Best First Birthday Party on a Budget: 13 Ideas you need to know

How do you plan a first birthday party on a budget?

Can you believe it? It’s almost time to celebrate your little one’s first big milestone — their first birthday!

But, let’s be real, the first birthday party anxiety is real!

And it doesn’t help that you see nothing but pictures of these extravagant first birthday bashes with sparkly backdrops and elaborate candy bars when you look on social media.

It’s a lot to live up to. 

budget first birthday party ideas

When my daughter was 9 months, people were already asking me what I was planning for her birthday party.

What the theme would be.
Where I was hosting it.
What I wanted to do for the cake. 

I was still figuring out how to get more sleep, let alone think about planning her 1st birthday.

There’s this expectation from society that you have to throw a glamorous first birthday party, like this is going to lay the foundation for your kid’s future.

And this is when 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!

Related Baby Tips Articles:

How to throw the best 1st birthday on a budget: 11 tips you need to know

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1st Birthday Party Ideas on a Budget

1. Skip the fancy birthday decorations

This is money down the drain! 

Think about it – you put them up for one day and then that’s it, and then 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 that don’t break the bank. 

For instance, check out this adorable, colorful happy birthday banner! What I absolutely adore about it is that it’s reusable for any age and color-neutral, perfect for any gender!

This means you can use it for your baby’s first birthday and every other birthday too.

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!

You don’t need pirates or princesses to make the party pop!

3. Use your photos to decorate and celebrate your little one

If you’re celebrating the birthday party at your home, you’ve probably got tons of adorable photos of your baby and the rest of the family. 

Instead of sticking to traditional photo frames, why not create a dynamic display? 

I love this photo display!

You can put PHOTOS OF ALL SIZES on there!

You don’t even have to stick to photos; feel free to clip on some sweet notes or memorable milestones like that adorable “first” drawing they did. 

It’s all about celebrating your baby’s first fabulous year.

For your baby’s first birthday, here are ideas of how you can arrange those cute photos:

  • a collage of your favorites
  • photos from month 1 to month 12
  • photos from a specific photoshoot
  • photos of your baby’s year of firsts (e.g. first walk, first taste of food)

If you’re having it outside, you can put the pictures on a portable memo board, which you can put on an easel.

This is a wonderful way to share the journey with your guests and adds a personalized touch that everyone will adore.

4. Forgo the first birthday outfit

All you need is a cute outfit for the big day—and it can be something you already own that looks great on them! 

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.

Something nice like this party dress or suit.

5. Get cheap loot bag items

Who says loot bags need to be pricey to be fun? 

You can delight the little guests with goodies for under $5 per person.

Whether you pop a few items into a loot bag or just one special piece, it’ll surely light up their smiles!

Here are some ideas you can steal:

  • 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 hard rule that you must send goodies home, and opting out can be another great way to save.

6. Pump your birthday budget into the food

I hate to be blunt, but the truth is your little one is not going to remember the party.

This day is a celebration for you, your family, and your friends. You survived your first year, and your family and friends supported you through it! This day is a gift to you, and a thank you to them.

That’s why I recommend putting 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
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • 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.

Also, 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.

7. 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).

For those times when you might not have everyone’s contact details, especially when organizing a cozy get-together for your kiddo, RSVPify is a fantastic tool. 

I recently used it for my older daughter’s birthday bash. It’s free for the first 100 RSVPs, making it perfect for tracking who’s coming and sending out those timely 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.

8. Have simple entertainment

You don’t need to hire a DJ or pay an entertainer to keep everyone entertained. 

Keep it simple and put on a playlist from your phone. 

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 also set up a safe play area for them using a non-slip rug or foam mat and your baby’s toys. For the adults, put chairs nearby or around it.

You could also set up a ball pit to make it a bit more special for the young kids. 

This ball pit is made of soft foam and has 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. Some of these would work perfectly for simple entertainment! 

9. Set up a craft corner

Let’s get those little hands busy with something super fun—a craft corner! 

Set up a small table with all sorts of artsy stuff like colorful papers, stickers, safe scissors, and washable markers. 

This is a perfect spot for your mini guests to unleash their creativity while making something special to take home.

It’s not just about keeping them entertained (although that’s a huge plus!). 

