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Planning a child's birthday party on a budget

Written by Mary Luz Mejia

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Our little one turns five in the fall. At four years old and change, she's already been to gym-based birthdays, invited to a trampoline birthday (with bouncy castle included) and princess-themed tea parties. Parents keep upping the ante on birthday celebrations, likely spending more than they're comfortable with.

How will we be able to keep this up by the time she turns 16? I know I can't, and frankly, I don't want to. What I'd prefer to do, however, is offer a fun, pretty celebration for our gal's fifth birthday that's big on creativity and low on cash guzzlers. Here are a few ideas I plan on using when The Big Five rolls around:

1. Shop in Advance: It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many parents leave party essentials like tableware and balloons to the last minute. If you know you're going with a certain theme or colour scheme, shop around to get the most for your dollar. Scrambling to buy at the last minute means you're likely to spend much more than you need to. Look out for online coupons, end-of-season sales or two-for-one deals at party supply retailers and the like.

2. Get Interactive: Getting kids involved during the party is an easy fun-maker. This can be as simple as a game of pin the tail on the donkey, decorating their own baked goods (sprinkles, chocolate chips, icing or dried fruit pieces) or playing musical chairs. Have a sibling who's a soccer or basketball champ? Have them set up an outdoor "training camp" with age-appropriate drills. Winter birthday? Head over to the local rink with a few other parents and a couple of thermoses of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Head back to your venue of choice afterwards for some warming treats and a round of karaoke (renting the machine instead of buying it will save you money if you don't have future karaoke needs). Have an artist in the family? Ask them to face paint simple designs such as a butterfly, a princess or a pirate — it's easy, good fun. Snap a few pics and email them to the kids' parents afterwards for a cool party memento.

3. Inbox Invites: In today's digital age, almost everyone has an email address (including my 80-year-old mother), so save on paper invitations and postage by going online. PunchbowlREviteR and Paperless Post are free, good-quality options that let you personalize your child's invitations with colour choices, messages and fonts.

4. Venue: We're lucky to live in a big enough house to accommodate a few friends and family members. Our gal's birthday is in the early fall, so if weather permits we'll have the option of using outdoor seating on our deck. If you need more room than you've got, consider booking a picnic table at your favourite park (if a warmer weather birthday is on the books) or a condo party room (yours or a chum's) for the occasion. Sometimes, churches and social clubs allow members to use their space for free — ask around.

5. The Cake: Not much of a baker? Don't feel like a generic sheet cake and can't see the point in splurging for a beautiful bakery creation? Try a doughnut cake! Buy a box of doughnuts in flavours you know your child and guests will love and arrange them on a tiered cake stand. You can place candles in a few, and voila!, you have a "birthday cake" photo-opp. If you want to turn this into a customizable treat, set up an easy, deluxe topping bar. This can be as simple as a few simple ice cream flavours, candy confetti and hot fudge sauce. Kids can top their doughnut off with a scoop of ice cream, decorate it, then dig in—sugar buzz included.

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