Less Drama DIY Birthday Party Ideas

Two days ago, we celebrated Dalia’s 4th birthday. Hooray!


Between the two girls, we’ve now hosted 11 celebrations. Mostly we prefer small, intimate gatherings of close family and friends to large, extravagant events. After having one party at a local kids’ gym and shelling out way more than we expected, we decided we would do it ourselves the next year.


Our first DIY party took a great deal of planning, but it cost less overall and was so much fun that we’ve done our own parties ever since. The more we do them, the easier the planning gets. And it helps to work as a team. Gavin was just as involved in the planning and execution as I was.


Today I’m sharing tips and pictures from some of our past parties to show how to have amazing do-it-yourself shindigs for $300 or less. I didn’t have the foresight to save my receipts, but I tried to include prices wherever I could.


1. Look For Low-Cost Venues

We’ve had three of Marissa’s parties at a park. The first one was for her 3rd birthday. The theme was Winnie-the-Pooh and about ten kids were there. We rented a covered pavilion for $50 and brought our own decorations and food. We decorated the pavilion like the Hundred Acre Wood, played Pin the Tail on Eeyore, had a Heffalump Hunt, and gave each child a couple of tokens to ride the Merry Go Round.


We ate chicken nuggets (shaped like bears) dipped in honey for lunch and I baked cupcakes for dessert. The favors were CDs of Marissa’s favorite songs titled, “Marissa’s Pooh-fect Music Mix.”

Pooh Party 3Pooh Party 2

Marissa’s 4th party was at the same park, but this time we only invited four friends and let them ride the Merry Go Round and play on the playground to their hearts’ content. No pavilion or lunch…just snacks and cupcakes for dessert. The kids had a blast.

Park party

For her 6th birthday, we took Marissa and her three closest friends to the zoo. With an annual membership for our family, the tickets for the three friends came to about $40.


We brought snacks to eat there and then went back to our house for lunch and cake. We gave out DIY animal picture frames with photos of all 4 girls from that day (which we printed out at home) as the favors. The picture below looks like that zookeeper is doing a private show, but he was just standing there with a snake by the entrance.


2. Get Creative at Home

I have to give credit to my friend Jane, who’s inspired me to get creative with our parties and who gave me many of these ideas. They might seem elaborate, but if you leave yourself enough lead time, you can get it all done and have almost as much fun planning as having the actual party! I also have to say that we are very fortunate to have a big backyard, but I think the parties could be done in smaller spaces.


The first party we had at our house was a Mad Science Party for Marissa’s 5th birthday. She had been introduced to science that year and really loved it, so Gavin and I dressed up like scientists (Gavin borrowed lab coats from a friend) and we organized a bunch of experiments for the kids to do.


The hands-down favorite was watching bottles of Diet Coke explode like geysers when we put Mentos candies inside. Gavin really loved hamming it up and letting the Diet Coke explode in his face and the kids went wild every time. (Be sure to use diet soda since it’s not sticky).


The cake tasted a whole lot better than it looked. It was a volcano with a cup of dry ice (bought at a local grocery store) placed in the middle to look like it was smoldering. We put trick candles in the cake, too. Both the kids and parents really loved this party.


For favors, we gave out plastic test tubes filled with jelly beans, prisms, Pop Rocks, bracelets with UV color-changing beads, and the “slime” that they made. If you’re interested in throwing this kind of party, check out www.stevespanglerscience.com for all the best supplies.

Mad Science Party


For Dalia’s 2nd birthday, we had a Dora the Explorer Party. We had about 12 kids and Gavin, Marissa, and I dressed up like characters from the show. Yours truly was Dora, Marissa was Swiper the Fox, and Gavin was the Grumpy Old Troll who lives under the bridge.


We took the kids on an “adventure” throughout the house and they had to do different activities at each stop. They climbed a mountain (our staircase) and crawled through a tunnel, counted balloons, solved the Troll’s riddle, and stopped Swiper.


