Ask the Miserly Mom: Frugal Birthdays

How can I save money on birthday gifts and parties?
by Jonni McCoy
The Miserly Mom

A: When it's time for a special occasion, we tend to throw out the budget. Some of us even resort to using our credit cards for these events since we had not planned for them in our budget. With a little foresight and creativity, we can handle these gift-giving days as well as we handle our daily expenses.

One way to give gifts that are not expensive is to watch sales and thrift stores all year long. We do this and stock up on both children's and adult gifts. Then when the parties arrive, we have something on hand.

Be Creative!

With a little creativity, gifts can also be made instead of purchased. For younger children, we stock up on roller pin/baking sets when they are on sale at "dollar days" sales and wrap it with some homemade "gak" and playdough. For adults, we buy baskets when they are on clearance, and fill them with a theme. Some of our favorites are italian cooking (pasta, sauce, herbs, and a wooden slotted pasta spoon), or bath time (sample sized shampoos, bubble bath, and a loofa sponge), or coffee (a mug, some coffee beans or homemade instant cappuccino, and a flavored syrup).

Another way to reduce the cost of the adult gifts is to draw names at holidays so there are fewer people to buy for. Also, send cards instead of gifts wherever possible. People are usually very understanding if you explain that gifts are just not possible that year.

For your children's party, do as much of it yourself as you can. Bake the cake from a mix. Have the kids make simple crafts that they can take home instead of giving expensive party favors. Play some simple games that require little expense.

And to make next year's expenses a little easier to handle, plan ahead. Write down how many gifts you expect to buy next year, adding a dollar maximum you want to spend for each. Add up all of those gifts and divide by 12. This is the amount you need to set aside each month to be prepared.

Lynn's related items:

  • Party Planning Page: Not everything here is thrifty, in fact, some recommendations are spendy. But with a little creativity you can put the ideas here to good use. [REMOTE]
  • Planning the Birthday Blowout: First-hand advice from an experienced mom on planning a party that your child will enjoy. [REMOTE]

Jonni McCoy is author of Miserly Moms: Living On One Income In A Two Income Economy, Frugal Families: Making The Most Of Your Hard Earned Money, and Miserly Meals - Healthy, Tasty Recipes for Under 75c per Serving. To submit a frugal question that you would like answered, write to -- please put "Column Questions" in the subject field. And visit the Miserly Moms Website. © 1999-2007 Jonni McCoy.


jennye's picture

I am so not the creative person. but here is how I did my girls' birthday party last weekend (their birthdays are in May and June, so we had a party for both of them. They have many of the same friends, anyway).

I invited kids and the parents (I had invited about 40 total, but 25 came). We had a cookout, which was just burgers and hotdogs, very inexpensive. I stated on the invitation no gifts. Don't they have enough stuff as it is? LOL! Also, told the kids to bring swimsuits and towels. I got a Slip N'Slide ($30 at Walmart) and the kids played ALL DAY in that, along with another hose with a nozzle attached to spray each other with. The kids were ages 2-12 had an absolute blast. The parents sat around talking and watching. I ordered a cake (1/2 sheet for $25, with both their names on it and a cheerleader) because I just cannot decorate a cake. I made homemade ice cream that morning and it was ready to go for the party.

We were going to give the kids a ride on the 4-wheeler, but they were so into the water, we never even mentioned it. The entire thing cost less than $100. And everyone, even the parents, had a good time.

Susannah's picture

One of the best birthdays my girls ever had (we usually do theirs together too, since they're nine days apart) was just hooking up the sprinklers and letting the kids run through them. I also bought a couple of flats of petunias and the kids potted them in cups. I made a sunflower cake out of a round and some twinkies, frosted yellow (Family Fun idea). I wish we could do that again! We didn't have grass in the backyard in time this year, though. Didn't think the parents would appreciate taking home muddy kids. :)

AnneP's picture

Summer birthday's are just the bomb!
Bestest birthday...the nite before Eric's 7th, DH and I filled two coolers with water ballons...we had cupcakes and fruitbox drinks and water balloon fight...was a wonderful time...took pics of all the kids, and hubby did close ups, and we put the kids faces on x-games bodies! (photo shop) Hubby printed them all up, while kids were eating, and they took with them proudly home! Great party!

The trouble with bucket seats is that not everybody has the same size bucket~Maxine

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