5 Tips To Simplify Kids’ Birthday Parties

posted by Andrea | 11/22/2019

5 tips to simplify birthday parties

Children’s birthday parties is one topic I get regular questions and emails about each week — specifically, how to SIMPLIFY kids’ birthday parties.

Thanks to the explosion of social media over the past 15 years, there’s a new set of “standards” parents feel we should live up to in order to “keep up with the Joneses” and give our children the same privileges we see on Facebook and Instagram.

Well, I’m a firm believer that it IS possible to celebrate our children on their birthday (and every day) without tons of stress, financial investment, or a huge mess to clean up the next day!

What do you think?

simple birthday party

Since it’s Nora’s 8th birthday TODAY (happy birthday, sweet girl), I thought it was the perfect time to share a few of my tips to simplify kids’ birthday parties!

These are all tips I’ve put into practice in my own life over the last 8 years of parenting — celebrating a total of 19 birthday so far!

5 Tips To Simplify Kids’ Birthday Parties:

5 tips to simplify birthday parties

1. Invite Fewer Guests

One of the best, fastest, and easiest ways to simplify any party is to invite fewer guests.

Yes, I understand there might be challenges to this (especially if you are known for your massive gatherings)… and, as with all my tips, I know it won’t work for every person or every family. 

But if you want my opinion, a smaller guest list is the way to go to simplify kids’ birthday parties! 

We’ve always kept our birthday party guest lists extremely SMALL — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. DONE! 

Dave and I each have 2 siblings, but some live out of state and don’t attend birthday parties. However, even if every one of our immediate family members came, our parties would max out at 17 extra guests. 

Usually, the kids’ birthday parties are close to 10 extra guests — which is extremely doable in my opinion. 

Fewer guests mean less food to buy, less mess to clean up later, and fewer gifts to make room for!

It’s also much less overwhelming for young children or children who tend to be shy when they are put “on the spot”.

birthday party gifts

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2. Consider What Your Child Actually Wants

Revolutionary… I know! ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’s so easy to get caught up in a party-planning frenzy with our own agenda — to the point where we forget to stop to consider what our child actually wants.

Simon usually pushes for a simple donut + fruit birthday party — which is SO easy for me to pull off. Plus, if you’ve never hosted a morning birthday party, you should definitely give it a try! Everyone leaves by 11 am and you have the rest of your day to do whatever you want! 

simple birthday party foods

For Nora’s 5th birthday, we had a Frozen theme and she insisted she wanted to decorate her own cake. 

The finished product didn’t look completely horrible, but it certainly wasn’t professional-looking in any way. HOWEVER, it only took us 10 minutes from start-to-finish and she was absolutely THRILLED with the results! 

Of course, I also saved a huge amount of time and money over ordering a professionally decorated cake (or trying to decorate one myself), so it really was a win-win situation!

simple birthday cake

You might be surprised how much simpler your parties could be if you ask your child about their preferences… and actually LISTEN to what they say! 

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3. Skip All The “Extras”

We don’t have games, activities, or prizes at our parties. We also don’t have goodie bags for people to take home, and we really don’t do much decorating either.

We usually stick with themed plates, napkins, a couple of helium balloons, and maybe a few toys or costumes we have around the house (like for Simon’s school bus birthday party or Nora’s Cinderella birthday party). 

school bus birthday party

cinderella costumes

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4. Don’t Throw a Traditional Party At All!

I realize this sounds super “scroogish” — but hear me out! This is actually one of my BEST tips to simplify kids’ birthday parties! 

Dave and I decided that our children could have a birthday party with all their same-gender classmates for their 7th birthday (Nora did this last year and it was so fun!)

After that, they will no longer have any “traditional birthday parties”. Instead, they will be able to do fun stuff with a friend or two, have grandparents over for dinner, do stuff together as a family, bring treats to school, etc. 

