Parties for Less: How to Plan a Party on a Budget + FREE Party Planning Worksheet!

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Parties for Less how to plan a party on a budget

How to Plan a Party on a Budget

I have always loved planning a party!  I don’t actually like attending parties as much as I like throwing them!  I love coming up with new creative themes and finding fun and frugal items to make them pretty and enjoyable!

I am often asked how do you plan a party and where do you get the items for the party, so I thought I would share my favorite party tips.  Because of the season of my life right now, most of my parties are kid parties, however I use these same tips for adult parties as well. The key is to coming up with a plan & sticking to it to keep the costs low.

Cookie Monster – Milk & Cookies Birthday Party

Pick a theme:

When picking a theme for your party, this can be as broad or as narrow as you like.  For my boys, I like to do themes of things they are really into.  I am not a big fan of “premade parties” – such as streamers, plates, banners all matchy, matchy.   I like to come up with a theme then choose a color scheme – usually two to three colors and then from there brainstorm further about what  the theme will entail.

Party Themes for Inspiration:

Circus Themed Party – Clown Cupcakes, primary colors, popcorn & more

Spanish Buzz – My son loved the Spanish Buzz scene in Toy Story 3 and was constantly reenacting it!  I decided on the colors: green, blue, purple and white.  To add to the Spanish theme we had a piñata.

Dinosaur Party – My three year old was obsessed with dinosaurs!  I choose the colors blue, orange, and green to help narrow the party décor.

Elephants on Parade – This was for my cousin’s baby shower.  She was having a boy so I went with the colors baby blue, lime, yellow, orange and beige.

Those are just some ideas of parties I’ve done, but there are so many ideas out there for almost anything you can come up with, especially with Pinterest these days.  In later tips, I will explain in more detail about the individual parties and some of the ideas I’ve used, but the first step is just brainstorming ideas about the theme you’ve chosen.  Since there are so many ideas,  narrowing the theme and color scheme can help give your brainstorming some focus and keep the costs down.  There are almost too many ideas out there so having a focus is very important. Pinterest is also a great resource to use to help you brainstorm & keep all your ideas together & focused- check out my Party Ideas Pinterest board.

Party Planning Worksheet:

I created this free printable party planning worksheet that I use when helping others plan parties or when I am planning my own. Print it off & start filling it out to help you as you brainstorm your next party! This will help you to stay on track with your budget, too.

Here is an example of my brainstorming worksheet for my son’s upcoming 6th birthday party: 

Party Planning Worksheet:

Occasion: Joey’s 6th birthday

Who (guest list):

  • 2 cousins (bowling party)
  • Grandma & Grandpa,  aunts and uncles
  • Total of 15 guests

What (theme and colors):

  • Vintage bowling
  • Colors-red, black, white, and aqua


  • First part –  bowling alley
  • 2nd half – our home


  • March 17, at 2:00

Food and drink:

  • Cake
  • Cupcakes
  • Rice krispy pops
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Sugar cookies
  • Izzy sodas


  • Bowling with cousins
  • At home for cake, food and gifts with grandparents, aunts and uncles


  • Bowling trophies
  • Bowling tattoos
  • Bowling shirts


  • Red
  • Black
  • Aqua bunting
  • Vintage bowling ball and pin


  • Large bowling pin with #6

Order of events/Timeline:

  • Bowling
  • Back home for food (family meeting there)
  • Gifts
  • Pass out favors and say thank you


After filling out the party planning worksheet, I then make a shopping list and to do list:

Here’s my to-do list for the upcoming bowling party:

  1. Make and send invitations
  2. Look for bowling pin, ball
  3. Make shirts
  4. Order trophies and tattoos
  5. Make bowling reservations
  6. Buy party plates, napkins, cups
  7. Make banners, cupcake toppers, and birthday sign
  8. Write thank you notes

Favorite Party Websites:

There are so many websites out there that have fabulous party ideas but I thought I’d share just a few of my favorites where I find some inspiration:

What type of fun parties have you planned?


