It’s time to stop sweating over the Pinterest-perfect party.

Arielle Weg
June 21, 2018

Kids’ birthday parties can get a little out of control. With supplies for Internet-inspired DIY superhero cuffs for 20+ guest, logo-printed goodie bags, and candy bars with customized packaging to fill them with—the cost of a themed birthday party quickly rack up.

To get the low-down on what real moms do to keep their kids’ parties fun, but simple and cheap to pull off, we asked our favorite on-staff mama. Star of Mom Vs., Nicole McLaughlin, has taken on smoothie bowls, latte art, and now—Pinterest birthday parties. We’re here to share her tips and tricks for the perfect, on-budget celebration.

Skip the DIY

One Internet search for any kind of themed birthday party and you’ll see hundreds of mom-of-the-year worthy crafts. Nicole always compares the time, energy, and cost required to make these DIY decorations to picking up a cheaper alternative at the store. When you have stores like Walmart and Dollar Tree selling low-cost crafts and decorations, why bother with making detailed-intensive, Pinterest-inspired anything? Honestly, the kids really aren’t gonna notice the difference. There are better places to spend your time, patience, and dollars for this party.

Schedule Between Meals

Always invite guests over between meal times so that you’re not volunteering to provide lunch or dinner. That means a party timeframe after 1 PM, but before 6 PM, is ideal. Now you can swap the pricey boxes of delivery pizza for just a few snacks (more on that below), birthday cake, and entertainment. Let the parents feed their kids what they really want them eating at mealtime.

Plan Simple Activities

As the party guests roll in during the first half hour, lay out printable (read: free) coloring sheets for the kids to grab. Simply download a few that match your party’s theme. You can also buy a few cheap crafts from the dollar store, like plain masks and decorative stickers for a superhero-themed extravaganza.

You definitely don’t need to hire entertainment or buy expensive games to keep the kiddos occupied. Simple is best for little ones. Nicole likes to customize the classic game of pin the tail on the donkey to whatever theme she’s got going. For example, her superhero themed party featured “pin power on the hero.” She had party guests try to pin a cape to a superhero costume, probably leftover from Halloween last year.

Remember Your Clientele

Nicole says it best, “Remember your clientele, people. They’re not coming for your fancy linens and china.” She recommends pinning some themed t-shirts up on the wall and grabbing dollar store paper plates, tablecloths, and forks that follow your theme. Again: Kids really won’t know the difference.

Choose Food Wisely

Save the stunning bakery cake for your own birthday. At kids’ birthday parties, sticky hands are apt to get all over that cake before you even get a picture. A regular ol’ grocery store cake is more than fine. In fact, most supermarket bakeries make pretty excellent sheet cakes, and you can even order them to match your party’s theme.

As for snacks, balance out the sugary cake with a really simple platter of cheese, crackers, carrots, and ranch dressing. Then, roam the supermarket aisles for snacks that match your theme. Nicole snagged The Incredibles 2 themed yogurts and juice for her superhero party—no fancy custom labels or decor required.

Always Make Time for the Piñata

If there’s one thing Nicole won’t skip on—it’s the piñata. You can usually grab a cheap one from a local party store, but even if it’s a little more expensive… this favorite party game is definitely worth it. This taking-turns activity will the group occupied for a while, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

Keep "Goodie Bags" Basic

No child (or parent) needs a bag full of junk. Nicole says to skip the traditional goodie bags loaded with plasticy cheapo toys and candy, and opt for one big takeaway. She’ll grab a few outdoor games or kites to give each kid on the way out. They only cost a dollar or two, and it’s a win-win for parents and kids. The little ones leave feeling like they won the lottery, and parents don’t have to deal with extra junk everywhere.

Label Appropriately

Add an easy personal touch by using index cards and markers to label platters of food or activity stations at the table. For Nicole’s superhero-themed party, she labeled a bowl of popcorn “Ka-Powp Corn” and a veggie tray with dip as “Muscle Munchies.” They help bring the theme to life, at no added cost. Plus—you can label these with allergy warnings if needed.

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