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Stress-Free Children’s Birthday Parties

By: Maria Smith

Tips for Young Urban Moms on throwing a fun, low cost, stress-free kids’ birthday party!


Planning a child’s birthday party used to mean buying paper plates and balloons, and asking Grandma to bake a cake.

Now, thanks to shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen and Outrageous Kid’s Parties, the expectations (from guests, moms and the birthday kid) are unbelievable.

In Atlanta, I have been to parties I’m sure have cost thousands of dollars.  (How much does it cost to truck snow into Georgia?!?)  From fully-catered buffets to open bars and live entertainment, it’s tough to keep up with the Peach State Jones’.  But, I try to remember this isn’t a competition.  It’s a party!

Recently, I decided to throw a simple, small get-together to celebrate my daughter turning 4 and my son turning 1, as their birthdays are five days apart.  But as it got closer to party day, I realized the guest list, the budget, and my stress levels were going through the roof.  So I took a deep breath and started focusing on the basics.  Do we need a moon bounce?  An open bar?  $10 gift bags?  No, no and – no.

Here are a few ways I kept both the costs and my stress level (relatively) low.

  1. Activities: Depending on the age of the birthday child, you only need 2-3 activities during the party.  I had “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, a piñata and a donut-eating contest.  I also brought blocks and some matchbox cars.  No one was bored!
  2. Food: I skipped the caterer and just picked up pizzas.  Ask the restaurant to double-cut the slices so they are easier for small hands and go further.  I added a vegetable plate, fruit salad, chips and dip, and a sweet tray.  If your budget allows, buy these things from your grocery store and add juice, soda, beer and an “adult” punch.
  3. Cake: Make sure the cake is good.  I should have followed my husband’s advice and bought a sheet cake from our local bakery instead of baking it myself.  Sure it costs more, but cake is best left to the professionals.  If you really want to add your own baking touch, whip up some cupcakes for the kids and call it a day!
  4. Decorations: Yes, you can get balloons, banners and party ware at (gasp!) the Dollar Store.  Pick a theme or a color and don’t go crazy. Remember, everything you put up must come down.
  5. Goody bags: I gave all the kids empty bags and they filled them with the candy and toys from the piñata. The kids could grab what they wanted and I didn’t have to fill them.  I also saved some treats to give out to the little kids or latecomers who may not have gotten their fair share.

The key to stressing less and enjoying more is KISS: “Keep It Simple, Silly.” Remember, this is the anniversary of your child’s birth, not their wedding day. Your pocket book and sanity will thank you.

Maria Smith resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and three kids. In her pre-baby days, she was a TV producer for shows like Oprah, and now fills her child-free time with freelance writing and public relations projects. You could reach her at or on Twitter @MariaRSmith.

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