How to throw the perfect kids party on a budget

Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on May 31, 2024 · 9 mins read

When the cost of living is of monstrous proportions and a takeaway coffee is almost as much as the machine itself, the last thing parents need is to stress over throwing an elaborate kids party … especially the kind that comes with a hefty price tag.

First of all, let’s be very honest with ourselves and note that usually when a gift is given to a small child, the joy that beams from their smile is because of the gift box, ribbon, and wrapping paper. As they get older this of course changes, but I’d say the opening of a present usually still trumps whatever is inside.   

While kids are far more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for, they’re simple little folk at their core. Much of the elation they experience is born out of the environment they’re in. The sounds (music and singing), the colours (usually just created via the clusters of children’s outfits), the company (their friends and family), and the overall vibe (balloons, games, and lots of play!) 

If you have an upcoming birthday party to plan for and you’re feeling overwhelmed or pressured to put on a show and fork out the big bucks, just take a moment. 

Together, let’s break it down, make a plan, and strategise the most cost-effective ways to host a fabulous, fun, meaningful, and memorable party!

The venue

To save on costs, you could think about hosting the party within your home. We appreciate, however, that this will be largely dependent on the space available, or your outdoor area.

 If it’s too much of a squeeze, a local park is perfect. Especially if there’s both grass and play equipment – that’s hitting the jackpot. Gated parks are a premium option for the parents’ sake, but they’re usually harder to come by depending on where you live. 

For the park parties, a big balloon is perfect to signify the exact location and visually drop a pin. On top of this, balloons also offer a subtle yet perfect way to punctuate a ‘theme’ if there is one. When you order the balloon, ensure it’s helium and attached to either a table or floor weight. Nobody likes it when a balloon flies away (it’s also not good for our lovely planet). 

Low-hanging trees nearby can be handy for hanging a Piñata (usually they’re very inexpensive). Buying them empty is the way to go as you can fill them up with whatever prizes you feel are most appropriate. This might be lollies or choccies, however it could also be little bags of cookies or small party toys such as bubbles!

Pack a bunch of rugs or ask your guests to bring one and relax on the grass in the fresh air. Cleaning up is minimal but I’d highly suggest bringing a few big bin bags to do a quick and easy rubbish sweep on the way out.

The music

Cancel the mariachi band folks. Let’s rein it in a notch or two. Creating a child-friendly playlist on Spotify has never been easier. There are so many pre-made playlists you can play at random or just search the name of their favourite cartoons or movies and let the good times roll. Spotify is a parenting/party hack in itself. 

Connecting your phone to a small portable speaker using Bluetooth will help ensure the tunes are filling the space. If you don’t own a speaker,  just ask one of your most relevant WhatsApp group threads if anyone has one available to lend. As they say, it takes a village.

The catering

Given allergies and the modern-day thoughts around sugar and processed foods, catering has become a little more complex than the kids’ parties of the 80s and 90s. 

Kilos of little red sausages, tomato sauce, and bucket loads of artificially coloured icing is perhaps not the most common spread these days – but that’s not to say they’re not ok if you’d prefer to go old school!

However, we can absolutely still create a delicious healthy spread without breaking the bank.

Before we go on, let’s circle back to the comment before, it takes a village. On the topic of catering a child’s party, never feel shy to ask your guests to bring a plate or a snack option. 

From personal experience, I’ve found that added direction helps, like when I’m asked to bring a specific thing. Parents can easily become decision-fatigued, but they’ll never grow tired of helping a fellow parent.

Pitch in
As mentioned, a wonderful way to share the catering load while also exposing our children to a variety of food options and tastes is to delegate. In terms of what to delegate, I’ve popped some wholesome ideas below to get your mind going.  

  • A fruit platter (if you have time, Google ‘Hungry Caterpillar fruit platter!’ The sweetest idea and such fun for kids. 
  • Raw veggie sticks and hummus dip. Perhaps throw on some dried fruit, crackers, or blocks of cheese. 
  • Fairy bread using wholemeal bread.
  • A bowl of boxed sultanas or nut-free muesli bars.
  • An array of simple sandwiches cut into triangles or an arrange of wraps cut into thirds.
  • A tray of mini quiches (healthy options are usually available in the frozen section of the supermarket).
  • Home-made sausage rolls (there is always one friend or family member who nails the homemade sausage roll!)
  • Rice cake faces (i.e. rice cakes with faces made from cheese, raw veg, and sultanas). To help everything stick on, cream cheese or avo smash words.
  • A plate of simple pikelets, mini muffins, or scones. If they’re homemade, options such as these can be less sugary compared to cupcakes.