By Contributor Sarah



  1. I did a “girlie colors” party for daughter when she turned 1. I splurged on the invitations by taking a cute picture of the birthday girl and printed them with Tiny Prints. I borrowed a Cricut and cut flower shapes out of a heavier weight copy paper in pink, orange, yellow and lime green. I then took pictures of her over the course of the first year and printed them out on my printer, cut them into circles and made them the centers of the flower. I strung them together with pink ribbon and hung them like a banner all around the party room. I added a banner with larger flowers, each in pink and featuring a different letter. Strung together, it said, “Happy 1st Birthday, Reagan!”

    I made banana cupcakes for the kids (because bananas are one food the birthday girl ate) and chocolate cake as an additional choice for the adults. I bought a birthday shirt on sale when my daughter was just born so I just matched it with a cute hair bow and pants. I made a coloring book and bought crayons for the kids, along with a pack of bubbles and Silly Putty to keep them busy. All plates, cups, napkins, utensils and table coverings came from the Dollar Store.

    Her second birthday was a “Red, White and TWO!” party. I made the invitations and decorations using the trusty Cricut. I bought a cool scrapbook paper pack in patriotic theme and used that to create a pennant banner to hang. I bought patriotic themed balloons and paper lanterns at the dollar store, along with all of the table ware. We did a wienie roast, pasta salad, watermelon, chips and a tomato salad for food, strawberry cupcakes and a few other cakes. The favor was a pack of s’mores in cellophane bags with a homemade tag.

    We shall see what #3 brings… but I am thinking “farm animal”.

  2. I did an angry bird birthday party last year and made an angry bird for each of the kids to have as their party favor. Then we used those birds for all of the games. No wasted money on party favors and the birds were only about 2.50 each to make out of felt.

    Other parties I have done are LEGO Olympics (building competitions), Flower Power (Pinata filled with silk flowers and bags filled with seeds, then each child got to plant their own seeds in a pot and take home as their party favor) and Super Stars which was 7 stations where each child got to try a different sport (football throwing through a hoola hoop, home run derby off a tee with a whiffle ball, basketball, soccer goal challenge with dad as the goalie and an old fashion egg toss that turned out to be the biggest it of the day.

  3. I am currently planning a Hawaiian theme Luau/Hula/Surfing theme party for a 5 year old girl and an 8 year old boy. Any ideas?

  4. Last Party for my son was a fishing party- we chose a state park (warned people that they would need to pay the $5 entrance fee) and I enlisted the fishermen in my family to bring poles and supplies for the kiddos to fish with. It was fun- some kids got to go fishing for the first time. Made a simple fish themed cake, and had a game of guessing the amount of gummy fish in a jar. Had a simple picnic lunch- potluck style. It was rainy and we all got wet and muddy- what more would a 4 year old boy want?

  5. Hi!
    What sticks did you use to hold the little banner on the baby shower cake? Just skewers you’d find at the grocery store or other?


  6. christina, I am putting on a luau reception this thursday! for girls you could do large flower hair clips to pin in their hair-maybe sunglasses for the boys. also you could do a surfing theme-lots of cute ideas under my pinterest board tropical:) some easy and cute flipflop nutter butter cookies:)

    yes, cheryl K-it is the skewers you find at the grocery store! I actually prefer the ones from cash and carry

  7. THe withe and aqua cake with the elephant banner… Is that rock candy along the bottom that looks like glass stones? Or is it something else? If it is rock candy, did you make it yourself or where did you get it? I LOVE the look!

  8. HI Lori,
    Yes, I made the cake and it is rock candy. If your local I purchased it at the candy store in southhill mall. I used three shades of blues and greens, crushed them then started layering them on the cake doing the darkest colors on bottom and then moving up with lighter colors of the rock candy.

  9. I draw a lot of inspiration from Anders Ruff. They have some beautiful printables which I have purchased and created items. I have also made my own things from their ideas and those shared by others who post there.

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