The Best and Least Expensive Kids Birthday Party Idea


in Frugality,holiday

When I was a kid, a birthday party was having friends over to your house, with cake and ice cream, balloons, hats, presents and—if you were big time—a piñata. Sometimes a sleepover followed, sometimes not. Birthday parties were simple and pretty standard so there wasn’t much concern with being behind the social curve.

But as a parent with kids of my own, I quickly discovered that a few things had changed over the years. Gone were the simple affairs that kept us so content when I was young. Now it’s paint ball, amusement parks, laser tag, race cars, live entertainment—if you can dream it, somebody’s doing it for their child’s birthday.

Kids’ birthday parties aren’t standard anymore, they’re cool. And they have to be; apparently one of the factors a child is measured by today by his or her peers is the quality of their last birthday bash. Birthday’s aren’t just cool either, they’re also something else—they’re competitive!

Let me say from the outset that this isn’t a condition I agree with or am in any way trying to promote. It is however a natural extension of an over-indulgent culture in which the same people who borrow money to pay for houses, cars and vacations they can barely afford will also borrow a little extra to throw an outsized birthday extravaganza for junior’s big day.

How do you give your kids a cool party without breaking the bank?

My wife and I investigated and tried some of the popular birthday venues for our kid’s parties, tending to stay on the lower end of the price scale. It wasn’t too hard to do so when the kids were really young, say up to age nine or ten. But as they got older the level of competition only seemed to increase. Middle school was the worst—imagine that!

I don’t have a problem having a low key party for my kids, but my kids have to go to school on Monday and face the judgment of their classmates, so we tried to keep that in mind as we looked for alternatives. And we found one that satisfied the “cool factor” for our kids without demolishing our budget.

For our kids, my wife and I chose to have sleepover parties at a hotel. We’ve done it on four occasions, two of which were combination parties for both kids at the same time, which saves even more money. It was a world above a sleepover at home, but both simpler and a whole lot less expensive than the popular birthday venues.

I don’t know what your budget for your kids’ birthdays might be, but this is definitely a consideration if you want to do something that the kids (and their friends) will enjoy and remember without spending a bunch of money.

A cost but one with real benefits

In our corner of Suburbia, the local Embassy Suites charges $109 (plus tax) per night for a two room suite with two double beds plus a double fold out sleeper in the front room. The room will accommodate up to six people.

The only other costs for the parties were pizza, soda, cake and of course, a gift for our kids, all of which we would have paid if we had the party somewhere else, or even at home.

But here are the benefits we got in exchange for $109 (plus tax):

  • We didn’t have to clean our house before the party the way you would for a home party or sleepover
  • We didn’t have to clean our house again after the party the way you would for a home party or sleepover
  • No decorating was necessary (though my wife would decorate the hotel room(s) anyway)
  • We didn’t have to worry about sleeping arrangements or kids bedding, like sleeping bags or pillows
  • We didn’t have to pay the $200-$300 (or more) that many of the specialized birthday venues charge for a two hour party—and we had all night
  • We didn’t have to worry about paying for souvenirs or other extras or add-ons—there weren’t any
  • The hotel pool kept the kids busy as the main attraction—we never had to plan activities (though my wife added some anyhow)
  • We had a choice of either the room(s) or the main dining room for pizza and cake
  • The relatively long walks to and from the room(s) and the hotel pool and dining room provided something all kids need: running room
  • A hot and cold breakfast buffet was available for up to six people per room the next morning and it was included in the price
  • Because hotels impose limits on the number of people who can stay in a room, we had a natural ceiling on the guest list; inviting the whole class—thankfully—went right out the window
  • All the kids had a good time and thought it was a COOL party—which is very important to the birthday girl or boy!

If you’re at all concerned about the six person limit, there’s no need. The limit applies to the number of people staying at the hotel overnight, not the number visiting. When we did individual parties, my wife or me, our son or daughter and four of their friends stayed over. For the two times we did combination parties, we rented two rooms. My wife and I would both be at the hotel for the night with our two kids and four friends each for the sleepover. However, for each party, they invited kids who only came for the party and not the sleepover.

This actually works well because as we discovered, not all kids who come for a party can sleep over. The kids might have had eight friends each, only half of whom would do the sleepover, so we were never confronted with an over load situation.

I’m not saying this type of party is for everybody, but it’s something to think about when you’re looking for an idea that’s a little different but won’t cost a fortune. My wife and I and our kids liked it so much that we did it four times.

What do you normally do for our children’s birthday parties? Have you ever had a party at a hotel? What did your kids think about it? How much is too much to spend on a birthday party?

Kevin At Out of Your RutThis post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog

(Photo courtesy of Tony Crescibene)

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Weekly Favorites and Gratitude! «Budgeting In the Fun Stuff
2010/08/21 at 4:03 am


Jenna 2010/08/19 at 11:15 am

I’m not a parent, but I did help out at my cousin’s birthday party at a hotel once. It was really fun and there was a batting cage and putt putt golf next door. Between that and the pool everyone was really tuckered out. Another perk of staying at a hotel is the parents dropped off and picked up their kids right then and there no carpooling of figure much of that stuff out.

Kevin 2010/08/20 at 3:22 pm

Jenna – that last point is important. A lot of people may not know where an obscure kids venue is, but most people in a community know where a hotel is. That really does eliminate a potential logistical problem. I guess since it wasn’t ever a problem for us, I didn’t think to include it in the post. THANKS!

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff 2010/08/19 at 12:44 pm

I love this idea! If I ever have kids, I am totally doing this!

The coolest birthday party I ever had was at my grandparents house in the forest when I was 18. My friends and I hiked, visited the “haunted” cabin at night, playing the rope swing, went swimming in the ponds, and picked blackberries all while chatting like teens do…it was awesome!

Kevin 2010/08/20 at 3:26 pm

Budgeting – Teens can make their own fun almost anywhere. With younger kids, the imagination needs to be stoked and they’re more reliant on the location and props. I can see why people set the parties in theme related activity centers. The alternative is to create activities for them, and they can be a challenge.

You hit on the core of the hotel idea though with the romping in the woods description; when you bring kids to a hotel you kind of turn them loose and let them have their own fun. All you need to do is manage from a distance, which is liberating.

Moneyedup 2010/08/22 at 8:42 pm

My most memorable birthday as a kid was a tea party themed party where we all dressed up, played silly party games and drank “tea”…koolaid from fancy teacups. The budget for this party was around $50 for the cake, drinks and decorations I am guessing, yet it is the most memorable for me. Other neat, cost efficient ideas for birthday parties include a picnic in the park, a splash pad visit or a themed party where you dress up as characters from a movie and then watch that movie. There is great fun to be had without spending a fortune on booking a party room, a play palace or having expensive entertainers come.

Kevin 2010/08/23 at 5:40 am

Moneyedup – I agree, you can have a great party for your child without spending a fortune. The problem today is that birthday parties often seem like a competition to have the best, so you have to be creative if you want a good one without spending too much.

kids birthday party 2010/08/26 at 6:51 pm

This is needing a good planning ahead. So the parents can spend wisely for the birthday bash, I guess they also have to talk with the birthday kid so expectations will be met and budget constraints will be understood. It will work out if they both understand how things will go. Am I right?

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