Children’s Birthday Party Ideas – Creative, Cheap & FUN!

Welcome, Parents!  You have found your way here because you’re looking for assistance with your child’s upcoming birthday party.  If you’re asking yourself, “HELP!  My kid’s party is coming up, WHAT DO I DO?!” I am here to help.

First, let me reassure you.  Unless you have groomed your child to believe the sky’s the limit, most kids are very satisfied with a modest party.  I’m not talking NADA, but there’s no need to break the bank financing a party for a bunch of 7 years olds.  As we just celebrated another successful birthday at home, I thought I’d share some helpful hints with others.  After all, it takes a village to raise a child, and two heads are better than one, and.. well. You get the picture.

Party Invitations. Ideas & The All-Important Wording.  We all know the invitation says far more than what’s simply stated.  It’s all about READING BETWEEN THE LINES.  Right?  Right!  To save on stress and hassle, I offer these suggestions.

  • If this party is to be KIDS ONLY, write Drop Off Time: and Pick Up Time: on the invitation, rather than the standard 11-2 PM.  This important information conveys to parents that they are not expected nor encouraged to remain at the party (something very few parents relish anyway).
  • If this is to be a KIDS & PARENTS affair, write on the invitation “Parents welcome!”  “Parents may stay or drop off” or “Look forward to seeing you all” – something along those lines will get the point across.
  • Some parents may ask whether a sibling may also attend the party.  Or  a parent may show up at the party with the expectation of leaving a sibling.  How do you handle this?  You can: 1) Say fine, and plan accordingly.  2) Explain that due to the number of invitees, the party is being restricted to immediate friends only. or 3) Give them “The Look.” (Kidding! Try 1 or 2.)
  • Don’t forget to remind parents to RSVP.  You can specify “RSVP Regrets Only” or the like, anything to make it easier for the parents.  It’s very hard to prepare for a child’s party without knowing how many guests you will have.  Unlike adult parties, where all you need is food & drink, kids parties require more STUFF.  Especially if you’re giving out party bags at the end, it’s super helpful to know how many you need to provide.  Having a firm count saves time and money, but always have an extra or two just in case (remember those siblings..?)

The invitations themselves can be anything – so get creative!  We’ve done hand-drawn party invites, computer print-outs on festive paper, store-bought packaged jobs; it’s all good.  The important thing is allowing your child to help in the decision making, if not the actual making of the invitations.  Unless they’re too young to care, or completely disinterested, most kids like being in charge of their party to a certain degree.  Let their individuality shine though the invites.

FOOD.  I am all for healthfulness, but bear in mind – this is a child’s birthday party.  It’s supposed to be fun.  All things in moderation, remember?  You don’t want these kids so sugared up they’re flowing from both ends (sorry) but neither do you want them eyeballing the food with mistrust.  This is not really the place for Uncle Iggie’s homemade tofu-garlic dip, unless your kid and their friends think that’s everyday fare.  Stick to normal, kid-friendly foods.  Like the perennial favorite: PIZZA!  To keep costs down, buy it frozen from the grocery store, or better yet, a big box discounter like BJs.  I spent $7.49 (with a coupon) for a 12 pack of Red Baron mini pizzas – both cheese & pepperoni – and the kids couldn’t have been happier.  BONUS: because of the small size, there was less waste, the kids found them incredibly easy to eat, and Oh yeah, I cut them into quarters to speed cooling.  No burned mouths at this party!

FAVORS. I bought candy, party favors and prizes inexpensively at Target and the Dollar Store.  Oh! And BJs too.  Check the ends of aisles for clearance items.  For instance, I found a bunch of plastic slinkies on sale for 48 cents a piece.  That’s HALF PRICE or less.  And I bought a big 100-piece bag of mini chocolate bars for half the cost at BJs (versus Target).  But remember, there’s a difference between being economical, cutting corners in a way no one will notice, and just being CHEAP.  People notice CHEAPNESS.  They admire you when you are creatively thrifty.  Think about it.  The latter will earn you respect and imitation, the former costs more than it saves.

