It’s birthday season at The Simple Home. We have three birthdays lumped together at the beginning of autumn, another in November, and two more closing out the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, one of those landing on New Year’s Day.
It is possible to go absolutely nuts during birthday season. I have seen what some non-celebrity parents do for their children’s birthdays. I won’t give you my personal opinion, but my children think those families are nuts.
Every birthday we have is simple, affordable, and stress-free.
Here are some simple birthday party ideas to keep the festivities down to a dull roar while still making the birthday girl or birthday boy (or birthday mom!) feel special.
Simple Birthday Party Ideas
Size of the Guest List
Keep it small! If you have an overly stimulated two-year-old surrounded by 25 other overly stimulated two-year-olds, you’re asking for it…and chances are you’re gonna get it. You’ve been warned.
There is nothing wrong with a party for the immediate family only. If you want to include Grandma and Grandpa and a few cousins, that’s great, but remember that with each person you include, you are adding stress and cost, plus obligating that person to spend money on a gift.
If you have a lot of children, consider throwing one annual birthday bash to which you invite the entire extended family and some friends. When the real birthdays roll around, stick to just the household and maybe grandparents.
As your guest list grows, so do the number of presents your child will be tossing carelessly on the floor for you to trip over…I mean, the more gifts your child will be receiving. To avoid adding more clutter to your life and obligatory expense to the guests’ lives, include a note in the invitation that says “Your presence is our present; there is no need to bring gifts.” This also helps to not spoil your child, while still making him feel special.
Fun and Affordable Birthday Decorations
Balloons are cheap. I’m not talking the fancy inflatable shiny character balloons; I mean a bag or two of balloons from a discount store (like Wal-Mart). Personally, I don’t like balloons, probably because I almost always have someone at the “if there is a way to fit this in my mouth, I will find it” stage. Therefore, we keep the balloons off the floor by tying them to a string and running the string of balloons across the ceiling a couple times. It’s even more fun when the children decorate the balloons first to fit their themes.
Crepe paper is also cheap at discount stores. Decorate the birthday girl’s chair before she wakes up, or write her name on the wall in crepe paper.
A white plastic tablecloth sells for a buck or two in the party supply section of—you guessed it—discount stores. Children can decorate it using permanent markers—for creative children, this is often more fun than the gift opening.
Plain white paper for wrapping gifts can also be decorated. Other great sources of wrapping paper are Sunday funnies, brown paper bags, or rolls of newsprint paper or butcher paper. All can be decorated, although the funnies are fun as-is. Bows can be tied with yarn, or you can stock up on wrapping ribbon around December 26. Sewing departments usually sell thin ribbon very cheaply, and it doubles beautifully as hair ribbons for little girls.
Make a birthday banner consisting of all the letters in the child’s name, the letters in “Happy Birthday”,” or pictures from birthdays past. You could also have siblings or the birthday girl herself make signs to decorate the house. It will not look like Hallmark, but it will be charming and very, very special.
Decorate a birthday tree. Laminate pictures from birthdays past and hang them on a small tree or houseplant. Presents for the special someone can be placed under the tree.
Have all guests decorate their own birthday hats. Optionally, you could have your own children decorate hats and party favor bags in advance of party day.
Easy Party Games
The decorating is often so much fun that the children do not need any other games. If they do, however, remember that sometimes the simple, classic games are the best.
For the little ones, duck, duck, goose, bean bag toss, ping pong ball bounce, follow that leader, and other simple games fit the bill. So does bringing out a bucket of Lincoln logs. Whatever you do, don’t stress a roomful of 20 toddlers!
Older children might enjoy a scavenger hunt, treasure hunt, or charades. Pinatas are also fun, but most sold in the store today are the (booooring, totally low-action, why-not-just-hand-out-a-bunch-of-candy) pull-string type. Those are fine for the littles, but the older children, especially boys, really want to hit something. So…make your own!
Have your birthday child decorate some poster board for a “pin the tail on the donkey” type of game, but change it up for the theme or your child’s interests. Pin the petal on the flower, pin the light saber on Luke Skywalker, pin the facial features on the birthday boy (a drawing of the birthday boy, that is)—you get the idea. I know it’s very last decade in most parents’ minds, but it’s simple, affordable, and fun for the children.
Put an address label on each person’s head. Each label has the name of a kind of animal. By asking questions of others, each person has to guess what he is throughout the party. Once you know what you are, remove the sticker. This is also a great mingling activity if your party gets a little large.
Birthday Party Food
Make the birthday boy his favorite meals. If he requests steak and lobster, you may need to lower his expectations a bit and give him hamburgers and shrimp. Otherwise, fill the day with his favorite foods. Do as much as possible ahead of time.
If you have invited a crowd, think of foods that really stretch. Hamburgers and hotdogs are low-key and go well with a big, inexpensive batch of filling baked beans. Grill the meats up ahead of time and put them in roaster pans that can easily be reheated in the oven. The beans can go in the crockpot.
Pizza is obviously the simplest choice for a large group, and a general crowd pleaser. Supplement with a large lettuce salad and a fruit salad, or anything else that guests on restricted diets may require.
Cake and ice cream are always a hit. Save a lot of money by making your own cake. You can really stretch out the cake experience by having guests decorate their own cupcakes.
Consider a popcorn bar instead of sweets to keep costs and sugar down.
For a small group, have the ice cream be part of the action by making it right there, either in plastic bags inside other plastic bags filled with salt and ice, in an ice cream maker, or—the ultimate—in an ice cream ball.
If you are making it a “friends” party and want to keep the cost down, hold the festivities from around 2 to 4 p.m. and serve only cake and ice cream.
Please remember that a birthday party does not have to be stressful; nor does it have to be perfect.
If a child wants to help (or independently) decorate the cake or the house, let him! The smile on his face is far more important than the impression your neighbors or relatives would formulate from seeing the near-perfect cake and home décor you would otherwise have put out.
It is not about perfection—it is about the special person you are celebrating.