Secrets to Throwing an Epic Birthday Party on a Dime


When I received the invite to my nephew’s, pirate party I was worried. The event was being held during the winter time at his house so all the five-year-old kids would be cooped up. How would over twenty kids be entertained in a small area indoors? Would I hear so many chaotic screams of “Arrr’s” and “Ahoy’s” that I would want to walk the plank?

My fears subsided when I beheld the enormous cardboard-created pirate ship in their living room. If the boat hadn’t been so crowded with kids, then I would have jumped inside of it myself. When I noticed organized activity stations set up throughout the house, I knew all the kids would have a blast. The party was a huge success that my kids still talk about four years later.

The pirate party isn’t the only impressive at-home one my sister and brother-in-law, Tara and Mike, have hosted. They had other events for my nephew and two nieces. The themes of their parties include knights and princesses, western cowboys and cowgirls, fairies and gnomes, Star Wars, and pirates. For all their parties they created a life-size cardboard centerpiece such as a castle or western town for the kids to play in and games centered around the theme along with a favor to take home. Homemade treats and a cake are abundant at every gathering.

So, what is the secret to throwing an epic birthday party on a dime?

Planning In Advance

The Stull Family is already planning the next unicorn theme party for June. They get ideas from Pinterest and other crafting websites. Sometimes they brainstorm ideas on their own. This planning helps them to have enough time to create all the activities and cardboard centerpiece.

Potential Savings: $25-$50. Advanced planning allows them to buy sale items and use coupons.


Almost everything at parties are homemade from the cardboard centerpieces to the games, food and favors. This significantly cuts down the cost of the parties which were all under $200.

Potential Savings: $50-$75 by not buying a store-bought cake, games or favors.

Team Work

Tara and Mike Stull work together creating the life-size centerpiece, games, favors and homemade baking. They also include their kids in the process of coming up with ideas and creating the items. By working together, they don’t become too overwhelmed with the planning and creating that is involved. It also makes the process more fun for the entire family.

Potential Savings: $25-$50 by working together, the less they need to purchase store bought items.

Old School Games With A Theme

At the parties, they offer simple games that everyone loves, and they incorporate the theme into the game. Instead of a typical water gun fight, they created a water gun shooting range in the western theme party. Or instead of pin the tail on the donkey it was pin the lightsaber on Yoda for the Star Wars theme party. Some other games they played are a pirate scavenger hunt for gold coins, relay cowboy horse races and beware of the shark cardboard toss bean bag game.

Potential Savings: $100-$200 by not hosting the party at an outside venue such as a play gym, bowling alley or laser tag place.

Finding Free or Discounted Items

Tara and Mike asked local appliance stores for free cardboard boxes to create the centerpiece, games, and favors. They also got deeply discounted “mistake paint” for a quarter of the price (around $9 instead of $40) that people returned because they didn’t like the color from Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Potential Savings: $25-$50 by not purchasing cardboard boxes, games and favors also savings from purchasing mistake paint which can be used for crafts, games or painting the cardboard centerpieces.

Using Coupons and Purchasing Sale Items

They purchase some of the items at Michael’s and other craft stores using coupons. They also use coupons at the grocery store to buy the food for the party. Coupons can be found at the store’s website or app or by signing up for the store’s emails. Also coupons can be found at online coupon website like

Potential Savings: $50-$100 by using coupons and purchasing sale items.

Selling on Craigslist or Marketplace

After the last party, they sold some games they made for $30. They plan to do this for future parties.

Potential Savings: $50-$100 depending on the items created and sold. You could also sell your household items prior to the event to help fund it.

Who’s Ready to Party?

These parties are a lot of work, but the whole family loves creating a memorable event. I know that we are anxiously awaiting the next unicorn party. Who knows maybe we will even spy a real one?

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05


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