Party Bags, Plates & Cups.  You can buy these everywhere, and unless your child is wedded to an overarching “theme” – Elmo, Dora, etc. – save money by mixing & matching and looking for sales.  I know some people swear by party stores, but I’ve yet to find one with better pricing than a big box discounter, unless you’re shopping for a massive group.  And remember, these items are going to be consumed, recycled or thrown away.  Don’t waste your money going overboard.  Another hint: Get Creative.  For both of my daughters parties this year, instead of purchasing commercial party bags, I used brown paper lunch sacks.  Total Cost: $1 for 40.  To fancy them up, I used a vintage stamp kit I found at a yard sale for $3 bucks.  For my older daughter’s party – where I had all the children’s names beforehand, I made a personalized bag for each guest.

For my younger daughter’s recent party, which had a Halloween / harvest theme, I made them a little different.

I offer these purely to spark your own creativity.  Use your imagination & go wild!

Piñatas, Treasure Hunts, & Party Crafts. OH MY! Let’s talk party extras.  Things that cost a little more, but truly make for an extra special occasion.  We’ve done one or more of these at our parties and they’re always a big hit.

Piñatas. This year we found a fabulous piñata at Target on (you guessed it) CLEARANCE.  It cost dollars less simply b/c one of the streamers was missing.  Umm. Who cares?  The thing’s going to get torn apart anyway.  But just for show, I carefully trimmed an extra off another end of the piñata and shazam.  Perfect-o.  To fill it, DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY BUYING THE PRE-BAGGED STASH.  It’s expensive, the candy is stale, and it’s boringly standard.  Instead buy candy in bulk (it’s cheaper and it’s fresh) – either from a place like BJs or the dollar store.  To this add some dollar store trinkets, bead necklaces, erasers, etc.  A WORD OF CAUTION: remember this stuff is going to come flying out at a group of children.  Don’t buy things that could poke or cause harm, such as lollipops or pencils, and stay away from things that could otherwise break or get damaged in the process.

Treasure Hunts. In a similar vein to the annual Easter egg hunt, try a Treasure Hunt at your next party.  It can be as simple or elaborate as you wish, from opening the backdoor and saying Okay Kids, go find the treats, to creating fancy pirate type maps with clues, to..??  Let your mind wander.  Just remember weather conditions.  DUH?  Yes, I know, but it’s less appealing to hunt in the cold and rain.  Think ahead and you’ll always be prepared (and look great in the process – *wink*).

Party Crafts. This is a great way to “break” up the time, especially if you’ve opted for a lengthier party.  The craft could be anything really – we’ve done “Paint Your Own T-Shirts” and recently “Paint Your Own Mini Pumpkins” –

neither was a huge investment, but provided something very fun and memorable for the kids to do at the party AND take home.  You could do a craft that incorporates several things – like food and fun.  Make your own sundaes are always popular.  You can have them draw pictures, or paint, or make something with dough.  Even if it’s just decorating blown up balloons with markers, the kids will have fun.  And you will too.  There is nothing better than spending quality time with your child, especially on their birthday.  And you do not need to spend a lot of money; just be creative.

Games with PRIZES.  I don’t care what mamby-pamby parents have to say – Kids like Prizes.  I am not steel-jawing these kids into believing YOU MUST PERFORM!!!! to earn a prize.  No way.  But I’m also not depriving them of the good feeling a win can inspire, either.  Keep the games simple and fun, make sure you have enough prizes so that every child has a chance to win, and afterward, give the kids who didn’t win anything a prize for trying.  Everyone leaves happy.  Sure, some kids might have won more than their peers, but frankly, that’s life.  And no one goes home empty handed.  Keep the games age appropriate, or you risk dismay (huhhh??) – or worse, boredom.  Here is a BIG FAT LIST of suggestions (you are welcome).  Good news?  The party will be over before you can try them all.  And there’s no need to buy much if anything to play these.  Make your own Pin the Tail on the (Whatever).  Use a pair of rolled up socks or a stuffed animal if you don’t have a bean bag.  Any questions about game rules, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to elaborate.  Or have I missed one?  Comment & leave your own suggestions as well.

