Banish the party bags (budgeting birthday ideas)

Should we banish the party bags?


Banish the party bags


Banish the party bags

I love birthdays I think they are utterly magic and can make the birthday girl or boy feel absolutely special. Not much fun for mum and dad though if it leaves them feeling utterly skint. Here are some
of my top ideas for a birthday on a budget :

The Present:

Get them what they want if you can afford it but then absolutely nothing else. They will get tons of presents from various people, just one from you is fine. If you can’t afford the trampoline, etc. then ask Grandma and Aunty Mo to go in with you,. Have a clear idea of what your child wants/needs as others will ask you. It’s far better they don’t get jigsaws if they hate them and that they do get armbands if this is what they need. Be clear and precise. Remember a course of activities or clothes are also really useful gifts and it is okay that they benefit you too. It all impacts.

The Party:

Make your own invites. A sticker or two of your child’s favourite thing, such as a fairy, pirate, rocket or animal on a plain postcard looks so cute, is easy for your child to do and very cheap. Just fill in the details on the back. They will be so proud that they have done their invitations themselves. Always hand deliver where possible and keep the party times shortish, no more than 1-2 hours. After lunchtime naps and before they are too tired is often best.


If you organise the party 2-3.30 p.m you can avoid the need to provide food at all and you could just write ‘Please come to x’s party for Games and Cake on ….’ and that would really cut down your cost (and effort). If you do want to provide food then I would strongly suggest that less is more and simple little sandwiches, a few crisps, apples, raisins, cheeses slices would be fine. Don’t go mad with little cakes and choccy biccies as no one wants their kids wired but do get few treats (always look for offers on chocolate fingers, cookies etc.) Don’t stress about food allergies. Tell parents to help themselves and ask if they aren’t sure. It’s a good idea to keep all boxes in case they need to check ingredients.

Consider having a theme:

themes are fun but can be expensive. One year my little boy was really into Thomas the Tank Engine and I ended up buying Thomas cups, tablecloth and napkins all to only be used once then thrown away. A better idea for a theme is fancy dress (encourage home made outfits so no one spends too much!) or a beach party with the sandpit out and some funky sunglasses to make out of card. You could throw a hat party where everyone comes in a silly hat. Fancy dress spreads the effort and can make for lots of giggles and fun preparation even with the littlest kids.


Do away with PRIZES! They are an unnecessary expense that cause upset at almost every party. Kids want that or this and you get ‘it’s not fair and I didn’t move,’ etc. Not fun at all and just brings out diddy greediness in children too unsophisticated to hide their disappointment. It can also cost you a packet. I tried to do cheap pass the parcel gifts once only to have them looked at with derision by 2 year olds and left behind at the end of the party. These little crayon packs and bouncy balls had cost about £5 in total. Complete waste.

I always say if you can’t compete don’t try. Do something completely different instead. I have a cousin who works at a Steiner school (creative, natural and anti-plastic) and she taught me a variation on pass the parcel that I always use now and it works a treat with little kids. After each layer of paper rather than chocolate or a little gift you have a song title and the group (with parents helping) have to sing the song. Action songs work really well and the kiddies love it. You do need to make sure you know the words though and sing up! An alternative to this is to have a little challenge in each paper layer, e.g. spin round three times or jump on one foot for one minute or shake our neighbours hand. Nothing too hard just simple and fun.

Team obstacle courses are always fun, you could have 3 legged races, and egg and spoon relays (I like relays as no one person wins or loses and they are often more jolly) You could organise a mass treasure hunt with cut out cake pictures hidden round the garden and the prize is everyone gets cake. If you can borrow a huge parachute that you waft about, hide underneath and bounce balls on, that is a lovely thing to play with. You could get some music on and have a bit of a disco. A penalty shoot out is a great fun too. If there has to be a winner a big clap and cheer is good enough. Use your imagination and let the fun unfold.

Party bags: Banish the party bags!

You don’t have to go down the party bag route – it’s an extra expense. You can just give the children a slice of cake and maybe a balloon, say thanks and bye-bye. I have often found unlooked at party bags still in my car a week later.


If someone you know can bake and will make you a cake as a gift then rope them in quick! Alternately you could always make your own. Cakes can cost a packet to have professionally made and the lovely effect of a gorgeous cake only lasts a few moments. Is it really worth a big expense? If you can’t face making it yourself and can’t find a friend to bake hit the supermarket and ask Grandpa to pay for it as a gift if he will. These cakes are usually quite reasonably priced and large and supermarkets do all the favourite themes.

Have fun, don’t stress and don’t put too much prep in or your child’s special day gets lost in you making a party. Lighten up and smile, they always work out, and really don’t need to cost too much.


Banish the party bags – further reading

If you have found this post on banish the party bags useful you might also like my post on birthday parties on a budget and frugal birthday ideas



  1. October 21, 2010 / 7:33 am

    I have to confess I have not yet done a party at home because we have done days out instead or hired a hall but next year will be different and I will be using your tips to keep it cheap and intimate as I think home parties can have a great atmosphere.

