Creative Ways to Celebrate Birthdays With No Money

Updated on November 20, 2018
ChristyWrites profile image

I'm always looking for creative ways to save a buck or two. These are the best money-saving birthday ideas I've tried over the years.

You Can Still Celebrate, Even On a Budget!

Sometimes you have to get creative when it comes to celebrating a birthday, especially if you have no money. Birthday parties can be extremely pricey occasions. With cake, food, decorations, presents, and activities, not to mention alcohol, a party can be impossibly expensive.

Now that you are stressed and searching your wallet for extra bills, take a deep breath and slowly read the next sentence. There are ways to celebrate special occasions without spending money.

Yes, that's right. You can still celebrate the day and have fun, too! Celebrating your best friend, brother, daughter, or other important person in your life doesn't have to break your budget. Here are some useful tips for planning a special day, even when you don't have cash to spend.

How to Celebrate a Husband or Wife's (or Girlfriend or Boyfriend's) Birthday Without Money

  • Gift certificate. Handmake a gift certificate for a massage or a nice home-cooked meal.
  • Labors of love. Wash dishes, fix leaks, paint walls, or finish some of those other chores and tasks that need doing around the house.
  • Free time. Take the kids out of the house all day—or even away overnight—to give your spouse time alone to spread out and do whatever they want to do.
  • Breakfast in bed. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate or fancy.
  • Framed photo. Print up a great photo and put it in an inexpensive frame.
  • Queen or King for a day. Who doesn't want to be the boss sometimes?
  • Music. Make a playlist or "mixtape." Dedicate a song to him/her on the radio. Play "your song" or their favorite song and ask him/her to dance.
  • A love letter. Not just a quick note but a long, heartfelt, sappy letter.
  • Love notes. Fill a jar with little notes listing the reasons why you love them, or slip hidden love notes in the pockets of all their clothes.

Gifts That Don't Cost Any Money

  • Surprise the special person with a scenic drive around the local harbor or another beautiful part of town, or take them on a long walk through a part of town you haven't explored much.
  • Create a movie theatre experience at home. Dim the lights and watch a movie you already own or one you borrow from a friend.
  • Plan a picnic with a big group and ask each person to bring a dish. Your own dish is composed of food items you already have in your kitchen.
  • Tell all of the guests to bring cameras. Take silly pictures of each other during the party; you will be laughing! After the party, download the photos to an electronic scrapbook program and email them to everyone who attended.
  • Binge-watch an old series they loved!
  • If they garden, share seeds, cuttings, or seedlings from your garden.
  • If they have kids, offer a night of babysitting so they can take a break.

Remember that after a birthday party, people often remember the experience more than a physical present. Quality time spent together really does mean more than a material item.

Plan in Advance

Shopping last-minute is never a good way to save money. Keep your eyes open for steals and deals year-round, comparison shop online, then hide the party items until the big day.

Creative and Inexpensive Birthday Present Ideas

Think beyond the material object bound in gift-wrap when you have no money. There are other options.

  • If they cook, why not get them an assortment of your favorite spices? Wrap them up with hand-written recipes of your favorite dishes.
  • If they write, give them a notebook and a set of nice ink pens.
  • If they fish, buy them a new lure or fly and offer to take the kids for the day while they go fishing.
  • Handmade gifts are always the most thoughtful and memorable.

Inexpensive Experience Gifts

Have you ever had a great day with a friend just relaxing at the beach or going for a walk? These options don't cost any money. The activities are fun because you spend quality time with your friend and enjoy an experience together.

  • Museums usually have one free day a month.
  • Go camping under the stars (or have a bonfire).
  • Cook a meal together. Try something or use an ingredient you haven't tried before! Go to YouTube for fun tutorials.
  • Have a spa night. Use natural ingredients from your kitchen. Give each other pedicures.
  • Go thrift store shopping: Go with a group of friends and shop for one another. Each person selects one item for each of the other friends to try on.
  • Exercise. Go for a hike together, or do a YouTube yoga class (or some other exercise video).

Cheap and Fun Party Ideas

  • Joke Night. Everyone brings a joke to share with the group.
  • Dance Party. Everyone brings their favorite dance song and move.
  • Board Games. Maybe a nostalgic one, maybe something new?
  • Charades. Charades are always fun.
  • Surprise Party. The element of surprise makes even an inexpensive party much more exciting.
  • Fun in the Park. Play flashlight tag, frisbee, or capture the flag.
  • Movie Night. Always a crowd-pleaser. With homemade popcorn!
  • Scavenger Hunt. It takes some time and creativity to set up a great scavenger hunt, but it's always fun and memorable.
  • Have a conga line, whether indoors or outside on the lawn.
  • Do crafts. Ask a crafty friend who is coming to the party to bring supplies and conduct a mini-class for the guests. Your friend will be pleased you ask for help and will want to show off his or her expertise!
  • Silly String. Buy a case of silly string and make it last the whole party. Divide the guests into teams and see who can have the most fun.

For more ideas, read Fun and Hilarious Group Activities and Games for Everyone.

How to Celebrate a Birthday Without a Cake

Because birthday cakes can be really expensive!

  • Doughnuts or doughnut holes.
  • Rice krispy treats.
  • Root beer floats.
  • S'mores.
  • Fruit, cookie, or candy kabobs.
  • Jell-O.
  • Homemade cupcakes or cookies.

