Celebrating your kid's birthday should be fun. But if you're strapped for cash, it can be stressful and overwhelming.
With a little self-control, creativity and planning, however, you can throw an awesome party for under $100.
To illustrate, I decided to decorate our dining room area in a Batman theme on a $20 budget. And let me tell you, self-control was the hardest part. There are so many cool things, it would be easy to go crazy.
I got all of my supplies at the Dollar Tree, Fry's and my house. I ended up with a really cool party display that was kid-approved by my 6-year-old. "Wow, this is awesome," Noah said. It ended up providing him with a backdrop for imaginative play that evening.
Putting it together was simple - and took me only a little over an hour. (See box on Page D7 for details.)
Another way to decorate for under $20 is to get the five-piece scene-setter package at Party City for $5.99. It comes with a Happy Birthday banner and four wall hangings. Mix that with plain decor from Dollar Tree and incorporate toys from your child's collection. As a bonus, you can re-hang them in your child's room. We got awesome Spider-Man ones last year, and they're still on my son's wall.
My friend Shelley Shelton suggested a Hollywood theme for tweens or teens.
Invite a few of your kid's friends over for a screening of a movie. Set up a popcorn bar with different seasonings. Accessorize with red tablecloths from the dollar store and magazine photos of celebs. You can also get cool cutouts in the shapes of movie cameras and film reels for less than a dollar at Party City.
Another friend, Sarah Canez Zurheide, said she wanted to do a Dr. Seuss theme for her baby's first birthday. But themed decorations were pricey, so they used them just on the cake table.
She mixed in plain red and white decorations with printed Dr. Seuss quotes and had her brothers dress as Dr. Seuss characters.
She also made her own cake, piñata and food.
Canez Zurheide said they spent less than $100 on decorations and food for 30 people. Since they saved money that way, they were able to splurge on a jumping castle.
A color theme works for all ages and can be done inexpensively.
For example, have a blue party. Get all blue decorations from Dollar Tree. Put up blue twinkle lights. Have the kids wear blue, and find ways to make blue foods and drinks. Clear out a dance floor, turn up the stereo, and let them dance. Throw in some glow sticks from the dollar store for ambience.
Another friend, Kristen Huffstetler, threw a Barbie party for her girls. She had each girl bring her favorite Barbie and accessories. They set everything up in the living room and the kids played for hours. No need to buy games.
Here are some more tips, broken down by category:
The most inexpensive place is going to be your home. If that won't work, see if a friend or relative will host.
Having a party at a park is a good deal, and you'll probably spend less on decorations and activities. City park ramadas start at $15 for 5 1/2 hours. The parks with centers, like Udall Park on East Tanque Verde Road, offer meeting-room rentals. A small room that fits 25 people is $16 per hour. Go online to tucsonaz.gov and click on Parks Reservations.
Pima County also rents out park ramadas. They cost $25 for the full day. The more popular parks, like Brandi Fenton on East River Road, fill up fast, though. Go online to www.pima.gov/nrpr and click on Ramada Reservations for availability.
Pizza places like Peter Piper Pizza offer party packages that are convenient because you don't need decorations or food. But, to spend less than $100, you have to really limit your guest list and not get any of the extras or party favors. Prices start at $7.99 per child at Peter Piper Pizza. Chuck E. Cheese prices start at $9.99 per child.
You can get basic invitations at Dollar Tree. Packs of eight are $1.
Make your own. For Noah's birthday last year, I found a cool Spider-Man photo online and added text on the computer. I printed them at Walgreens for 19 cents a print. Check retailmenot.com for Walgreen's coupon codes and get them even cheaper. Themed invitations run about $3.99 for a package of eight at Party City. You can print 20 for $3.80 at Walgreen's.
Theme and decor
Dollar Tree currently has butterfly garden, princess, tiki, luau and sports theme decorations.
Skip the cutouts at the dollar store. They're cheaper at Party City - ranging in price from 29 to 99 cents.
Print photos from the Internet or use old magazine, book or comic book pages to make your own bunting. You can also use color sample cards.
You can do a lot with the plastic tablecloths at the dollar store - from draping them in doorways to making a cool hanging centerpiece from the ceiling.
Don't underestimate cardboard boxes. They can be dressed up as building blocks, cities or a train.
Candy themes are really cute. Wrap balloons in cellophane to look like giant candies. Get bright-colored streamers and a variety of bright-colored candies, put them in clear jars and arrange them on a table, like a candy bar. Pinwheels make a cute addition as well.
Have the kids bring their favorite dress-up outfit or costume. They can swap and have a fashion show.
Get a bunch of different-colored nail polishes and decals and paint nails.
Create a craft. This can double up as a party favor. A good idea I saw on Pinterest is to get swimming pool noodles from the dollar store. Cut them in half and make the handle by wrapping it with duct tape to create light sabers.
Have a scavenger hunt.
Save soda bottles and make a ring toss. The rings can be bracelets from the dollar store.
Save tin cans. Print pictures to match your theme - like superhero or Disney villains - and stick them on. Stack cans in a pyramid and let the kids toss a ball at them from a distance to try and knock them down.
If you have an extra room, cover the walls with butcher paper, put a black light up and let them write and draw with neon markers.
Save on the cost of food by having the party between meals.
Large pepperoni or cheese pizzas are only $5 at Little Caesars.
A large can of nacho cheese is about $7 at Fry's. Stick that in the crockpot on low and serve over tortilla chips.
Have a cupcake decorating station. Bake them in advance, but let the kids ice and decorate them.
Bake your own cake and top it with handmade decorations or action figures.
Top cupcakes with toys as party favors. For example, I've used Hot Wheels cars and plastic zombie finger puppets.
Print out pictures or letters, cut them out and glue them on toothpicks to stick into cupcakes, Rice Krispy treats or cake.
What I did with $20
I went to Dollar Tree and purchased four plastic tablecloths in black, blue and yellow, plastic silverware, plates, napkins and cups for 12, balloons, crazy straws and black poster board for $15. At Fry's I got two boxes of Mike and Ike's and a 2-pound bag of Twizzlers for $3.
I draped three plastic tablecloths over the window and one on the table and hung balloons from the ceiling.
Using boxes, black and yellow paper and tape, I created a cityscape centerpiece.
I cut triangles out of prints of Batman images from the Internet, folded them over curling ribbon and taped them in place to make bunting. I taped symbols and images from online prints onto candy jars and crazy straws. Total cost: $18.
If this were for an actual party, I'd spend about $20 more on cake, drinks, another table cloth and craft supplies to make superhero masks they could take home. Total cost for a party of 12: $40.
"Centsible Mom" Angela Pittenger shares tips, news and ideas on how Tucsonans can stretch their budgets. Send your questions and suggestions to her at email@example.com or 573-4137.