- Do a craft that doubles as a party favor. Kids might love candy-filled bags, but parents much prefer that they come home with a cool craft. Decorate picture frames, race toy cars, give out small stuffed animals, or have them go on a trinket-laden treasure hunt instead.
- Do a craft that doubles as lunch. They've got to eat, right? Make personal pizzas and let them assemble their own, or set out platters of sandwich fixings and have them race to pile it all on the bread. Hot dogs can be made into squiggly octopi, or kids can put together their own loaded nachos.
- Make games the entertainment. Maybe your guests are too old for Musical Chairs, but you can vary the treats in a treasure hunt to fit their age and interests (car freaks can search for Matchbox cars, tweens can follow intricate clues to find gift cards for iTunes downloads, elementary school kids can search for colored pencils and activity books). Don't feel like writing out clues? Tie a piece of string to the prizes, then wind the string under, over, and around everything in the room. Repeat with more prizes. Then hand the loose ends to the kids, and have them unravel the "spider web" to get the goodies. Older kids can split into teams and play Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit.
- Need a theme? Use what you already have. A baby pool, lawn chairs, umbrellas and towels make for an instant pool-party theme; have kids wear bathing suits and coverups and compete for funniest fake swimming move. Crank up the '70s tunes, turn down the lights, festoon the living room with streamers and mylar balloons and disco the day away. For more ideas, check out Work It, Mom!'s great kid's birthday party themes!
- Spruce up a supermarket cake with a cool or custom cake topper. Coordinate the color of the icing to maximize the effect.
- Forgo the cake in favor of a tower of tiny cupcakes or delicious brownies. The kids will love it just as much, and you don't have to worry about cutting and serving.
- Save on invitations by making your own. If you use 5-inch by 7-inch card stock (or index cards) you can even save on postage, too!
- Keep it simple -- especially when it comes to older kids. Your teenager doesn't need an MTV-size super party; a movie night at home can become extra special if you pay attention to the details. Or offer to invite your teen's two best friends and spurge on a day at an amusement park or a mani/pedi -- it'll still cost less than a major party.
- Make it fancy. Counterintuitive? Yes, but fancy and fabulous doesn't have to cost a fortune. Invite just a handful of people, ask them to come decked out in their best party clothes, and then host a fancy dinner party with your good china, candlelight, and hand-made menus (the parents are the staff, of course).
- Just have fun. Remember, parties are for making memories, not impressing your (or your kids') friends. Keep it simple and focus on fun!
Birthday parties don't have to make a major dent in your budget. Here are 10 ideas for throwing a fun birthday party for your child -- on the cheap!