Penny Pinching Party Planning

By -

Huge thanks to Marnie Pacino, author of  “Cool Party, Mom!” and low cost party planner extraordinaire, for this great guest post and the awesome kids’ party ideas. I for one am taking notes for my daughter’s next birthday!

Birthday parties just aren’t what they used to be.  When I was young, being invited to a friend’s birthday party was the most exciting thing I could imagine…colorful crepe paper streamers, homemade chocolate cake and vanilla (if you were very lucky, Neapolitan) ice cream served from a giant, plastic gallon-sized tub. We’d spend an entire afternoon playing simple games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Duck Duck Goose, and Musical chairs. At most, the entire fun-filled day set the birthday parents back a whole twenty dollars.

Things are much different today. Most parents feel some level of pressure to keep up with (or out-do) “The Jones” … “Bobby Stinkypants had his birthday at Insane Kid World! What are we doing for mine?” Fear not. With a little thrifty imagination, you can still plan The-Best-Princess-Party-Ever-For-All-Eternity without losing your mind and without breaking the bank.  Here’s how:


Birthday girlBirthdays don’t just appear out of the blue, and waiting until the last minute to figure everything out will cost you money.  A few months before the big day, start making a list. Use headings like, INVITATIONS, PAPER PRODUCTS, FAVORS, MENU and ACTIVITIES.

Keep the list in your purse while you’re out and about. Does your 12-yr old daughter want a luau birthday party in December? You’ll find all sorts of deeply-discounted beach themed items in August. If you wait until December, not only will you have a hard time finding things, you’ll pay a fortune for the same stuff that was gathering dust on the clearance rack just a few months before! So, use your list and plan ahead.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of those other things on your list…


I’ve always been disappointed in the selection of pre-printed invites available; the good ones are usually expensive, and the cheap ones tend to be poorly designed. So, unless you find something simply irresistible, skip the pre-packaged invitations. Instead, I’ve found that small, theme-related invite favors are an easy, inexpensive way to get kids eager to attend a party. Start with a trip to your local dollar store. If you’re planning a Safari Party, grab a herd of beanbag monkeys. Pick up a bucket of plastic sandbox shovels for an Under the Sea Party or a handful of magic wands for a Princess Party.  Attach simple computer-printed invitation tags with a hole-punch and scrap ribbon. Easy peasy!

Better yet…More than likely, the bulk of invited children are schoolmates or kids that live nearby. Hand-delivering your invite favors will not only save on postage, but will spark the imagination of your guests. A little time and 10 bucks at the dollar store will earn you 10 kids that are excited about a party that hasn’t even started yet! … Take that, Mr. and Mrs. Jones!


I don’t know who started the idea that kids need some sort of parting gift for showing up to a party, but party favors are basically mandatory.  And, since I have no desire to torture other moms with tiny pieces of plastic junk that inevitably ends up between the cushions of the sofa (or impaling a bare foot at 3 a.m. while walking through the kitchen), I’ve come up with the perfect solution.

About 10 years ago, I purchase several, one-gallon glass fishbowls at the local supercenter. Whenever I host a party for one of my kids, I line up the fishbowls on the counter and fill them with various candy and treats. During the party, these serve as the perfect “help yourself” snack bar. Near the end of the party, I pass out small bags for the kids to fill up and take home! The same money pays for two party expenses (snacks and favors), and the kids clean every last crumb out of the fish bowls (less clean-up for me and zero leftover candy for my thighs.) Win – win!


To save yourself some time and hassle use the “3 2 1 Method” when planning. For a two-hour party you’ll need: ” THREE things to do (games, crafts, activities)” TWO times to eat (snacks & cake)” ONE finale (opening gifts or pulverizing a piñata.)Breaking it down in this way will not only feel less overwhelming, but it will keep you from planning too much (and spending too much.)

Traditional backyard games are still fun for today’s kids. You’d be amazed at how, with a little coercion, even a group of stoic teens will burst into giggles while playing a game of Red Rover!  Here’s a quick list of time-tested, kid-approved party activities that cost next to nothing:” Scavenger hunts” Relay races” Hula hoop contests” Apple bobbing” Toilet paper mummies” Crazy fashion show” Worst makeovers ever” Kitchen science experiments” Talent shows” Movie night (Line shoe boxes with aluminum foil -add popped popcorn, a juice box and a bag of fruit snacks to each to make individual snack trays!)

You could always through a screaming party like these guys….

So you see? Entertaining today’s kids really doesn’t have to cost a fortune. All you need is patience, desire and information… Oh, and don’t forget your list!

Want more help planning parties and activities for your kids? Check out Marnie Ann Pacino’s books “Cool Party, Mom!” AND “Cool Party, Mom! The Classroom Edition” available in paperback and ebook formats on For more information about Marnie and the books, go to her web site:

Marnie Pacino is a Midwestern soccer mom with a passion for creativity and organizing. With over 20 years of experience planning parties for her own three children, she’s inspired to write and share her ideas and advice with other busy moms.


Comments are closed.