How do you plan a first birthday party on a budget?
The first birthday party anxiety is real!
The first birthday is a big deal. When you look on social media, you see pictures of extravagant first birthday bashes! With sparkly backdrops. Elaborate candy bars.
When my daughter was 9 months, people were already asking me what I was planning for her birthday party.
What the theme would be. I was still figuring out how to get more sleep. Let alone think about planning her 1st birthday.
There’s this expectation that you have to throw a glamorous first birthday party. Like this is going to lay the foundation for your kid’s future. And then the mom anxiety kicks in…
It’s okay if you don’t go all out for this 1st party birthday.
It doesn’t make you any less of a good parent. If anything, you’re a more responsible parent. You can use the extra party planning time and money towards essentials for your family.
That said, your child’s first birthday party can still be special and memorable without breaking the bank.
What do you do for a 1st birthday?
The key is keeping the first birthday simple.
This also means less pressure for you! Because this is a party and you should have fun too!
Here are tips and ideas for how to throw a quality first birthday party on a budget!
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1st Birthday Party Ideas on a Budget
1. Skip the fancy birthday decorations
This is money down the drain! You put them up for 1 day and then that’s it. They go into the trash.
If you want to set the atmosphere and tone for the event, you can do this with just a few decorative pieces.
Here’s a colorful happy birthday banner. I love that it’s REUSABLE! It’s gender neutral and appropriate for any age. You can use it for your baby’s first birthday and every other birthday.
If you’re looking for something more classic, this burlap birthday banner has a nice rustic look.
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To add to the festivities, you can get a cheap pack of 100 balloons. Blow up 6 of them to use on both sides of the birthday banner and that’s it! Save the other balloons for the next party!
To make it a little more formal, you can add a tablecloth. I use a white tablecloth for every type of party from birthdays to holidays. I like how it’s washable.
If you’re having the event using a picnic table or other type of table that’s not as formal, this offers a festive touch.
2. Skip the birthday party theme
The problem with a theme is that you have to match everything to it. The cake. The decor. The napkin holder.
Your kid IS the theme. You don’t need an additional theme to have a fun party!
If you’re having the birthday party at home, you probably already have framed pictures of your kid around the house.
It’s so much easier to use than traditional photo frames! You can put PHOTOS OF ALL SIZES on there! You don’t even have to put photos on there if you don’t want to. Post notes or important docs. It’s up to you!
If you don’t, I love this photo display.
For your baby’s first birthday, here are ideas of how you can arrange the photos:
- a collage of your favorites
- photos from month 1 to month 12
- photos from a specific photo shoot
- photos of your baby’s year of firsts (e.g. first walk, first taste of food)
3. Forgo the first birthday outfit
You just need a nice outfit. It can be one your baby already owns.
If you want to get a special outfit, I highly recommend getting something that doesn’t say “birthday” or “one” on it. That way your baby can get more wear out of it.
4. Get cheap loot bag items
You can get these items for under $5/person. Put a few in a loot bag or just 1 will do as well!
- Bubble wands: Bubbles are always a hit with children!
- Crayons or Colored Pencils: You can’t really go wrong with either. They can be used for many years. For this bulk crayon pack or colored pencils pack, you can give each person 5-10 crayons/pencils and tie them together with a ribbon. You can then save the rest for your 1 year old.
- Books: Depending on the book, you can get some well-rated, informative, classic books for 1 year olds for great prices. For example, there’s this Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? book, which was one of my daughter’s favorites.
- Play-doh: Play-doh is another classic gift that will be loved for years. In this 36 pack play-doh set, you can give 1-2 play-doh tubs per person and save the rest for your little one.
- Snacks: Premade food pouches are the best for snacks on the go and when you want to take a break from making food for your 1 year old.
- Stickers: Here’s a huge variety pack of stickers for a great price. There are so many that even after giving some to the child attendees, you can save them for next year’s party favors or gift them to your child!
- Sidewalk chalk: Here’s another bulk buy – sidewalk chalk that’s actually a party pack for easier distribution.
- Mini flashlights: These mini flashlights are fun party favors that can also be used for night reading or camping.
- Cookie cutters: Cookie cutters are not just good for baking with little ones. They can also be used with play-doh!
- Socks: Socks with grips are very useful loot bag items. Kids are always losing 1 sock. I like how these are anti-slip as 1 year olds are often still learning to walk. Even if they walk well, they might be wobbly when they run.
You can also DIY by baking food or have the kids make a craft at the party they can take home.
To store the goodies, you can use colorful paper bags. Just keep an eye on the size you select. You want to make sure all of the items fit in it.
Alternatively, you could just nix the goodie bag tradition altogether! There’s no rule saying you have to give loot bags! It’ll save you some money.
5. Pump your birthday budget into the food
Your little one is not going to remember the party.
This day is a celebration for you, your family and friends. You survived your first year! Your family and friends supported you through it! This day is a gift to you and a thank you to them.
Put the majority of your money towards good food and drinks.
You don’t have to get steaks and lobster. We just served:
- 7 layer dip, hummus and salsa with chips
- Cheese and crackers platter
- Variety of sandwiches like cucumber and cream cheese, salmon, egg salad etc.