  1. Musical Chairs
  2. Hot Potato
  3. Pin the Tail on the Donkey
  4. Freeze Dance
  5. Guess How Many in a Jar
  6. Draw a Lucky Winner From a Hat
  7. Balloon Push over the Finish Line
  8. Kangaroo Hop with Balloon Between Knees
  9. Toss Bean Bag into Bucket
  10. Shoe Race – Put everyone’s shoes in central pile, race to get them on
  11. Duck Duck Goose
  12. Hide and Seek
  13. Simon Says
  14. Red Light Green Light
  15. Freeze Tag
  16. Keep Balloon Up in the Air
  17. Four Corners
  18. Basketball – who can make the most baskets
  19. Basketball – who can make the farthest shot
  20. Race to see who’s fastest

A Friendly Reminder.  Your kid’s birthday comes but once a year, don’t waste it stressing over the party.  A bunch of kids couldn’t care less that you haven’t finished installing (insert whatever mindless item that’s bothering you).  Neither do they care if your silver is spotless.  Run the vacuum over Foofie’s furry mess on the carpet, wipe down the counters they’ll be eating on, and relax.  If you feel overwhelmed being on your own with all the kids, ask other parents to help.  A parenting pro?  Invite kids only and 1) your fellow parents get a break, 2) you only need to shell out for children, and 3) you can spend time focusing on making your child happy – rather than entertaining a bunch of adults and worrying what they’re thinking.  YOUR CHILD’S BIRTHDAY COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR.  This party is for your kid, NOT YOU.  Don’t forget that.  And don’t sweat the small stuff, b/c really – it’s all small stuff.

Grease stains, Ice cream cones and Walmart – Oh MY.

A couple months ago, I was in a pickle.  I’d put a pair of pants up for sale on eBay before noticing they had a subtle grease spot on one of the legs.  What can I say, I’VE BEEN DISTRACTED.  As luck would have it, the pants sold and I was left in a quandary.  I couldn’t sell misrepresented merchandise, but I didn’t want to forgo the sale if I could help it.  So I looked online, searching for a sure-fire way to get that grease out.  Trust me when I say there are a lot of questionable suggestions out there.  Everything from talcum powder to WD-40 to Cheez Whiz is supposed to remove grease.  But I needed foolproof.  I didn’t have time to spare, and I didn’t want to further damage the pants in the process.  Several websites spoke glowingly of a product I’d never heard of before.

Dawn Power Dissolver.

Dawn Power Dissolver is a spray cleaner made to remove caked-on crap from dishes, but people online raved about it taking grease off ovens and more importantly, OUT OF CLOTHES.  I wasn’t optimistic, but figured it was worth a shot.  It wasn’t expensive.  And if it worked…  OOooh!!  So I googled the stuff, trying to find someplace to buy it.  The only store w/in miles?  Walmart.

I don’t normally shop at Walmart.  Apart from what it’s done to local economies, I hate the parking lot.  Nowhere else on earth (apart from Christmas Tree Shops) are pedestrians put at greater risk.  But I needed THAT SPRAY.  I told myself I’d just be quick – in and out, then home.  But being at the Walmart here (versus the old one in Philly) was sort of a novel experience.  Whereas the Philly Walmart offers rock-bottom prices in filthy surroundings with hordes of half-dressed shoppers, the store here is ginormous.  It’s new and super clean.  And, perhaps b/c of the cooler climate, the clientele here wear more clothes.  I may hate Walmart, but I love bargains.  So after I’d picked up a bottle of spray, I got a cart and tooled around the NASCAR-sized arena.  I bought a new mop.  Some hamburger buns.  And then I remembered my older daughter wanted ice cream cones.  She’d been asking for them for a week, I’d kept forgetting.  I found them, helpfully located at the end of the frozen foods aisle.  They had several boxes, I reached for some at eye-height, feeling joyful as I put those Joy Cones into the cart and proceeded to checkout.

I returned home to launder the pants.  The Dawn Power Dissolver worked WONDERS! removing the grease stain completely w/ no ill effects whatsoever.  My daughter enjoyed her ice cream cones, whilst I mopped happily and my husband grilled burgers for our buns.  We all sang Kumbayah and .. and… AND!

The first part of my story is completely true.  Dawn Power Dissolver IS the best grease removing spray in the world.  I sprayed it on those pants, waited 10 minutes and then washed them.  The stain came out like magic, I marveled at my good fortune, and everyone was happy.  As for everything else..  ALL LIES.  The mop broke the first time I used it, the burger buns were stale – but the biggest kicker were those cones.