  2. Aly
    October 21, 2010 / 11:16 am

    Absolutely right on there Becky! We had the first 5 years with Kieran’s birthday’s at home.He had his 5th birthday in a hall (he’s now 8).Caitlin turned 5 this year but no money for a hall party so we had a Pirate theme as she had a Halloween costume already from last year that stills fit.I made my first ever party cake in the shape of a pirate’s face and it looked pretty damn good.For food I made only a few rolls, put out crisps, cucumber and pepper strips and cooked a few basic pizzas.We had no prizes for the game of pin the eye patch on the pirate (printed off from a kids activity site).I had another blogger send me a copy of The3 Pirate’s of the Caribbean sound track for music.I hate, hate plastic party bags.I made Kieran’s this year out of felt and filled them with sweets and I pushed the boat out with Caitlin’s.I bought a skull and cross bone rubber and pencil and loads of gold coins to put inside fabric party bags.

  3. Whimsical Wife
    October 21, 2010 / 12:55 pm

    Great tips! I’ve tried every year to do a budget party!! And sadly failed! Next year I am not doing one at all that way I can’t spend ££££££££££££££s

  4. October 21, 2010 / 1:09 pm

    I think party bags are pointless. I spent hours this year trying to find nice things (that weren’t sweets) to put in them. Very controversial not doing them. I can just imagine some of the parents’ faces if you didn’t give their children one at the end ;).

    Can’t face the thought of a party at home – all those sticky fingers on walls and food trodden into the carpet.

    I think doing a picnic in the park is a good idea (although a risk with the UK weather).

  5. October 21, 2010 / 1:11 pm

    I was the first of my friends to do a first birthday party. We have no family in the UK so it was important for us to do something. We kept it simple, homemade cake etc. I was horrified at future parties to see party bags. For one year olds!!! One lady had even bought expensive lunch box style bags in different animals for party bags, alongside a genuine Hummingbird red velvet cake, and had hired loads of big garden games. For her one year olds birthday party!!!! Another friend had games, with prizes, again baby turning one.

    I’m already dreading school and my son hasn’t turned two yet! I think parties have gone mental, and its time that we as mummies stopped competing and concentrated on what is important.

  6. October 21, 2010 / 1:14 pm

    Fab ideas Becky. We always go with a traditional, at-home party and include a craft or baking activity which the kids can take home instead of a party bag.

  7. October 21, 2010 / 1:45 pm

    I totally agree on the party bag thing! I hate them. Such a waste of money and often just silly trinkets! Though I know some mums have gone to a lot of effort to make them

    What I like doing: is make some cookies with Red Ted and give those away in little bags we have made/ cellophone wrappers.

    No waste and still “something”.


  8. Caroline - Frog in the Field
    October 21, 2010 / 1:59 pm

    A great post.
    My customers have often commented that I try to down-sell rather than up-sell. Party Bags are a waste of money if you don’t get it right, and so appreciated if you do.
    I suggest spending less by getting a really nice bag, put in some cake and just one or two small but nice items.
    I started my business precisely because I kept finding awful party bags slung on the floor of the car and never looked at!

  9. Tracy Dixon
    October 21, 2010 / 2:27 pm

    I loved all your tips – especially the point about party bags – totally wasted as most of it ends up in the bin. For my daughters first birthday I gave everyone who came along a few ‘Lily bulbs’ to plant in their garden (her name is Lily!)

    Shop bought cakes don’t taste particularly good and are FULL of ingredients most of us have never even heard of! I made this Princess castle cake for my daughters birthday myself and believe me, if I can do it – ANYONE CAN!

  10. Becky
    October 21, 2010 / 4:17 pm

    Tracy – your cake is AMAZIING. Thanks everyone for the feedback…we all feelt he same huh!

  11. October 23, 2010 / 7:30 am

    Some great ideas here, we just did a party and it wasn’t too bad doing a halloween theme was easy as it wasn’t too expensive and it is stuff I can use again and again which is great. But some great tips, am going to have to buy our book I think! xx

  12. Julie Samson
    November 7, 2010 / 8:40 am


    We have usually had parties at home – games etc. Sometimes the party bags are simply something the kids make at the party. But when we have used party bags we have been very selective and tried to buy green and fairtrade. We found some great recycled party bags from which we simply filled with some biscuits the kids decorated.

  13. November 10, 2010 / 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the tips–it’s birthday season in this house, so will definitely be taking those on board!

  14. This Mid 30s Life
    November 10, 2010 / 2:57 pm

    Great post. My kids are still very young so I’m relatively inexperienced with parties.

    I love party bags. I buy those brown paper sandwich bags and sit the kids down with textas / stickers etc and they make their own up. Then when other things are happening I take them away and fill with balloons / bubbles / lollipops – I love it.

    We do the same thing with the kids at easter for egg hunts and they love it.

    I love parties at home and I completely over-cater (which I do for everything). I can’t see myself ever going for the all-out professional entertainers etc but I can understand why people do. If we could afford it I’d probably consider it (slight problem there!).

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