For example:

This year, in addition to having grandparents over for dinner tonight, Nora and I are going to see Frozen II with her “best friend” and her friend’s mom (the friend’s birthday is 5 days after Nora’s).

We’ll go out to lunch beforehand, ride the carousel at the mall, get their free birthday cookies from Barnes and Noble, and have all sorts of fun with no younger siblings around. ๐Ÿ™‚

We made a fun birthday treat for her entire class, she’s going out for donuts with Dave tomorrow morning, and we have a plan to order an American Girl Doll and go shopping with her birthday money next week!

They get all of this birthday fun without a huge party for ME to plan, cook for, and clean up after!  

Can I get an “Amen”!?!?

I promise… Nora already had a fantastic birthday week (I know because I asked her). And she has been looking forward to our lunch + movie + shopping + donut celebration for WEEKS now! 

All children are different, I know! But our kids are honestly looking forward to when they are 8 and get to do all sorts of extra special birthday things verses awkwardly opening gifts in front of a bunch of adults or peers and being reminded 837 times to say “thank you”. 

simple birthday gifts

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5. Stop Worrying What Others Might Think of YOU

This is a biggy for so many parents these days… and it might require some honest introspection!

I know my previous suggestions to simplify kids’ birthday parties will ALL get some push-back (and that’s OK). My tips aren’t for everyone.

However, I have a feeling many of you will push back because you’re worried what others will think of you if you do something so “out of the box” like not give party favors, or pare down your guest list a bit.

Might we annoy or offend friends and relatives if they aren’t invited? 

Will we hurt anyone’s feelings if we have a friend’s party and only limit it to the kids in their class?

Can we really get away with only serving cake and ice cream — or should we just make the full meal to keep people happy?

But what if my kid says they only want a “blue” party and I can’t do cute decorations for that? What will social media think?

We need to have _____ because so-and-so’s party had ________.

Will I look like a bad parent if I don’t have a party for my child every year?

Stop… just stop! 

As you set out to plan your kids’ birthday party, I beg you to stop worrying or even wondering what anyone else might think of your party. I would also encourage you to plan your party with no intention of sharing any pictures on social media. 

You might be surprised how different your decisions are when you aren’t concerned about creating a Pinterest-perfect party or pleasing everyone on your guest list!

opening birthday gifts

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I’ll be the first to admit that I regularly oooh and aaah over the AMAZING birthday parties I see on social media. 

I love searching Pinterest for “kids’ birthday party ideas” and scrolling in awe at what other parents and party planners have come up with. I have utilized so many of the ideas for my own children’s parties — just at a “lesser level”!

If YOU love planning, preparing for, and executing big birthday parties… then you should keep doing big birthday parties! 

After all, we need some jaw-dropping inspiration when we search Pinterest for birthday party ideas! ๐Ÿ™‚

However, if kids’ birthday parties are a source of stress, if they create a financial burden for your family, or if you get the sense that many of your kids’ birthday plans are actually YOUR attempt to “prove yourself” or “put on a good front” for other guests or social media, I would highly encourage you to take a step back and utilize a few of my tips to SIMPLIFY kids’ birthday parties! 

We LOVE celebrating our children on their birthdays – and they love being celebrated. 

However, they can be celebrated and loved without over-the-top birthday parties!

5 tips to simplify birthday parties

Who here votes to simplify kids’ birthday parties?

That’s one vote for Clara — and another vote for me too! 

simple birthday cake

In case you’re interested, here’s the link to all our kids’ birthday parties.

Here’s a look at the fun (and simple) way we celebrate half birthdays!

And make sure you follow me on Instagram to see how Nora’s birthday celebrations unfold this weekend! 

What are YOUR best tips to simplify kids’ birthday parties?

5 tips to simplify birthday parties

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Filed under: FamilyChildren

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27 comments

  1. Sue

    11/26/2019

    Oh we learned this years ago. Where we live, most of the families have parties at party places. I just never wanted to or could afford that. We have a family party on the day of their birthday, cake, balloons and whatever dinner they want.
    As they have gotten older, if they want to have a few friends to sleep over, and have pizza,, sure but that was it. We could not do the party places, too much $$$$.

