Birthday parties for kids can bust your budget. Planning the party can be stressful, too. You tend to forget basic games and activities can be the most fun. Supplies don't have to be costly and many can be made with items you already have in your home. Many traditional party games such as musical chairs, pinatas and pin the tail on the donkey have been set aside for elaborate festivities, so many old-time favorites can be exciting and "new." What cheap birthday party games have you done?
Here are a few frugal fun ideas.
face painting


Re-create carnival fun at your next party. Set up little booths or stations with face painting; stock up on colored hair spray on Halloween and have a hair painting booth; beads and lanyard string; temporary tattoos; and bean bag, coin, ball or ring tosses. Treats can be cotton candy, popcorn or caramel apples. Or have a cake walk and give homemade cupcakes as the prizes.


Instead of simply inflating latex balloons for decoration, use some for games or activities. Pick up a book from the library on making balloon animals, have balloon-popping relay races, see who can hold the greatest amount of balloons on their body, or have a water-balloon fight. Large punch balloons are fun, too.


Save 2-liter pop bottles or collect large coffee-creamer containers to make a bowling game. Or divide guests into teams and have them sit or kneel on opposite ends of the table. Set up little plastic army men on a table. Provide a table tennis ball and have each team try to knock over the army men by blowing the blowing on the ball.


Get butcher paper and have each child lie down and have one of their friends trace their outline. Provide supplies such as crayons, markers, paints, etc. Each of them can decorate their outline any way that they want to and they can take them home after the party.


Let kids write messages and draw pictures on your driveway or windows. Make your own window paint. Mix together equal parts dish washing liquid and washable liquid paint or powdered tempera. Mix until it's a creamy consistency. Use paintbrushes. It's easy to clean from windows with a moist paper towel.


Break out the paints, pipe cleaners, wiggle eyes, felt, pompoms, yarn scraps, etc. Pick smooth rocks and let the kids decorate them.


Play with dollar-store prizes such as crayons, stickers, toys, etc. Or use kiddie coupons for fun things such as a meal of choice, no-chore day, pick a movie rental, etc. Don't have a bingo game? You can print bingo cards and call sheets online. Visit


Kids love to make their own custom items, such as sundaes or graham cracker houses (you can use royal icing/frosting, pretzels, candies, cereals, etc.), chocolate-dipped pretzels, cupcakes, etc.


Let kids play with balls (super balls can be a lot of fun), jump ropes, hula hoops, Legos or bubbles.


Everyone puts shaving cream (or hair gel or mousse) in their hair and creates funny hairstyles.


Have a theme for the party. It can be as simple as everyone has to wear a certain color, sun glasses, funky hat, pajamas, toga, crazy socks or mismatched clothes. Take photos of everyone as they arrive. You can give prizes if you want to.

photo by Jim Sneddon