7 Secrets to Throwing a Fabulous Party on a Budget

Think throwing a great party means spending a fortune? These seven secrets to throwing a fabulous party on a budget will save you time, money, & sanity!

This weekend my youngest daughter will turn five. While part of me is mourning the fact that my baby will be five, another part of me is sad that this year, for the first time, we will not be throwing a big party to celebrate her birthday. You see, little Annie was born on Memorial Day. Of my two daughters, she is my little party girl, so every Memorial Day weekend since she was born we have thrown a huge bash to celebrate her special day. Last year it was a Mermaid Party, the year before that was a CAKE party, and the year before that was a Sweet Shop party.

But this year, for the first time, little Annie chose to go Miss Edie’s house instead of having a party.

And as much as I love visiting Edie, the truth is, there is almost nothing I love more than throwing a great party. The food, the decorations, the fun…. Just the mere thought of gathering our friends and family for a celebration, whatever the occasion may be, fills me with an excitement I can’t explain. I could literally get lost in the thrill of planning my next event.

There was a time, however, that my lack of party budget sense left my husband with a serious financial hangover. It wasn’t that I intentionally set out to spend too much, but in my eagerness to throw the perfect party, things seemed to always spiral quickly out-of-control.

Eventually, however, I learned that party planning on a tight budget can actually be more fun then planning an event where money is no object. Setting limits allows your creativity to emerge, forces you to prioritize, and it allows you to focus on making your guests’ comfort your first priority. In fact, through the years I have discovered that there are seven secrets to throwing a fabulous party on a tiny budget, and surprisingly enough, very few of them have to do with spending money!

7 Secrets to Throwing a Fabulous Party on a Budget

If you’ve got a party coming up, these seven secrets might just make your next gathering the best you’ve ever thrown:

Explorer party inspiration board with plenty of cute party ideas for kids.

1. Pick a theme

Every fabulous party needs an original theme. This is KEY. Before you spend a single penny on party supplies, be sure that you have picked a central theme that will keep you focused and on track. A theme helps you set the tone for the party and focus your planning efforts. It also helps keep the budget under control, because you can spend less and yet have a bigger impact when your expenses are all centered around the same main idea. Magazines and Pinterest are full of inspiration and the instant you stumble upon a theme you love, I can assure you that the creative ideas will start rolling in.

After I’ve settled on a theme I like to gather ideas by creating a dedicated board on Pinterest, and then using my favorite ideas to create an inspiration board of ideas (using PicMonkey.com.)  These inspiration boards help me eliminate the unessential so that my entire budget is focused on fulfilling that vision.

A party is a great way to spend time with friends.

2. Make your guests the focus

The details do matter, but not necessarily the details you might think. Pinterest-worthy decorations and a stunning dessert display won’t save a party if the guests aren’t having fun. Good hospitality—personally welcoming each guest, introducing them to other guests, and helping them mingle—is absolutely free.

If your group is naturally quite social and outgoing, or if everyone already knows each other, you may not need to worry about this, but you should still be prepared just in case things start to go awry. Many people are, by nature, shy and uncomfortable in social settings, particularly if there are a lot of people they don’t know.

Icebreaker games, while perhaps silly, can get things off to a light-hearted start. There are usually a few ultra-competitors in every crowd, so offering a little friendly competition can help liven things up as well. And be sure to offer prizes! They don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, just a little something to get things rolling.

No matter what, always be sure to provide enough food and drink! If you can’t afford both food and decorations, opt for food, because hungry guests will not have fun. Even if the party is not at mealtime, provide at least a few substantial snacks & munchies just in case.

Throwing an entertaining party for kids is easy, even on a budget: just look at all these happy smiles in their party hats!

3. Entertain the kiddos

Kids don’t need much–most of the time they just want to play–but make sure there are a few “kid zones” within your party environment to keep the youngest attendees occupied. After all, happy children = happy parents! Set up a table with coloring pages or simple crafts—I love wrapping the whole table with brown kraft paper & then letting them loose—or have one room available for play, and another quiet room available for resting or watching a movie. Be sure to also have some kid-friendly food & drinks on hand.

Pot luck and simple dishes like this vegetable platter and fruit salad, make entertaining possible even on a budget.

4. Let your guests pitch in

No one wants to show up to a party empty-handed, and regardless of what you tell them, your guests will always want to bring something. Put that thoughtful party etiquette to use by asking each invitee to bring something that will help you keep your own expenses down, such as an appetizer, dessert, or bottle of wine to share. I promise they won’t mind a bit; on the contrary, they will probably appreciate for once knowing what to bring. Even better, it will prevent you from getting stuck with 20 unnecessary—albeit lovely—hostess gifts.

Throwing a fabulous party doesn't have to cost a lot, just add an unexpected element, like the time Santa visited our Christmas party.

5. Splurge on the unexpected

Determine your party budget, save in every way you can, and then, with the money you’ve saved–and you actually might surprise yourself once you truly start to get creative–use your extra cash to surprise your guests with something unique.

Consider a babysitter, magician, or bounce house to entertain the kids, a professional bartender to serve the drinks, or perhaps some fun door prizes. One or two splurges here and there will leave an unforgettable impression, and your party will be the talk of the town.

Email invitations make party planning easy. There are many adorable e-vites like this cute design of animals in a tree. 6. Send Invitations via email

Unless your next soiree is a very formal affair, skip the overpriced paper invites in favor of the email variety. Design your own at home on a word processor, or by using a free online graphic editor such a PicMonkey or Canva. Most of us have heard of Evite for email invitations, but there are also a few other really neat & more unique options including Paperless Post, Punchbowl, Celebrations, and Green Envelope. Not only will you save on paper and postage, but managing your guest list will be a breeze.

