunt! If you don’t have a sand box, you could fill a plastic kiddie pool with sand. Treasures could be little action figures you can find at craft stores, containers of putty, coins, or you could go all out and do a pirate theme. You will need to provide each child with a bag of some sort to put their treasures in.
  • Water Gun Paintball: Have the guests bring old tee-shirts they can ruin, or purchase ones specifically for this party. Also, purchase water guns and dye water different colors for each team. Divide everyone into teams and play some water gun paintball in the backyard. You could take it to a park as well if you don’t have the space.
  • Tea Party: I am envisioning elegant invitations, little girls dressed in cute frilly dresses and dainty cakes/cupcake bites. The downside is you don’t necessarily want to put out your best china unless it’s an older age group. You could probably find some great tea cups/sets at thrift stores/Goodwill, and could even put together a mismatched set for the occasion.
  • Cooking Party: Be your own chef/demonstrator or look into hiring a personal chef/student at a culinary program for an hour. Make sure to factor in age group and ingredient costs when choosing the recipe. If you have leftover money you could purchase aprons cheaply and have the kids decorate them with fabric paint.
  • Water Balloon Fight: Provide plenty of ammo, which you can fill ahead of time. You can pick teams and then fill a plastic container of water balloons for each team to take to their base. Decide the rules and how to declare a winner, such as a ‘capture-the-flag’ type of game where you are eliminated if you are hit by a balloon, or some other end goal in mind.

19 comments… add one

  • Michelle

    When I was in middle school my mom let me have 10 friends over for a make-up party. She had went to a Clinique counter at the mall and asked them for as many samples as they could spare (and explained what she was doing). Clinique was happy to get more customers (and their moms) hooked at a young age. We paired those samples with other left over Clinique bonus items, so everyone went home with a little baggie full of Clinique.

    P.S. I have been hooked on Clinique every since.

  • Hunter @ Financially Consumed

    I recall that my sister had a sleepover with all her 12 year old friends when I was about 10. They all took the balloons and put them up their pajamas to pretend they were pregnant. It was so funny. I was even asked to inflate more balloons so that all the girls could pretend to be pregnant. They did it for the entire party. Looking back, I suppose it was also low-cost entertainment.
    Hunter @ Financially Consumed recently posted..Best Go Green Method To Save Money

  • This is a relevant topic for me, as I recently shelled out some bucks for a party for my youngest. I do think that kids parties have gotten, way, WAY out of hand of late. Your ideas are good ones.

    Of course, despite being frugal, I can succumb to emotional spending (my emotions!) when it comes to kids. Rational thoughts just have to dominate next time, as they do for most any other expense for me:)
    Squirrelers recently posted..Factors that Influence Retirement Savings: An Adviser?

  • Kids’ birthday parties are the bane of my parental existence. I love my daughter but the birthday parties are ridiculous. Near where I live, there is a salon that caters specifically to children. While my daughter is not quite old enough to know about it, she will be soon and I’m sure I’m going to wind up shelling out money for a mani/pedi party for her and her friends. Other ideas we’ve looked at? A Tumblebus party, Build-a-Bear party, a “zoo” party…it goes on. But what I mainly do is have some of her friends and family over for homemade crafts and cake. There have been no complaints so far!
    jana recently posted..Money Tune Tuesday: Money Talks

  • My son (7) has yet to be invited to a simple, fun party at a friend’s house. They are all overpriced events that cost $100 to $500. Yikes!
    Mom’s Plans recently posted..Why Didn’t I Shop at Costco Earlier?

  • Last year we did a Mad Hatter’s tea party. It was so much fun and it wasn’t too costly. It did take quite a bit of planning, but I enjoyed that part too. Must have been a party planner in a past life.
    Niki recently posted..Ways to Get Excited About Paying Off Debt

  • We had a party for our 10 year-old son one year. We took the boys to a local roller skating rink that was cheap. That was followed by a sleepover with pizza & chips. We thought they’d be so tired from skating that they’d go to sleep earlier. Wrong. They still stayed up all night. One kid kept starting fist fights & we had to call his dad to take him home. I vowed to never have a boys’ sleepover again! The noise, the noise! But it was cheap.

  • holiday party venues NYC

    What a perfect ideas! Thanks for sharing this of how to save money in holding parties. It is one of my problem before and thankfully, I have overcome this.

  • DeAnna

    We throw traditional birthday parties but everyone acts bored. It is so sad that kids of today are so spoiled.

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  • ron

    i don’t know if it’s me, but my wife spends 400.00 to 500.00 hundred every year on both my step childrens birthday parties. There ages are 13 and 17. Is it me or is this normal?

    • FruGal

      Hi Ron,

      While I don’t want to pass judgement on your wife (please don’t start an argument over me!:)), it does seem like a lot to me. I would think you might spend that much for big birthdays like the sweet sixteen.

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