In today’s “bigger is better” world, gossip magazines and blogs are filled with stories of parents spending thousands of dollars on everything from limos and entertainers to live animals for their little darling’s big day—even if their kid is too young to remember the birthday bash!

If you’re considering a “pin the tail on the donkey and juice boxes” party, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses can feel enormous—but party planner (and mother of four) Melissa Newell reminds us it’s possible to have a great party without the hefty bill.

“As with everything, people always feel bigger is better,” says Newell, who runs a blog called My Party Passion. “Every single party I have thrown for my children has been done on a budget…my biggest ‘rush’ is seeing what I can do on a tight budget!”

Check out our tips for throwing an imaginative party for your little one without breaking the bank:

  1. Shop for a bargain. Follow Newell’s philosophy to avoid paying retail prices for party supplies. Instead of forking over big bucks at pricey boutiques, scour the dollar stores, cut coupons, and shop at sales. Newell also suggests thinking laterally to sniff out a great deal. “You need to be able to see the vision that a red roll of wrapping paper from Christmas will work with Valentine’s Day or a casino party,” she explains.
  2. Pool your resources. Friends are usually happy to help out, but often parents are too afraid to ask. Come up with a list of items you need, then talk to a close pal about the possibility of utilizing the items they have laying around the house to avoid extra expenses. “Sometimes a friend might have that hot dog roller machine that you want for your baseball sports-themed party instead of buying one.” Newell explains.
  3. Get creative with invites. Opt for budget-friendly invites instead of overpriced, fancy invitations. If you have a creative kid, enlist them to create handmade invitations at home. Or embrace the wired world and send free e-invites to your guests.
  4. Choose your guests wisely. It’s always cheaper to cater for a small group than a large one. Resist the temptation to invite all your child’s classmates; just go for the children he’s closest to. To avoid any hurt feelings, send invitations directly to the guests’ homes, rather than passing them out at school. Reduce your guest count further by encouraging parents to drop their children off rather than staying for the event—but be sure to enlist older family members to help babysit!
  5. Location, location, location. Get back to basics by hosting your next bash at your own home. Parties at fast food restaurants, amusement parks, and other businesses can be expensive, so keeping things close to home can help you save on all the details. Inexpensive décor and themed items can help transform your own backyard into a party paradise. A local park is also a great idea, as playground equipment offers up cheap fun to keep kids amused.
  6. Don’t skimp on balloons. Never underestimate the importance of this party staple. Just a few dollars can buy hundreds of balloons for decorating and party games. Try a balloon waddle race, with balloons between legs, making balloon rockets, or simply batting a balloon around in a circle. For decorating, think outside of the box—fill balloons with confetti for a great alternative to piñatas, stake balloons to the ground for a “floating maze,” or pop glow sticks into the latex for iridescent lighting during dusk.
  7. Have fun with bubbles. Bubbles are great for setting any party scene. Basic plastic wands are inexpensive, and you can mix up your own bubble solution with a little diluted dish soap. A bubble station will amuse your young party guests for ages! 
  8. Encourage mini chefs. Food is one of the biggest party expenses, and also the area where people waste the most money. “So many people spend so much money on the cake and the children eat the frosting and leave the cake,” Newell says. She suggests setting up a cupcake decorating station, with plain cakes, frosting, and decorations, instead. This activity doubles as entertainment, and the guests are always keen to eat their creations. A “make your own pizza” bar is another fun, budget friendly idea that will save you time in the kitchen.  
  9. Don’t forget the music. Every party needs a rocking soundtrack, no matter how old the party guests. Newell says that perennial party favorite freeze dance is still “a huge hit with the younger crowd.” While the music plays, everyone dances, and when the music stops, everyone stops. Whoever moves after the music stops is out. As children age they’ll enjoy their own dance party. 
  10. Cut the goody bags. Your guests have already enjoyed your food, entertainment, and hospitality. Instead of sending them off with a goody bag, do your best to have them leave with happy memories instead. If you’re unwilling to part with goody bags, get creative. Bake cookies and wrap them up as takeaways, or get crafty and create some DIY treats to bid your guests farewell.

Most importantly, don’t let parental peer pressure to splash cash get you down. Follow these simple budget tips and you’ll be surprised how far your money goes!