5 Cheap, Warm, and Fun Winter Birthday Party Ideas

Dollars & Sense on 02.16.12
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Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

It's not easy entertaining gaggles of kids in cold weather without ruining your house and whitening your hair. I know, because three of my four kids have winter and early spring birthdays. In the beginning, I used to try to recreate a Martha Stewart vignette in my house. After cupcakes crumbs were spewed across my living room, furniture was broken, and handmade party favors crushed, I decided that I needed to chill out.

Since then we've experimented with all sorts of birthday celebrations, from homegrown ice skating parties to gymnastics parties, community center parties to tubing parties. For a few years, we even resorted to celebrating my Christmas baby's half-birthday in July so we could hold it outside at the pool. Here are the fun-yet-frugal parties that stuck.

1. The Classic Slumber Party


Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

The sleepover party wins the prize for the most inexpensive of all. The key to avoiding high blood pressure? Keep the guest list low. Really low. Like two or -- max -- three.

What I love about slumber parties is that my life doesn't get turned upside down. Quite the contrary: The kids play, and we have dinner all together as usual (my girls even request family favorites like fettuccine alfredo and, believe it or not, kale chips). Then we do something special like decorate cookies or watch a movie. The hardest part is getting them to go to sleep. Other than the quiet-down struggle, there's plenty to love: Minimal (to no) decorations, no party favors (they take home the decorated cookies), and no double-clean (because small parties are low-impact).

2. Small Family Brunch and an Outdoor Game

Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

When my son Mark turned three, we invited two other families over for brunch. One thing I love about this intimate party is that both the kids and adults get to socialize. I made dishes I knew, like asparagus tart, quiche lorraine, and sausages, so I wasn't stressed about the menu. Mark wanted bon-bon cookies instead of cupcakes, so one activity became dipping them in icing and sprinkling on nonpareils.

Even if the air is cold, a game will draw the kids outside to burn off some energy. Since Mark was born around Easter, we had an egg hunt in our backyard. I could see the same idea applied to any party theme. For a car party, hide Hot Wheels under bushes and behind trees. For a jungle party, plastic animals. Kids get to collect a certain number, then they help others -- and the bag of finds becomes their party favors.

3. Group Playdate Somewhere Fun



Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Of course parties tend to get really pricey when you pay someone to host the event and entertain the kids. However, what if you just pop in to a public space with a few extra kids? One year we took my daughter and three friends to a city skating rink; another year we went to a sledding hill. I could see this working at a public library or indoor pool, also. It's easier to save the candles and singing for a family celebration, but you can bring a thermos of hot chocolate and some cookies for friends, or head to the local coffee shop afterwards to warm up with some hot cider.

4. Do It Yourself -- with Help


Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

If you really want to invite your child's entire class, it's still possible to be thrifty. Ask a good friend or hire a mother's helper to help you organize games or crafts. Favor cold food over hot, so that you can make it all ahead of time and won't be fussing over cooking times and a hot oven. There is something so cozy and warm about home parties, but to keep my sanity, I have sometimes rented inexpensive spots to host the party, like this playroom (pictured). Many preschools, churches, or community centers allow birthday parties for a nominal fee.

5. Import Low-Cost Entertainment


Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Bringing in entertainment does not have to be a budget-breaker. When we went to our school's winter fair, we discovered two enterprising sisters -- a third- and a fifth-grader -- who do hair tinsel or balloon animals at parties for just $30. Adult entertainers are not necessarily expensive, especially if you limit the guest list. For example, a bead-store owner around here will do a necklace-making party at your house for $15 per person. If you time the party between meals, you can further limit your costs.

So the key concepts here for frugal yet manageable birthday parties are (a) keep it small and cozy, or (b) make it bigger by holding it at home with inexpensive help. And don't stop here for leads: ask friends and colleagues what they know. There are sure to be party offerings in your town that are both cheap and unique.

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