    Sue in NJ

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, we’ve also been invited to many of the party place parties. They are fun, but not a way we choose to spend our money right now!

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  2. Bonnie'sMama

    11/25/2019

    My children love getting to decorate their own cakes or cupcakes for birthdays and other occasions. Last night we made Christmas cupcakes. I made green frosting and bought a set of Christmas shapes sprinkles at Walmart. I piped frosting in a pile (the shape of a Christmas tree) and piped stars to make wreaths. They loved sticking all the little candy stars and tiny trees into the frosting.

    Those cupcakes are not Pinterest worthy and no one but us would want to eat them, but the children had so much fun and made a lovely memory–because I let go of perfect cupcakes.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    sounds like so much fun!

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  3. Calliope

    11/23/2019

    I struggled so much with my sonโ€™s birthdays! Everyone expected a big birthday party since he is our only child but my gut wanted the exact opposite: dinner or lunch with grandparents and godmother, aunt and cousins, a favorite movie just the three of us and his cake of choice.
    I so regret not doing my way all the years he was too young to understand parties anyway.
    So…I started doing your idea of half birthdays and I.just.love.them. He enjoys so much too having half a dessert, a small gift and half a movie (!) with us. We do watch the other half the next day…!
    And yes, one year I just asked him what kind of treat heโ€™d like (since he does not really like bday cakes) so he asked for donuts! And all kids liked them so much better. So thank u again for the idea!
    Since last year he prefers to spend birthdays with 2-3 close friends in the movies or in a pizza restaurant. Amen!

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  4. Stacey

    11/22/2019

    Totally agree. And goodie bags at the end of a party are totally unnecessary and honestly a waste of money. If my kids are invited to a party at a jump place or something like that to me that is such a nice treat for them we donโ€™t need to be giving a goodie bag as a thank you for coming. Of course my
    Kids like the candy and toys but usually I find it laying around and it just ends up in the trash. Why on earth did people start giving out goodie bags????

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, definitely skip the party favors!

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    Jenny Reply:

    Right? Most party favors go straight into the garbage usually! We would donate money to the animal shelter for our animal-loving girl, and just give a lollipop with a sticker saying that. She would draw a horse or something.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    that’s a great idea!

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  5. Natalia Gramada

    11/22/2019

    Great ideas!
    I am one of those people that would spend way too much time, energy and finances for parties. I have too many ideas and I want to do it all!
    This year, my oldest turned 14 and she was driving me crazy talking about her bday party, 6 months in advance. I totally refused to plan so early, so I told her that I’ll give her a budget and she could plan her own party. She had so many crazy ideas!!! Even more ideas than I would have!! She had a good amount of money to work with ($20 for each year = $280 for her 14 years) When she realized how much everything costs, she was still disappointed that she “didn’t have enough!!!”. (eye-roll)
    Then I told her that whatever she doesn’t spend she gets to keep as her gift. All her plans changed overnight! She was able to cut down big time on everything, spent less than $80 and bought herself a new phone that she loves, loves, loves!
    Interesting how priorities have shifted….
    The best part – less pressure on me! It was all her! ๐Ÿ™‚

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is AWESOME!!! Thanks so much for sharing this Natalia! I’m going to repost it on my social media tomorrow — I know so many parents will benefit from your advice!

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  6. B. Winblad

    11/22/2019

    What timing! We are having a birthday party for our son tomorrow. We invited 7 boys from his school, all his choosing. All he wanted for his birthday was to have some friends over to play video games. I am so ok with that. Makes it easy peasy for Mom. I bought some decorations on Amazon, made him cupcakes, and my husband will setup all of the gaming systems on our big tv. It didn’t cost me much money at all and was very easy to put together. My husband will go out in the morning to get pizzas from Costco and we are set for my son to have the party he wanted.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay! have fun at your party tomorrow. Sounds very low-key and simple!