The last stop was Dora’s “house,” a $20 cardboard playhouse that they colored with crayons in order to reach the pinata at the end! Everyone had a fun time. We rented the kids’ table and chairs for $23 from www.familyrentals.com.

We took the kids on an adventure around the house.

Dora Party 1

Dalia’s 3rd birthday party was a Pink Party, since she was thoroughly obsessed with the color. Everyone wore pink, ate pink food (including strawberry cream cheese), listened to the Pinkalicious book read by big sister Marissa, made bracelets, and got their nails painted (pink, of course). I found the water bottle labels online for free and just printed them at home, cut them out, and stuck them on.

Pink Party 1


When all of Marissa’s friends turned seven, it seemed like every one of them had a spa party at a salon (Moms of boys keep reading). The girls would have their makeup, nails, and hair done and then dance around in princess dress-up clothes.


Marissa’s not much of a girly-girl and this really wasn’t her thing. Also, going to a salon can be pricey. So, we decided to do the complete opposite and have a Messy Party.


We made “glarch” (glue and starch mixed together to make a slimy goo), had a pudding pie eating contest with no utensils, a water balloon toss, finger painting, shaving cream hair-styling, and a kiddie pool filled with bubble solution and bubble wands.


Almost everything for the party was purchased at the Dollar store, including the favors, which were cute character washcloths and soap plus candy from a pinata and the glarch.

Messy Party

And finally, Dalia’s 4th birthday: a Yo Gabba Gabba party. There were seven girls, including Marissa and Dalia. They painted Foofa flower pots and played Put the Eye on Muno, musical chairs, and freeze dance. The favors were CDs of Yo Gabba Gabba (YGG) music, YGG cups, seeds to plant in their flower pots, and YGG tattoos.

YGG Party 1



3. Make Your Own Invitations

Everything you need to make your own invitations can be found online. Use Google image search to find a picture that goes with your theme and you can even go as far as to search free fonts to match. Of course, you can use E-vite for invitations or just attach them to an e-mail, but I still usually prefer the old-fashioned card in an envelope.



4. Remember That Less Is More For Decorations, Favors, and Guests

You can tell from the pictures that I am a big fan of “Scene Setters” you can get at places like Party City. They’re really cheap (about $6) and cover a huge amount of wall space. Also, balloons make a big statement. We usually buy a Balloon Time helium tank (about $50) and blow up the balloons the morning of the party.


As for favors, most parents don’t appreciate lots of candy or cheap-o toys. Our CD favors have been a big hit — parents often tell me months and even years after a party that their child still listens to one of our CDs. Since I’ve made them for several parties, I have a stack of CDs that I bought at BJ’s and I use a free online program called exPressit to design the labels, available at office supply stores in packs of 50.




Also, when it comes to guests, there’s no need to go overboard. Inviting a few good friends really makes a party special for everyone and there are fewer presents to clutter up your living room. I’ve never really felt any pressure to invite the whole class. Some years we have and others we haven’t. It really depends on the theme, budget, and space restrictions.

My favorite resources for birthday party ideas and inspiration are Etsy, Pinterest, and www.birthdaypartyideas.com.


I hope this post was as fun to read as it was to write and that it gave you some ideas and resources for your next celebration.


You can also read about our Mystery party , Slumber party , and Lion party here.


Please leave a comment below and share your own tips for DIY birthday party ideas. If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and subscribe to get weekly updates.

Showing 8 comments
  • Michal

    These are some great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

    • Pam Howard

      You’re welcome. Glad you like them, Michal!

  • Beth

    I still listen to the CD from your wedding! ; )

    • Pam Howard

      Wow…I guess I’ve been making CD favors longer than I remember:) Happy to know you’re still enjoying it, Beth!

  • Bernice Strul

    Brought back some memories and the party I remember the most was when we played “old fashioned” games and had a treasure hunt!

    • Pam Howard

      Those “old fashioned” games never go out of style. I’m glad I could help bring back those memories for you:)

  • Emilie

    Great ideas…and you have photos, etc…another great blog! love it all….

Leave a Comment