It’s about giving them a piece of the party to remember. 

You could have them make simple crafts like paper crowns, decorate frames, or even assemble party hats. 

It’s a great way to add an extra splash of fun to the day and hey, it doubles as a fabulous party favor!

10. Team up for a dual birthday bash

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 anyway.

To make sure each birthday star gets their moment in the spotlight, consider having separate cakes and their own time to open gifts. That way, each family gets a chance to celebrate. 

First Birthday Party on a Budget

11. Schedule the birthday party strategically

I recommend you schedule the party during any of these times:

  • 10 am – 12 pm
  • 2 pm – 4 pm
  • 3 pm – 5 pm

These times are great for two 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.

An extra bonus for the early party option, if it’s not too stressful for you to be ready by 10 am, I find the meal is often a lot cheaper in the morning. 

12. Skip the fancy birthday cake

As beautiful as custom, fancy cakes are, they unfortunately cost upwards of $50. 

If you’re handy, you can bake your cake or cupcakes! Or you can buy yours from the grocery store, like we did. It was $25, and it even came with a smash cake. 

Budget 1st birthday party ideas

And don’t stress over the smash cake if you can’t get one – you can use a cupcake.

13. 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, etc.

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!

14. Host the birthday at a cheap venue

I recommend trying to host at home if you can since it’s 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.

15. 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

  1. Skip the fancy decorations
  2. Skip the birthday party theme
  3. Use your photos to decorate and celebrate your little one
  4. Forgo the first birthday outfit
  5. Get cheap loot bag items
  6. Pump your budget into the food
  7. Use digital birthday invitations
  8. Have simple entertainment
  9. Set up a craft corner
  10. Team up for a dual birthday bash
  11. Schedule the birthday party strategically
  12. Skip the fancy cake
  13. Ask family and friends to pitch in
  14. Host the birthday at a cheap venue
  15. 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.

If you’re looking for gift ideas, here are my favorite 1 year old gifts. Here are my toddler must haves.

1st birthday party ideas on a budget

Related Budgeting for Babies Articles:

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14 Comments

  1. I started thinking about my son’s birthday party early because we’re broke and it will be in December. We live in Canada and it’s freezing outside that time of the year. Your advice about skipping the theme is great. I was trying to find a theme but the problem is that it’s hard to find all the items and sometimes expensive. Also you can’t reuse them. What I want to try is buy some decorations from the dollar store. They have birthday banners, plastic plates and cups in many colors, cake stands, ribbons, balloons, hats, all sorts of napkins with very cute prints and little bags for the kids. I’m inviting 2 or 3 other babies with their mothers and they will be between 7 months to 2 years. I don’t know what to put in the bags. Little toys are a choking hasard and at that age they shouldn’t eat too much sweets and chocolate. Do you have any good idea ?

    1. Thanks for your comment and question, Dassin! Happy early birthday to your son!! Having the party inside your home is a great option when you live in a colder climate in the Winter. Getting decorations at the dollar store is an excellent idea. I share your concern about not letting little ones eat too many sweets. In terms of edible loot bag items, I love when my daughter gets organic baby food pouches and fruit (like mandarin oranges). You can usually get these for around $1 per person at the grocery store. I also love bubble wands and books. Bubble wands are usually quite inexpensive. For the books, you might be able to get new or excellent used condition books for cheaper prices at a yard sale, Value Village, or through an online marketplace like Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace or VarageSale. It’ll just take more time and hunting around. Homemade, baked healthy snacks are always great in loot bags as well! All the best on your little boy’s big day!!

    1. What a nice comment, Gem! Thanks for stopping by. All the best on your little one’s first birthday party!

  2. I appreciate the tips you shared to organize a first birthday party on a budget. These ideas will make the first birthday party exciting and unforgettable. Jacqueline, the helpful links you have shared are commendable.

  3. I think joint birthday parties are a great idea especially since kids parties can be so expensive now. I remember having a couple of joint birthday parties with one of my cousins when I was little.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment about this article on money saving ideas for a first birthday party! All the best with your little one’s 1st birthday party!

    1. Oh that’s so kind of you to say about this 1st birthday party ideas at home article! All the best with your little one’s first birthday party!

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