A memorable cake? Check. A unique theme with games and activities? Also, check. A reasonable price? That’s possible too. Believe it or not, great kids birthday parties don’t have to break the bank. You may be on a budget but the right cheap birthday party ideas can make a memorable, picture-worthy celebration. We’ve got some ideas for how.

Toddlers and very young children

When kids are young, it doesn’t take too much to surprise them. Consider a one-year-old’s delight at indulging in their smash cake or playing with the simplest birthday party decorations. As you first work to plan your party, focus on things that will delight the birthday boy or girl and their young guests. If those kids are delighted, it elevates the entire party and will impress guests, too. Here are other ideas:

  • Even if baking isn’t your thing, consider trying to make your cake at home. There are great online tutorials that show how a great looking cake may be easier than you think.
  • For decorating, use printable decoration packages that you can find online. Etsy, Pinterest, and other craft-heavy websites may have adorable examples of decorations you can use.
  • Don’t feel obliged to have a standard-length party with a full meal. Kids this age (and their parents) may appreciate a shorter party with just cake, desserts, and presents. If you’re going to have a desserts-only party, consider scheduling it for mid-afternoon so nobody is expecting a full meal.

Preschool and kindergarten

At this age, games and activities can make or break a party. The best games don’t cost much to run but they do take a lot of supervision and energy. Be sure to have plenty of adults around to help with each game. Relatives and parents of other attendees are prime choices to help out. Here are some more things to think about:

  • Did you know you can make your own ball pit? If you’ve got a swimming pool laying around and some balloons, you’ve got the makings of a great and inexpensive ball pit. Such a cheap birthday party idea.
  • Host a themed costume party and host a costume parade. This is a memorable event that will also make for great pictures!
  • Remember that even the most basic games are interesting to kids at this age. Don’t rule out the fun they can have with basic games like tag, hide and go seek, or red rover.

Elementary school

At this age group, kids are growing older. While they’ll still enjoy the right games but the games will be more appreciated if they have an edge or an unexpected twist. Guests also appreciate the chance to learn a new skill or have an exciting special guest. As you’re planning, here are some cheap birthday party ideas:

  • Consider a party with a visit from a community service professional, like a police officer or a member of the fire department. The agency may even be able to bring a fire truck, ambulance, or police car for kids to see up close.
  • Arrange for some crafts for kids to make and then take home with them. The added benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to buy as many (or any) favors.
  • Play hot potato – with baby food. For this game, pass an open jar of baby food around a table while playing music, just as you would pass an object in the game of hot potato. The twist is that each guest has a spoon and when the music stops, whatever guest is holding the baby food jar has to take a taste. Yuck!

Middle school

Middle school kids still enjoy a traditional celebration but now that they’re older, the nature of their party may change. It may be smaller, quieter, or more closely resemble adult socialization. As a result, it becomes easier to celebrate a child’s birthday on a budget. These ideas can help.

  • Invite fewer children but host a more exotic adventure for them. Ideas such as a visit to a laser tag facility, a fancy restaurant, or an escape room are things that pre-teens love to do.
  • Create a class where attendees get to learn something they love to do. Examples include a baking class, a sports class where attendees can brush up on soccer, baseball, or football skills, or an art class. If you’re not sure what skills you may have to lead this, a friend or another parent may be able to step in to help.
  • Don’t be afraid to just let kids hang around with each other, talk and eat. Some middle school parents have been known to go all out with planned games and activities, only to find that kids were more interested in connecting with each other than being absorbed by activities.

Any age

Some things elevate a party no matter what the age of the birthday child or their guests are. Here are some examples:

  • Make it a surprise party. This instantly makes any party more exciting for both the guests and the birthday child.
  • Consider creative food options: If you choose to have your party at home, consider taking a favorite food theme or making a food-themed bar like an ice cream bar, taco bar or frosted cupcake bar. The benefit of this is that these kinds of bars work best in that environment and can’t be replicated as well anywhere else.
  • Consider a joint party with another child if both birthdays occur close to the same time of year.
  • Consider using digital instead of purchased paper invitations. This makes it easier to distribute invites and track RSVPs. It is also more environmentally friendly.
  • Consider if you really need to provide favors for guests to take home with them. Lots of times these parting gifts wind up spending more time in a household’s junk drawer than being used by kids. Parents may be grateful not to have to manage the extra small toys.