babies,  general parenting

The 1st Birthday Party – 10 Tips for Hosting a Memorable Event without Breaking the Bank (or Losing your Mind)

When I turned one, my birthday party consisted of family coming over to enjoy some snacks and a homemade chocolate cake my mom lovingly decorated with Big Bird. There were some gifts, maybe a few balloons. It was not a big deal, just a time to celebrate with loved ones.

But in this day and age, especially under the influence of social media, there’s an expectation of hosting an elaborate, themed birthday party for your little one. Spend five minutes on Pinterest, and you will become either inspired or discouraged by the intensity with which people plan for baby’s first birthday.

A beautiful party is all well and good, but at what cost? One article notes that some people are spending up to $1,000 for this now-epic event. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a little crazy, especially in light of the fact that a baby’s not going to remember it at all.

I also can’t imagine hosting that grand event would be enjoyable for parents, either. With too many things to coordinate and too many bills to pay, it’s easy for the emphasis to shift from the child to the party itself.


Themed Party on a Budget

Still, there is something exciting about planning a themed party. They’re fun and cute, and it can be a creative way to celebrate your child. And it’s totally doable without breaking the bank. I’ve done it twice, each for their first birthdays.


Family took photos in the Little Blue Truck so Levi can see who came.


When Levi turned one, we did a Little Blue Truck themed party and invited our family. I  handmade some decorations using the free party kit from the website, created a Little Blue Truck “photo booth”, and utilized toys and items we already had as decor. Favors were the guests’ choice of printed photos of Levi over the year.


For both kids I did a “photo gallery” which served as decor, a walk down memory lane, and favors.


The food was handmade, all for the adorable cake which I happily commissioned a friend to make, and many family members contributed sides to the meal. I didn’t keep track of the spending, but it pretty  much boiled down to the cost of food.



For Lucy’s party, I wanted the theme to be flowers. I generally followed the same practices (making the food, utilizing photographs and what we already had, and entrusting the cake to my friend). We hosted just family, 22 adults and 2 babies, and I was able to do the entire party for under $200. Here was the breakdown:

  • Invites and Postage: $10
  • Paper Products: $15
  • Decor and Favors: $30
  • Cake: $45
  • Food: $90
    Total: $190
10 Tips for Success

Following are a few tips I’ve learned along the way. I hope they can help make your child’s first, or really any, birthday party as enjoyable and beautiful as possible without costing a whole lot of money.


1. Budget

How much are you willing to spend? Coming up with a number ahead of time will determine how you plan for the entire event. You can throw a special party on $50 or $500, it’s all in how you use it.


For each party, my splurge item was a beautiful homemade cake.


Which leads to another important question: what are you willing to spend it on? A venue? Entertainment? Decorations? Cake? Food? There are a lot of unexpected costs that can creep up on you for a party, from paper products to postage on invites, so keep that in mind.

2. Determine Your Guest-list

Think: who is most important to have at this party? Who has loved our son/daughter and would appreciate being there?

There’s no need to invite an extensive amount of people, just invite the right people. It’s not bad to have a big party, just remember that the higher the total of guests, the more space and food you will need. The quickest way to cut down on the cost of the party is to pare down the guest list.

We chose to just have family to our children’s first birthday parties to make it affordable, but also to keep it intimate (or as intimate as possible since Kev and I are both one of four). It is always a special time when all of our family is together, especially since those are the people who are investing so much in us and our kids.




3. Pick an Appropriate Theme

It can be your child’s favorite book. A color. A beloved place. A piece of artwork. A type of food. Something from nature. Really, a theme can be anything that seems to jive with who your little one is.

Levi’s favorite book was The Little Blue Truck, so that was an easy choice. I wanted to celebrate beauty and nature with Lucy, and we call her our Wild Flower, so a floral theme served her well.

Questions to ponder while considering theme: Is this theme simple to accomplish? Do I already have supplies or decor that can work with this theme? How will this theme help celebrate my child?

4. Plan Ahead

The more you can plan ahead of time, the less stress there is the week of. Careful planning can also lower costs.

I started planning Lucy’s party about 4 months in advance. I knew I wanted zinnias at the party, and asked if my parents minded planting a 99 cent pack of seeds in their garden that I could use as decor. That tiny pack of seeds produced hundreds of beautiful flowers that I cut and arranged in vases I already had. I can’t imagine what it would have cost me to buy that many cut flowers.




I also bought things, such as paper products or decorative items, in small increments during the months leading up to the party. It was helpful that the cost for the party didn’t come all at once.


5. Keep it Simple

Your little one is not going to remember or care about the details going into her party. She won’t notice whether or not her party had handmade, custom decor or a three-tiered, professionally made birthday cake. If you feel obligated to have an extravagantly ornate party to impress your guests, perhaps you need to reevaluate your guest list.



There’s absolutely nothing wrong with valuing the aesthetics or wanting to send a favor with your guests or serving great food, but for your sanity and wallet’s sake, less is more. Ask yourself: Is this necessary? Is this worth the amount of work/money it will take to accomplish? Will this add to or take away from celebrating my baby’s birthday?

6. Utilize what you Have

Sometimes, it’s easy to look past the stuff we already own. But look around your house with new eyes; there’s probably stuff you can use for the party.


I used $3 Trader Joe’s daisies, blue bandanas, and Melissa and Doug blocks and puzzle pieces as simple centerpieces.


I had a collection of jars and vases I put flowers in for Lucy’s party. I had wooden blocks, decorative paper balls, and toys around the house that I used to help decorate Levi’s party. I put out each child’s memory book, first year calendar, and photos to help add a some sentimentality to each party that cost me absolutely nothing.


levi birthday

7. Borrow what you Don’t Have

Does your sister-in-law have cake stands? Does your friend have birthday decorations from her daughter’s birthday party? Do your parents have an open space to host the event? Does your church lend out tables and chairs? Don’t be afraid to ask your village for assistance. If someone has something you can use for the party, borrow it, care for it, and return it with gratitude.


The only thing I own in this picture are the vases. It wasn’t even our property.


8. Do what you Can

The more you are able to make and do yourself, the less money you have to spend.

Work to your strengths. If you enjoy cooking, consider making the food yourself. If you’re really creative, hand-make your invitations or decorations.


I loved the idea of the milestone poster but not the price tag, so I made mine by hand.


Maybe you don’t feel like you have the skill or the time to make anything – that’s ok! You are doing work by planning a party for your kid – that’s a lot in itself. Choose to simplify in other ways.


9. Recruit Help

When people ask, “Can I help you with anything?” say, “Yes!” (This is something I am bad at.) Think of ways you could use assistance ahead of time; set up, food prep, dish washing, taking photos, collecting trash, tear down, etc. The people there love you and will likely be more than happy to help.

I can be proud and stubborn and want to do it all my own. But in order to actually enjoy my babes’ parties, I needed to ask and accept the help of my family. I needed to let my mom wash the dishes and my in-laws bring food. I sure would have been a lot more stressed if I did!


10. Keep your Priorities in Check

It’s easy to get swept up in all of the things you need to do, make, facilitate, and organize for the party, but it’s really tragic when the party distracts you from of the reason you’re celebrating in the first place: the life of your little one.



Down the line, your child may enjoy seeing photos of his first birthday party, but he ultimately won’t be impressed by your filtered Instagram photos or Pinterest boards. What he will be happy to see is photos of the people who were there, hear the stories of what happened, and know that he was celebrated and well loved on that day.




More than a beautiful party, your child will want your presence, attention, and affection. After all, those are the best gifts any of us can give.


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