Sausage in a bun
If you’re keen to keep things super simple (and delish), a good ol’ fashion ‘sausage in a bun’ catering style is always a winner! Also, the alluring barbecue smell will help to convince any parents to stay a little longer. Let’s face it – there’s always a parent or two who try to sneak away before the birthday cake and happy birthday song.

Party bags
If you’d prefer not to provide party bags due to the sugar component, fair enough! Do whatever makes you feel comfortable! I’ve popped some alternative ideas below but hosting the party is absolutely enough! You don’t have to provide take-home bags if it adds to your stress levels. It’s simply not worth it.

Options of the sugar-free nature can usually be purchased in packets of multiples at stores such as Big W and Kmart, or even in bulk at a cheaper price from offshore websites like Temu. 

  • Individual bubbles
  • A little sticker book 
  • A small toy that aligns with the theme of the party  i.e. a wand for a fairy party, a mini digger for a truck party, a tiara for a princess party 
  • A mini tub of Play-Doh
  • A stamp

If you are open however to a more traditional lolly bag, fun-size chocolates are brilliant – as well as a snake or two. For safety, it’s best to avoid anything where a choking hazard is more likely such as Skittles, lollipops, popcorn, or bubble gum balls. 

Having your kids help to make a little party-bag gift will save you money, and they’ll love to get involved in the process. Think of a ‘decorate your own cookie’ pack with a homemade cookie and lollies. I’ve even seen beautiful home-sewn bags, scrunchies, or hair clips!

The theme

If a theme brings angst, why not simplify by dressing the invite up? Using apps like Adobe to design the perfect invite with a few themed images is a sweet way to hint at a theme without asking your guests to dress a particular way.

You could then compliment the invite on the day with a themed balloon or two. Simple, easy, effective!

The entertainment

While you’re on the phone canceling the mariachi band, it might be worth canceling the petting toy, jumping castle, and themed entertainers too. Just for now hey? 

Entertainment-wise, you can do this with your eyes shut.

Let’s go back to basics and resurrect the party classics. Because children LOVE them. 

  • Duck Duck Goose
  • Musical Bobs (chairs can make this harder than needs to be)
  • Pass the Parcel (just make sure the number of layers matches the number of children to avoid tears and headaches). 
  • Pin The Tail On The Donkey 
  • Musical Statues

If you’re open and able to set up activities, you could bring a few small tables (or picnic rugs) to set up a drawing station. You could even place a toy in the middle of the table and challenge kids by asking them to attempt drawing it. 

You could also create a ‘decorate the face biscuit (or rice cracker) station, which could nicely add to the catering element.

And for those not super keen on managing games – who’d rather just provide fun activities or distractions for the kids – this is where your local toy library can be a saviour! 

Hiring a bunch of things such as trikes, big trucks, and other outdoor toys can make a space and add to the fun and vibes … the little guests will be thrilled.

If you don’t have time to get to a toy library, a bunch of hula hoops (order online at Big W or Target) could invite a communal giggle. Even if you have a variety of balls at home or a big box of Duplo, bring it all along! We often forget that so much joy comes from what is right in front of us. There is bliss in simplicity. Rather than try and go all out, it can be beneficial to stick to what they know.

Wrapping it up

There is a trick to throwing a children’s party. The more you enjoy it, the more they will enjoy it! There will be no stress in the air, just a faint waft of sausage rolls and chopped-up fruit.

Revert back to the classic games and snacks. Play The Wiggles and the Bluey theme song on repeat. A few rounds of musical statues and duck duck goose and you’ll have children rolling around on the ground, cackling in laughter. Children don’t need a lot to become totally immersed in party fun! They will gravitate to what feels warm, safe, inviting, and playful.

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