We served only cold food so most of it could be prepared the day before. We just needed to assemble the sandwiches an hour beforehand so they wouldn’t get soggy.
To give you additional ideas, I’ve also been to first birthdays where they served pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers, catering from a local restaurant, pancakes etc.
Don’t forget to have snacks for the little ones. Perhaps some cheerios and goldfish.
You can display them in cupcake liners. It’s festive, cheap, and non-breakable!
Don’t forget about food allergies. You could stay away from or serve less food in the common food allergen categories like nuts and shellfish.
Or you could include a note in the invitation asking people if they have allergies.
6. Use digital birthday invitations
If you know all of the birthday invitees and have their information, you can use evite.com or create a Facebook event. You could also send text or email invites.
It takes less time because you don’t have to print out invites and send them (also more environmentally-friendly).
If you don’t know all of the birthday party invitees and you’re having a small birthday party, you might want to use RSVPify instead. I used it recently for my older daughter’s birthday party where she invited people in her class.
It’s FREE for the first 100 RSVPs. I find it’s easier to track RSVPs and send reminders.
The only thing is that they don’t have a separate area for invitees to indicate how many children and adults are attending when they RSVP. You’ll likely need this information so that you know how many loot bags to prepare, how much kids food to have available etc.
The workaround I implemented is that I changed the “Attending” area to “# of Adults attending” and I changed the “Maybe” area to “# of Children attending”, which has worked well for me.
7. Have simple entertainment
Put on a playlist from your phone. You don’t need to hire a DJ.
You can get Amazon Music for 30 days for FREE for your playlist. This gives you unlimited access to 50 million songs without ads. You can cancel it before the 30 days is up if you don’t want to pay for the subscription.
If you’ll have babies at the event, you can set up a safe play area for them using a non-slip rug/foam mat and your baby’s toys. Put chairs near by or around it for the adults.
You could also set up a ball pit to make it a bit more special.
This ball pit is made out of a soft, foam material. It comes with a removable, washable cover.
You’ll have to buy the balls separately.
If you have or are already planning on getting a baby swimming pool, you could also just fill it with balls.
Related: Here are activity ideas for a 1 year old at home.
8. Plan with another parent whose kid has a birthday in the same month
If you know another parent with a kid close in age, you can combine your resources. This will mean significant savings!
If you’re close family or friends, you’ll probably be inviting the same people anyways.
If you want to acknowledge the kids individually, you can have separate cakes.
9. Schedule the birthday party strategically
I recommend you schedule the party during any of the below times:
- 10 am – 12 pm
- 2 pm – 4 pm
- 3 pm – 5 pm
These times are great for 2 reasons:
- They’re in between meals. They’re not during the typical lunch or dinner periods so most guests will not be expecting a full meal = savings for you!
- They’re 2 hours max. It’s a short window so you and other parents can better time your babies’ naps around it. Also, babies have short attention spans. You don’t want to have exhausted babies at your first birthday party.
If it’s not too stressful for you to be ready by 10 am, I find the earlier in the day you have the birthday party, the cheaper the meal often is.
10. Skip the fancy birthday cake
Customized cakes can cost upwards of $50.
If you’re handy, you can bake your cake or cupcakes! Use a cupcake as a smash cake.
We just bought our’s from the grocery store. A simple strawberry shortcake for $25. It came with a complimentary smash cake.
11. Ask family and friends to pitch in
A party is a lot of work! You have to clean your house, buy and prepare the food, put up the decor if any…
It’s especially difficult with a baby around pulling things out of cupboards!
Ask a family member to help out and:
- Bring some food.
- Be the photographer at the event.
- Clean the house.
Alternatively, you could just ask him or her to watch your kid for a few hours. That way you can focus on getting the preparations done. You can better enjoy the party!
12. Host the birthday at a cheap venue
Hosting at home is free. It’s also convenient because you’ll have accessible changing areas for other babies and baby supplies for parents.
If you have limited space inside your home, use the backyard as well or ask a family member or close friend if you can use their house to host.
If your weather and climate allows for it, you can also host at a park or beach. You can use the public tables or just throw a picnic blanket on the ground.
13. Limit the birthday guest list
Invite close family and friends. Perhaps moms, dads and babies from parent group events in town.
Keep in mind that less people means less food and less time spent hosting = cheaper budget and more time enjoying the party!
Recap of the Ideas for a 1st birthday party on a budget
- Skip the fancy decorations
- Skip the theme
- Forgo the first birthday outfit
- Get cheap loot bag items
- Pump your budget into the food
- Use digital invitations
- Have simple entertainment
- Plan with another parent whose kid has a birthday in the same month
- Schedule the party between meals
- Skip the fancy cake
- Ask family and friends to pitch in
- Host at home or at the park
- Limit the guest list
Final Thoughts on First Birthday Ideas
When all the work is done, don’t forget to kick back and enjoy yourself at the party!
Mingle and eat some food!
It can be easy to get caught up in the details and worry about a little bit of dirt or a stain here and there etc.
People understand you’re a mom now. You’re doing the best you can!
Have a great first birthday!!! It’s a milestone you’ll never forget.
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- Toddler Camping Essentials to Make Camping So Much Easier
- Essentials for a 1 Year Old
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