'I love throwing kids' parties but we're on a tight budget. Here's how I’m saving hundreds of dollars.'

Wow. It is that time of year again: birthday season. Somehow most people I know and love are born in the period from June to September, including my two children (clearly our family and friends are all into a bit of spring and summer nookie…).

This is all lovely, of course. I love celebrating birthdays, particularly for my little humans. Choosing their gifts, looking through the Woman’s Weekly birthday cake book with them and planning their parties are some highlights of my year.

But this year I noticed myself getting anxious about these celebrations, because the cost of living is just skyrocketing. Interest rate hikes, food prices going up weekly, electricity prices soaring... I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how expensive life is right now. 

And this means I am reigning in the birthday spending this year, including my kids’ birthday parties.

I know I could cancel their birthday parties this year, but I really don’t want to. 

They have been talking about what they want to do for their birthdays for months, and it feels mean to snatch that away now. 

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Plus, I love having a big celebration each year for the kids. It also gives us a chance to get to know and catch up with the parents of their friends from kindy and school, and we always invite some of our friends and family too. Life is so busy; opportunities to come together and celebrate are special. 


So below is a short list of five penny-pinching party ideas I’ve made. I’ve done the budget and I think I can pull together each of the parties for around $150 total.

I’m also trying to make their birthday parties as sustainable as possible, because that’s the other crisis that is looming large in my mind right now, the state of the planet, but I’ll save sharing those worries for another day. 

1. Park partying! 

My eldest was really keen to go to one of those paid venues for his birthday party with a big bunch of friends – indoor rock climbing, a play centre, an inflatable bouncing place, ten-pin bowling – but I’ve looked at the cost, and even though some of them have some great packages with food included, we’re still looking at around $500 for a party in a place like that. Therefore, this year we’re park partying!

We're lucky; we live in Brisbane, so we get beautiful winter sunshine, so an afternoon in the sun is pretty darn lovely. Plus, there are so many beautiful parks near where we live, which I’ve been scoping out over the last few weeks.

For my eldest (he’s turning nine), I have chosen a local park that has ‘bumps’ for him and his friends to ride their bikes on, it also has a basketball court and lots of open space for them to run around. So we’ll bring a bag of balls, tell everyone to bring a bike or a scooter, and they can go for it.


For my youngest who is turning four, we’ve chosen a park with a playground that is quite contained – slides, swings, roundabouts. I’m not actually a huge fan of party games as I think they often distract from the kids playing together and can cause upset and tears for those who don’t win, so the play equipment will give the kids lots to do. Again, we’ll pack balls and add some trucks and diggers, and they can create their own games.

For the adults we’ll bring rugs and cushions to laze on, some outdoor chairs for the grandparents and a big folding table for the food, so all the grown-ups can have a lovely picnic-style catch-up while the kids run wild.  

2. Simple catering.

I have been known to go a bit overboard with the party food for my kids’ birthdays. 

Making cupcakes (as well as a birthday cake), fairy bread, pikelets, cute little pigs in blankets, cones of popcorn and chips, fruit skewers, plus warm sausage rolls, meatballs, pizzas and then bowls of lollies of course, plus poppers and cheese platters for the adults.

Woah, this is all a lot of effort and easily runs into a couple of hundred dollars. 

One of Cate's homemade cakes. Image: Supplied.


This year, it’s simple all the way: We have chosen locations that have barbeques, so we’ll do a big sausage sizzle, plus I’ll make a fruit platter, buy some packets of chips and popcorn and have a couple of bowls of lollies. 

There will be big jugs of water and juice and a homemade birthday cake from the Woman’s Weekly book, and that’s it. Done, easy and affordable.

Honestly, the kids don’t care, they never eat that much anyway because they’re too busy playing (although I think a sausage sizzle will draw them in) and I really don’t need the stress of planning a full menu and spending a whole day cooking, plus this simplified catering will come in easily under $100 if I shop carefully.

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3. Decorations and décor.

As a kid, we always made our own pinatas. It was always super fun blowing up the balloon, cutting out the newspaper, making the paste with flour and water, layering it on the balloon, and then painting, drawing and sticking pictures on the final product to make a pinata.


So, we’re returning to the days of old this year, and we'll make our own pinatas. There are hundreds of DIY tutorials online using balloons, an old cereal box, or a shoe box as the base of the pinata that you cover with newspaper or just paper, and then paint yourself and fill with lollies.

Pinatas themselves aren’t expensive right now (you can buy one for about $12, and then you fill it with your own lollies), but making our own saves us a few dollars, plus it’s WAY better for the planet, creates less waste, and is a really good activity to do with the kids.

I’ve also recently discovered on our community 'Buy Nothing New' Facebook page where you can borrow plates, cups, and cutlery for parties. This is such a good idea. 

Someone has put together a collection of plastic basics, and you can borrow them (for free) if you wash them up and return them in good condition to pass on to the next person. Cheap and so much better for the planet.

I’m also going to DIY decorations this year. Instead of spending money on balloons (which are not good for the environment), streamers, and paper pom-poms, I will make cute paper chains with the kids. We’ve started cutting strips from old magazines and pieces of paper, which we’ll glue together into lovely long paper chains. This also means at the end of the party we can just pop this in the recycling and feel no guilt at the waste. 

4. Party bag planning.

Oh, party bags… I find party bags such a painful and expensive birthday tradition, but the kids love them. This year I’ve been a bit savvy with what I’m including in the bags.


For my soon-to-be four-year-old I’m buying a big pack of Playdoh and will put two Playdoh tubs in a paper bag, with a packet of Smarties and a sheet of stickers. This works out at about $2 per bag.

For my older boy, I’ve found it a bit harder to think of cheap and ethical party bag fillers – he and his friends just seem to want 'tatt' (little plastic junk that looks cute but breaks after five minutes and gets chucked into landfill). So after a bit of hunting, I’m going to order a cute, bouncy ball (they are very into handball right now) for each of the kids. They’ll also receive a packet of Smarties and a nice pencil.

This will come in slightly more expensive, but only by about 50c per bag.

Yum yum! Image: Supplied.


5. Good gifting.

I know this isn’t strictly party related, but my other tip this year is to source some of my gifts for the boys' second-hand. (This is also definitely an option for the party bags too, to find books or little toys at op shops that can be put into paper bags as a gift). 

I’ve been popping into op shops every couple of weeks to see what I can find, and so far, I’ve found some books in excellent condition, a big stuffed dinosaur (for my youngest) which I’ve washed, and it looks perfect, plus I’ve found a couple of great puzzles which look like they’ve been played with once. 

Also, at a big warehouse op shop near us, they actually do up secondhand bikes and sell them, so I’ve been scoping one of those out for our big boy. All the bikes have been mechanically fixed up, and they look great, but are about a quarter of the price of a brand-new bike. 

Going secondhand with these gifts will literally save us hundreds of dollars in present buying this year, and honestly, my boys won’t know the difference and will still feel spoilt and special.

Cate Gilpin is a mum of two, based in Meanjin (Brisbane). By day she works for a not-for-profit, and by night she is a freelance writer when not watching British murder mysteries. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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