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10 Budget Birthday Party Ideas to Wow Your Toddler’s Mind

Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy United / 82053
Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy United

It comes once a year, so of course you want it to be super-duper special, but pulling off a toddler birthday party without spending a lot can be a puzzler. Luckily for you, little kids are pretty easy to please. (Did someone say birthday cake?!)

These budget birthday party ideas for toddlers are cost-conscious—but also super easy and fun!

Make a Mess!

There’s no need to spend a bunch of cash when the simple pleasure of getting super messy is every toddler’s dream. (After all, they’d love to scribble on the walls all day, every day without a grown-up saying “no,” if they could.) While this idea works best for warm-weather birthdays, we’ve got a few indoor-friendly ideas for rainy days, too.

Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy / 82084
Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy

Messy Outdoor Birthday Party Ideas

For outdoor activities in sunny weather, prep ahead of time by stocking up on old towels and asking parents to dress their kids in old clothes or bathing suits for the party. Afterward (if you can), set up the sprinkler and let them run through it a few times to get clean.

1. Go wild, Jackson Pollock-style! Put out old sheets or butcher paper on the lawn or driveway or in the garage, buckets of washable paint, and let children have at it Jackson Pollock-style. (You could even hand out goggles.) Bonus points: Dump warm spaghetti in the paint buckets—it splatters beautifully when thrown.

2. Just add water. Two more versions of the wild paint party are to fill water balloons with diluted non-toxic paint and throw them at a sheet, or freeze non-toxic watercolors in ice cube trays and let them paint with the melting cubes. Write a happy birthday message for the honoree with fabric pens.

3. Make a giant mud pie. Fill the kiddie pool with potting soil and water for a good old-fashioned mud pit. Provide some old pie and muffin tins for making that kid-classic: the mud pie. Let the birthday kid blow out the candles on that cake, too!

Messy Indoor Birthday Party Ideas

4. Take a spin! Did you know old salad spinners work great for spin art? Collect three or four salad spinners from thrift stores (or borrow from friends if they’re willing to donate them for a good cause). Place small paper plates into the spinner and let your kid guests squiggle some non-toxic Tempura paint on each plate. Then place the top on the salad spinner and go wild! The result will dazzle their eyes. Have a playdough station handy while they wait their turns.

5. Plane-apalooza! Make paper airplanes out of various papers and materials like printer paper, aluminum foil, and origami paper, and then stage flying contests. You can also build bigger versions of planes out of cardboard or shoe boxes, and decorate them with stickers.

Downsize the Guest List

Inviting fewer guests will ultimately mean a more practical price tag, plus it can keep bedlam at bay and foster real connection among little friends who do attend. A general, albeit arbitrary, rule for numbering your invite list: your child’s age plus one. With a smaller crew of kids, you can also (gasp) ask the parents to drop their child off—that way, you don’t have to feed six children and potentially 10 adults, as well.

Photo by Ronnie Comeau / Stocksy / 618254
Photo by Ronnie Comeau / Stocksy

Small Outdoor Birthday Party Ideas

1. Make a splash! Get out the blow-up pool, blow up the beach balls, and make your own beach party! Water table activities and sandbox fun will round out your little luau. Don’t forget the ice cream cones!

2. Create a backyard carnival. Set up stations for face-painting, plastic bottle ring-toss or corn hole, temporary tattoos, and lawn games like croquet or DIY mini golf (things like cardboard boxes, lawn furniture, plastic cups, and a little imagination are all you need to build a fun course). Added bonus: Find a brave adult who is willing to take a few whipped-cream pies to the face!

Small Indoor Birthday Party Ideas

3. Turning three? Have tea. Never underestimate the power of a dress-up tea party: Have each child bring a favorite doll or stuffed critter as a date. Head to the dollar store and grab some dress-up jewelry (for kids and their lovies), make herbal tea cooled with frozen fruit, and offer plenty of finger sandwiches and cakes.

4. Party with some popcorn and a movie. Throw a movie party with silly costumes so kids can act out their own stories after the showing. While blockbusters are a perennial party-theme favorite, why not try and break the mold with a lesser known film?

5. Bring the love...the puppy love. If you’ve got a toddler who holds a fondness for furry friends, make your own pet adoption shelter and play veterinarian! Head to the thrift store for gently loved stuffies, have a “pet adoption area” and “check-up area” (complete with a veterinarian’s doctor bag), and even offer each guest a “certificate of adoption” for each new pet they get to bring home.

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