    [Reply]

  7. Dawn

    11/22/2019

    I love this post too! By asking what does the child want, we don’t have to worry about what friends, neighbors and yes,what social media thinks. At the end of the day, what is more important – hundreds of likes on Facebook from the party pictures or a child that is so happy about how their birthday party/experience went that they can’t stop talking about it!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, Nora wanted ice cream sundaes tonight — which meant I didn’t have to bake or decorate a cake! yahoo!

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  8. Rebecca

    11/22/2019

    American Girl is having a sale on their website today. I know you have talked about getting Nora an American Girl doll for her birthday.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

  9. Avia

    11/22/2019

    I needed to read this as I’m in the process of planning the girls first, joint (their bdays are close), friends party. They really just want kids at their house to play. ๐Ÿ™‚

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    have fun — I’m sure the party will be a blast!

    [Reply]

  10. Ashley

    11/22/2019

    We do simpler parties around here too! We spend about $5 on some balloons we blow up ourselves and some crepe paper that we hang around the house. I make the cake. We have a simple meal that’s served buffet style. We do party favors, but it’s always something super small like the bottles of bubbles that have a character on top, or this year we made play dough and put small balls in little bags.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we had lots of non-helium balloons today… my fingers were sore from tying them all!

    [Reply]

  11. Linda Tenhage

    11/22/2019

    I’ve been simplifying our kids’ birthday parties too. They have a few friends over, and usually play some type of sports outside. I have only organized a party game for for one party over that last 16 years of parties – and it lasted 10 minutes!

    A couple of my ideas are a donut cake – I stack glazed donuts onto a tray, stick candles in it, and bring it out to the kids. My oldest son’s friends loved it! My two minutes of prep time was not wasted – especially considering they only stopped for 2 minutes to gobble a donut down before going back to their hockey game!

    Another idea that is popular where I live is a toonie (or fiver) party. In Canada we have $2 coins called toonies. The party invite just says it is a toonie party and that’s all the gift you need to bring. It works so well for parents who have kids going to lots of parties (simple, and not expensive), and at the end of the party, the birthday child gets to spend some money on a gift of their choosing.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    ooooh, simon would LOVE the donut cake idea!

    [Reply]

  12. JJ

    11/22/2019

    Love this 100 times over!!! In my circles, people serve meals for birthday parties. They live relatively frugal lives but splurge on this. That would stress me out, because many of my friends’ kids and mine have food allergies. So to cook to make sure everyone could walk out alive and well would seriously freak me out. My husband is extremely introverted, so the thought of many people in our house overwhelms him. We live by no family. So we do experiences for birthdays. We put 30% of money gifts from grandparents into their savings accounts. Then we buy them a $20 gift. The rest is used to buy something they need(when they needed a new car seat, bed, shelving, etc.). Then we also do an experience. We did not realize a weather event was happening at the museum my son picked. We met two local weathermen, and my kids left with a ton of free goodies(nice, I might add!). We have close friends who always come over on our kids’ birthdays, so we have cupcakes with them–then when my husband comes home. They think that’s the coolest thing ever. Haha!

    For easy cupcakes, my kids often request pull apart cupcake cakes. One year I made a dog with a bone for my son. My daughter had a snowflake Elsa cupcake cake one year and a princess dress another year. It was SO easy and took minimal effort(we did buy an Elsa candle on clearance for 75 centsish). And she still talks about that cake! For the princess dress cake, I grabbed her tiara and it finished off the look nicely.

    I really loved your post, because I had been feeling guilty for not having parties for my kids. You always make me feel better!!! Thank you!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is all so great — thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  13. Ann

    11/22/2019

    Amen. ONE HUNDRED Amens to this!

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  14. Paulette

    11/22/2019

    Isnโ€™t this the truth!!! Thank you, Andrea.

    [Reply]