DIY table decorations don't need to be expensive. This beachy centerpiece was easy to make and perfect for an outdoor party.

7. Get crafty

With inspiration teeming from Pinterest, television, magazines, and the blogosphere, there is honestly no excuse for not joining the DiY revolution. You don’t even have to be exceptionally original or creative; you just have to follow the simple instructions.

Your party budget dollars will stretch much further—and make a bigger impact—if you forgo commercial decorations in favor of ones that are handmade. Likewise, homemade food and desserts, are both cheaper and usually better-tasting than their store-bought counterparts. Even more importantly, handmade decorations and home-cooked food will make your guests feel like they are part of something special and one-of-a-kind.

Here on LWSL there are a number of detailed tutorials for making a variety of basic party decorations, everything from tissue paper puffs, paper party hats, & buntings to simple instructions for sewing your own table runners & simple chair covers  All of these can be made for just a few dollars in supplies and very little effort.

To recap, here are 7 Secrets to Throwing a Fabulous Party on a Budget

1. Pick a theme
2. Make your guests the focus
3. Entertain the kiddos
4. Let your guests pitch in
5. Splurge on the unexpected
6. Send Invitations via email
7. Get crafty


At the end of the day, a truly memorable party does not come down to how much you spent, but how your guests feel. In all honesty, no one will remember your adorable overpriced napkins, expensive centerpieces, or even all your Pinterest-worthy DIY projects. On the other hand, if your guests felt comfortable and had a great time, it won’t matter if you spent $10 or $1000.

What are your best secrets for throwing a fabulous party on a budget?

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    1. I gave my husband a surprise party for his 40th birthday with a “Tacky Party” theme. I drew a picture of a butler in tuxedo jacket over shorts and hairy legs for the invitation cover and requested that there be no gifts “unless very cheap and tacky!” I had fun decorating my home with tacky décor… plastic covers on the sofas, red velvet lampshades from a thriftshop, the Christmas tree set up in June…anything cheap and tacky! The food was a giant metal can of pork and beans with the lid opened but still attached, five foot long sandwiches and other simple, silly things. The games were innocent but had tacky names like “Fun with Vasoline” (a relay race where participants put petroleum jelly on their noses, stick their face in a plate of cotton balls, then try to blow them off). I did hire a professional balloon delivery by a friend dressed in a sexy leopard outfit, but even that was not too expensive. The guests all came in tacky outfits, too! So much fun!

  1. These are good tips and I love that you don’t go overboard doing expensive gift bags for the kiddos or having a three tiered professionally done cake. I cringe everytime I see pictures on Facebook. But (and maybe it’s because our family is so far away), I don’t see the point of a “party” until the child is school aged because I doubt they’ll remember their 4 year old party when they are 25. I have a year old and we bake a cake, have a favorite dinner, perhaps take in a movie. She enjoys herself, I’m not stressed out, and I’ve saved money.

  2. My tip is to to get paper plates, napkins, etc. in solid colors instead of expensive character prints – pick a color or two that goes with your theme. Also, have kids and their friends make decorations; so what if they aren’t perfect or store-bought, they will be proud and excited to show off their work. Biggest thing to remember, YOU set the tone for your child’s special day – if you are bummed about not having money, they will be, too. If you make a big fuss over what little there is, and show how happy you are to celebrate them, they will be perfectly content and have happy memories of the day.

  3. I have triplets (2 boys and a girl) so I’ve had to be very creative when it comes to their parties. My biggest money saving idea is to stop the crazy!!! I’ve been to parties where the theme is awesome but it’s a party for a 3 year old. We mom’s spend too much time making the party an event to remember instead of an enjoyable time for friends and family to get together to celebrate the miracle of life!!!! We do themes, in fact their 4th birthday party is in a week and we are doing Super Heros. Instead of focusing on any specific one, they are the super heroes. Instead of providing costumes for guests we encourage them to dress up on their own. Food for our parities is their favorites, after all it’s their party…they should enjoy the food. One year we had mac-n-cheese in addition to hotdogs. Even the guests loved it. This year they’ve requested ice cream, watermelon and cookies. 🙂 We do gift bags but I’ve been doing this theme for awhile so I pick up clearance items as I find them, and I buy from the dollar store. I create my own invites and have my sister take the pictures. LOVE YOUR BLOG!!

  4. The best budget party I did was a surprise party for my mum’s 60th birthday. It was at 8am – so it was a REAL surprise – and so we served simple breakfast items with coffee and tea; cheap and easy. No party decorations, but one of the first things we did was to take a photo of the entire group (there were almost 40 people crammed into a tiny space!). While people ate, the kids were set up outside to decorate 40 cheap, unfinished IKEA photo frames. They loved it, and the adults could chat and eat in peace. In the meantime, we printed out 40 copies of the group photo and as each guest left, we gave them a photo of the party guests in a hand-made original frame. Six years later, everyone we know still has that photo in that frame.

  5. I agree that having a professionally done cake can be beautiful, but making the cake yourself can be rewarding and much, much cheaper. You could save 40-60 dollars making your own. I’m helping my husband plan a military reunion for his brother, so I’ll keep these ideas in mind. Thank you!

  6. At the end of the day, all you really need for a great party is a nice space to meet and great company. All of the food and decorations are just added bonuses. So don’t be afraid to throw a party even if you don’t have a lot of money for all thrills and frills to make it super fancy.

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