Does this look like the face of a happy child?

She is, after all, holding a box of JOY.  You’d think she’d be a bit thrilled.  But no.  And why?  B/c Walmart and the Joy Cone Company played a terrible trick on me.  Oh yes they did!  And here is the rest of my story.  (ALL TRUE.)

Look at the package.

Pretty, right?  Attractively colored, sure to please.  Placed at eye-height, just where I’d grab it and stick it in my cart.  It’s a box of ice cream cones, for pete’s sake, what the heck could be wrong?!  BUT IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY..

You will see each and every one of those 60 (yes, 60) cones is actually .. smaller than the size of my THUMB.

Here is one of the cones beside our (quite average sized) ice cream scoop.

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Although my husband was simply overjoyed by these shrimpy JOY cones, thinking they would restrict our daughters’ consumption of ice cream significantly, my daughters & I were not amused. AT ALL.

Those tiny ice cream cones might look cute, and charming, and if they were sturdy, they indeed might hold something other than the two drops of air inside.  They might even hold – gasp – a spoonful of ice cream!  We could have stood round scooping a good cup or two total of ice cream into all 60, placed them in a bowl or on a tray and eaten the whole lot of them, whilst chuckling heartily at the hilarity of it all, snapping pictures, and wondering when we were going to do it all again.  Instead, when I tried spooning the barest wisp of ice cream into a single one of these cones, it left the damn thing in crumbs.  Each of those petite ice cream cones is a ruse, a mere TEASE.  You cannot get ice cream into any of them, without smashing them into smithereens, unless your ice cream is soup.  Whereas most people would chalk all of this up to experience, WHHHOOOPSIE, I bought some tiny ding-dong cones, MY BAD>, I am not one of them.  REMEMBER?? I am a crazy woman having to sell greasy pants on ebay to get by !!!!!! That dollar or two I spent on that box of worthless ice cream cones – and believe me, they are completely worthless, was TOO FREAKING MUCH.  I do not like being had.  Joy Cones, FOR SHAME.  And here’s an idea for you.

Please tell me what I am supposed to do with the remaining 58 minuscule cones I still have in my possession.  B/c apart from the above, I cannot think of a single thing.

Great ideas for Valentine’s Day. Creative. Thoughtful. AND CHEAP!!

This post was inspired by my blog buddy, Hayden, who just wrote about The Big Day. And it got me thinking. I’ve done lots of sweet things for my husband on Valentine’s Day, I really should share some of them. So whether you lack creativity or money (or both), here are some ideas to make V-day sizzle. JUST REMEMBER: You do not have to spend a lot of money to make someone’s Valentine’s Day the best they’ve ever had. Romance is in the eye of the beholder and thoughtfulness always trumps money when it comes to true love.
Now.. onto the ideas!!

Image courtesy of ValentinesDayIdeas

1) I don’t normally toot company horns, but this one is so great, I am making an exception. My husband and I made books – REAL books – as presents for some of our loved ones this year, and they were fabulous. It was beyond easy to do and truly affordable. Go to BLURB.COM and download their bookmaking software for FREE. Then upload photos of you and your sweetheart, personalize everything, and order. Blurb.com does the rest. Choose from soft and hardback styles. We’ve done both and they are simply AWESOME. Your loved one will be touched beyond belief.

2) Not into that? Then make your own scrapbook. I have made several of these for my husband. One with all of the emails we exchanged in college. Sweet and silly. Another with all of our wedding mementos. Another with poems. You get the picture. All that matters is that it’s from you, filled with loving memories of your time together. They will LOVE IT.

Image courtesy of BlissTree

3) Make a gift basket filled with treats he or she especially loves. This does NOT have to be expensive! One year, I went to the dollar store and bought a brand new woven wicker trash can, a silk red rose garland, and every single Reese’s peanut butter cup variation I could find – 12 packs, singles, white chocolate, candy bar interpretations, etc. I went home and arranged everything artfully in the basket, wound the garland round the top, then delivered it Valentine’s Day to my husband’s office as a surprise. I cannot tell you how many women SQUEALED IN DELIGHT!! when they saw me coming. My husband was floored when he came back to find this sitting on his desk. They charge a fortune for this stuff online. DO IT YOURSELF. Just vary the basket filling according to what your significant other likes. Candy bars, snacks, health food, fruit, specialty foods, beer, wine, arts & crafts supplies, beauty supplies, sporting goods, you name it. IT’S ALL GOOD.

