501 Life Magazine | Creating a fun-filled party on the cheap
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Creating a fun-filled party on the cheap

by April Fortner

I still get a little excited planning birthday parties. Balloons, streamers, cake decorating, games, friends and, yes, sweets, sweets, sweets!

Having four children, you might suspect that I am always planning a party, but in truth they have their birthdays clustered around the winter and summer holidays, and I am a procrastinator. I have discovered a few things along the way about how to go about this venture without totally breaking the bank or using up days of valuable time, so I thought I’d share.

First, I would like to admit that I have paid for the expensive, site-organized pool party in the past (once), and I want you to know that if you are not careful, a party at home can cost the same or more. That is why organization is so key. Party favors, disposable dinnerware, cakes, snacks, piñatas, etc., can all add up to a staggering sum. Also, it is important to limit the number of high-effort projects you do to get ready because it is supposed to be fun, and you still have to clean the house (and the kids) before the guests arrive. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Party favors

For party favors, make a bag of homemade play-dough, decorate cookies or make crafts. Also, candy from a piñata counts. Have the kids decorate a paper lunch sack to hold their gifts; it will mean more to them than a store bought one. If you want to save time, the Dollar Tree often has inexpensive favors, too. Once I forgot them altogether, and you know what? I think I was the only one who noticed.

Blow up a bag of balloons and put up streamers the night before to give the house a festive air. 

Snacks and cakes

We like to have two or three whole families over usually, so I make pizza with a veggie tray for lunch.  Cut up fruit, celery with peanut butter and Kool-Aid go over really well with the kids.

I make the cake the day before. Sometimes it is themed, but often I just make sure it tastes really excellent. Regular fondant may be beautiful, but it tastes terrible; try marshmallow fondant instead!

Piñatas and games

My favorite project (other than cake creation) is making the piñata. My kids and I love the tradition of hitting something until candy spills out! Paper Mache works best for this, but being a procrastinator, I have discovered a quick way to do it the night before.

Find some cardboard and cut out the shape that you would like (two stars, hearts, etc., identical and at least one foot across) and use a strip of cardboard several inches thick to curve into a circle between them and give it depth. Tape it into a three dimensional shape and cut out the center of the main shapes (kids don’t hit hard enough to break it typically, so they need some thin spots). Fill it with candy. Cover your creation with colored paper (to keep in the candy) and streamers and print out a coloring page or a themed picture from the Internet to tape onto the front using looped or double-sided tape. Puncture a hole in the top, tie curly ribbons to it and hang it by a string from the end of a broom handle or a tree. Find a clean bandana and an old bat and have fun!   

After all that crafting and piñatas, do they really need games? Yes, I suppose they do. In the past we have borrowed a game of Twister, rented a Wii game from Redbox or played hide and seek, but at the end of the day the kids have the best time just being together.


A resident of Conway, April Fortner is a wife and mother of four. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and enjoys cooking, gardening, writing and homeschooling her children. In her free time, she likes to think of creative ways to stretch their income.