Image courtesy of Cookerie-Girl

4) Decorate your bedroom to set the mood. One year I went to the Dollar Store and bought a bag full of party decorations. Streamers, hanging lanterns, hanging hearts, etc. Then I pulled out some white Christmas lights and I decorated our bedroom, weaving the lights around our bed, hanging the hearts above, etc. My husband was so surprised!! And it was so lovely with the fairy lights and everything, it looked like our own private wonderland. We kept the stuff up for weeks afterward it was so nice.

Image courtesy of DesignFling

5) Instead of taking him/her out to eat, cook dinner yourself – or hire a friend, family member, someone else to. I dated a chef years ago – he made me dinner one night at his apartment and I still remember the meal – figs stuffed with cheese, softshell crabs. Amazing. But you don’t have to be a professional cook to impress. Check my website for recipes! Heck, email me and I will even talk you through it. Just take the time to show your loved one how much you care. Skip the expense of a faceless meal. Make your own. Or pick up take out food and pretend it’s your own. Still impressive! You can confess later, after you’re both full and happy.

Image courtesy of TripAdvisor

6) Couples massage ROCKS. But you don’t have to pay a professional to touch the one you love. DIY, baby! Buy a bottle of scented massage cream or oil, at home place a clean sheet over the bed, dim the lights or better yet, light some candles, and put on some relaxing music. Invite them to their very own “spa”. Crack your knuckles and work it. They will LOVE YOU for it. Trust me.

Image courtesy of SheKnows

7) Make your loved one a card. Hallmark doesn’t know them, BUT YOU DO. What is it about them that you love? Their smell? Their eyes? Their sense of humor? EVERYTHING? WONDERFUL!! If you’re good with words, write your own poem for them. They will never forget this most simple gesture, ever. If you’re not good with poetry, just write out your feelings. That’s all that matters. Even just, Honey, I love you. Always. For a woman this is everything.
I still have the only secret admirer valentine I’ve ever gotten. It was handmade, just a piece of plain white paper with blue pen. 18 years later, I still think it’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever given me.

Image courtesy of HomeLifeWeekly

8) Plan a date night out. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE!! Be thoughtful. What does your s/o like? Art – take him/her to a museum. Nature? Go to a local park or arboretum. Sports? Take them to an event. Music? Go see a local live band. And so on. For our first Valentine’s Day together, my husband – then boyfriend- and I were flat-out broke. He took me ice skating along the Delaware River. It was magical and cost almost nothing.

Image courtesy of LakeGeorge

9) Instead of buying chocolates, make your own. Check my website for a decadent peanut butter truffle recipe. Bake them a heart-shaped cake, or a big tin of cookies. DELICIOUS + MADE IT YOURSELF > CRAP CHOCOLATES IN HEART-SHAPED BOX FROM CVS

10) Print and frame a nice photo of the 2 of you. My husband framed my favorite picture of us and gave it to me as a Christmas present this year. I burst into tears, it was so sweet. I LOVE IT. And he/she will too.

Image courtesy of PersonalizationMall

11) Have a special skill or talent? SHARE IT. Are you good at making things? Then make something for your loved one. Write them a story. Draw them a picture. Build them a birdhouse/ bookshelf/ mailbox. Good at fixing stuff? Fix that broken cabinet that’s been annoying her. Or the car. Or the dishwasher. EVEN If you’re totally talent-less, you can still do something thoughtful. CLEAN THE HOUSE! Or the basement, or the WHATEVER. Do the laundry. The dishes. You get the picture. I know you don’t want to do it, but neither does she, and trust me, she WILL REMEMBER THIS, and in a GOOD WAY.

Image courtesy of Anonymous8

12) This one’s more for the men out there. Buy something to pamper her, especially something that she wouldn’t normally buy herself. A treat. Is she a waitress, a chef, a nurse or doctor? Someone on her feet all day? Buy her a foot bath, foot cream, and give her a foot massage. Is she an overworked mom? Give her a night of relaxation away from the kids. FOR INSTANCE: at Trader Joe’s they sell gorgeous French-milled natural soaps, with scents like lavender and lemon verbena. Since they go for $4-5 bucks EACH, she won’t splurge on herself, but YOU CAN. Buy her four different scents, along with a new thick bath towel, scrub brush, and a scented candle. Throw in a CD of her favorite relaxation music – I recommend Astrud Gilberto. Chill a bottle of wine for her. Fill the tub. Then take the kids to the park.

Image courtesy of SupremeMassage

13) Are you musical? Write her a song and she will be yours forever. Can’t carry a tune? Then make her a mix-tape of songs that remind you of her. Even if you can’t sing, they can. And that will woo her far better than you crooning the hits if you can’t croon, though she’d probably still like it anyway.

Image courtesy of IndiaForums

14) This one may take some doing, so it’s good I’m posting this early. Make her a movie or simple video asking her to marry you, or just proclaiming your love. You can upload it to YouTube, or put it on your own website – or even just email it to her. Or you could invite her over for a special screening. Be creative.

Image Courtesy of GreenvilleDailyPhoto

15) NEW!! JUST ADDED!!!!!!! Order a one-of-a-kind portrait of you & your sweetie!!

***Whatever you do, IT’S the gesture that counts. If it comes from the heart, it’ll be amazing. Just think of the person you love, only of them and what they enjoy. Then imagine how you can make them happy. Can you bring them something? Do something for them? It’s often the simplest things – not the most expensive or elaborate – which mean the most.

Taking a cruise? Here’s what to pack (in addition to the essentials)

If you’re lucky enough to be going on a cruise anytime in the near future, here’s a helpful list. I spent a little time today looking online for creative things to bring onboard and found a host of really great ideas to make the trip even better. Thought you’d all enjoy, so here goes..

  • Ginger pills. These are sold in every pharmacy with the vitamins and many people swear by them for sea-sickness. Great benefit – they are side effect FREE and may work as effectively as prescription meds.
  • A couple wood or plastic clothes pins. Great for keeping those pesky drapes shut, hanging up drying laundry, etc.
  • Cable ties. These work even better than those small locks for keeping your suitcases locked securely. Simply pop a pair of nail trimmers or a small pair of scissors in your purse to snip open (and of course bring extras for securing bags during the cruise and on the way home).
  • Laundry bag. Bring one and you can use it as a hamper during the cruise and when packing for home you can just throw it into your suitcase without having to repack.
  • Plastic ziplock bags. Bring a few for toiletries, damp swimwear, etc.
  • Decoration for your door (and tape to hang it up). Not only friendly and cute, but instantly recognizable from down the hall! No searching for your cabin.
  • Small fold-up umbrella.
  • Watch or portable alarm clock.
  • Travel size hand sanitizer.
  • Post-it notes & pen. Helpful for leaving notes for your room steward.
  • Plastic refillable water bottle. Great for use in cabin as well as toting along on shore excursions.
  • Cell phone AND CHARGER.
  • Nightlight for cabin. Great not only for the kids, but for those of us who need bathroom breaks during the night.
  • Binoculars. Just in case you get lucky and see some dolphins or whales from the ship.
  • Power strip. I read many cabins have only one electrical outlet, so this is good if you need to plug in multiple things – hairdryer, curling iron, etc.
  • Small flashlight. In case power goes out you’ll be able to find your way in hallways.
  • Copies of important documents. People suggested making 2 copies each of passport, driver’s license, credit cards, etc. and leaving one in LOCKED luggage or on person and another copy at home. Sounds like a good idea.
  • Camera and extra batteries.
  • Small bag for last night. Not sure if you saw this in the small print of the brochure, but many cruise lines claim your luggage the night before you arrive back at port. So they recommend bringing some small bag or tote to carry all of your remaining essentials the last day.
  • Portable DVD player and DVDs.
  • iPod or portable CD player, if desired.
  • Swimsuit. As if you’d forget! But even on many northern cold-weather cruises there is indoor swimming and you can bet you’ll be interested.
  • Reading material. If you bring paperbacks you can finish, you can leave them onboard after departure for the crew to enjoy.

HAPPY SAILING!!