When You Last Planned a Birthday Party...

What was the biggest cost?

See results

Cheap Party Food Ideas

  • Deviled eggs.
  • Hot dogs (chop them up and serve with dipping sauce).
  • A pasta bar (a pile of pasta with a couple simple sauce options). (This also works with a base of baked potatoes).
  • Quesadillas.
  • Chips and salsa.
  • Nachos.
  • Check Costco for special bulk deals.

Remember that if you schedule the party between meals, guests won't be expecting more than appetizers!

Cheap Birthday Ideas for Adults

  • Have a throwback party for adults that involve games you played as kids. Games include wheelbarrow races, cartwheel contests, and three-legged races. Not familiar with these games? Google them online and start to practice for the party! There are reasons they are classic.
  • Play Twister. This game is fun for the participants and the onlookers.
  • Cheap wine? Turn it into something special and make it last longer by serving sangria or mulled wine.
  • Cooking. Ask each guest to bring one ingredient, then cook a meal together. Like a potluck party but with an activity built-in!
  • Breakfast-for-dinner party. Breakfast is cheaper than dinner, and breakfast for dinner is fun!
  • Have a murder mystery party or another role-playing event.

Ideas for Inexpensive Children's Parties

  • Keep It Short and Sweet. Schedule the party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. when guests won't expect a full meal.
  • Plan in Advance. Shopping last-minute is never a good way to save money. Keep your eyes open for steals and deals year-round, comparison shop online, then hide the party items until the big day.
  • Digital Invitations and Thank-Yous. Save money on paper and postage and send emails, instead.
  • Decorate Non-Party Items. Items made in party colors or themes are sometimes more expensive. Use stickers, pens, and hole punches to decorate boring napkins, paper plates, and paper party favor bags.
  • Treasure Hunt. Hide candy or extremely cheap trinkets for them to find. If the party has a space theme, wrap rocks in tinfoil and call them "moon rocks."
  • Scavenger Hunt. It takes some time and creativity to pull this off, but it's the best way to have fun without spending money.
  • Build a Fort. Have them use blankets and pillows to erect a structure.
  • Color. For children's parties, go to More Coloring Pages and print out coloring pages to keep the kids active. Download the sheets free. There are several fun patterns to choose from.
  • Play Outdoors. Organize a game of capture the flag, hide and seek, Simon Says, or a three-legged race.

Useful links:

Home Birthday Party Ideas for Kids

Party Games for 10- to 14-Year-Olds

Planning a Fabulous, Fun, and Inexpensive Birthday Party for Your 2-4 Year Old

Fun and Inexpensive Party Favors for a Two-Year-Old's Birthday Party

How to Celebrate a 50th Birthday Without Spending a Lot of Money

  • Instead of renting a photo booth (which is so fun but so so expensive), put together some props and take photos with your phones. Provide an array of hats, feather boas, adhesive mustaches, bow ties, and other goofy props.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt around town. Have them revisit settings from their past.
  • Invent some ritual or ceremony.
  • Have every guest bring a favorite memory they shared with the birthday girl or boy and share it with the group.
  • Write a list of 50 of their best qualities and put it in a dollar store frame.
  • Print up 50 memorable photos and put them in an inexpensive album.
  • Give them a 50-minute massage, pedicure, or facial.
  • Have a retro party set in the birthday boy or girl's birth year. Ask guests to dress up in costumes of that era and play all the biggest hits of that year.
  • Or how about organizing a memorial for their youth? Have guests dress all in black, have black balloons, ask each guest to bring their favorite memory.

Many of these ideas might also work for a Sweet 16 birthday... or an 80th birthday!

Free or Cheap Party Decorations

  • Print out free online templates for napkin rings, gift cards, and party favor bags. These items are available in different patterns on a several websites.
  • Make-your-own confetti or paper chains out of recycled paper.
  • Print out a customized birthday banner to display at the party. Check out Printfree.com for some great banners to use.
  • Don't use paper plates or napkins. Just do the dishes and grab a roll of paper towels.
  • Replace helium with blow-up balloons.
  • Send electronic invitations instead of paper with postage.

Send Digital Invitations and Thank-Yous

Save money on paper and postage and send emails, instead!

Places That Give You Free Stuff on Your Birthday

  • Starbucks offers a free beverage or food item.
  • Most chain restaurants offer some free menu item.
  • Denny's has a free grand slam breakfast.
  • Many bars will pour you a free shot.
  • Ben & Jerry's, Baskin-Robbins, and Cold Stone all offer free scoops of ice cream.
  • Chains that specialize in smoothies, doughnuts, bagels, and pretzels often have free birthday items.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Constance 

      2 months ago

      dd Your Comment...

    • profile image

      Selene 

      4 months ago

      Today is my birthday and, as usual, no party but I always do whatever comes to my mind so, I guess today I will be biking around with headset as loud as can be and sing along as loud as I can (I am in Finland so, this will be crazy enough to take me to jail for disturbing the peace) hahahaha

    • profile image

      queenie morgane 

      4 months ago

      well my birthday is this friday! and seriouslyyy im broke azzzzzzzz

    • profile image

      amanx 

      4 months ago

      i hate this its my birthday and its raining i have nothing to do and these hacks were no help all my plans were ruined i worst birthday ever

    • profile image

      Amber 

      19 months ago

      These suck I hate it I just moved away from everyone my birthday always sucks and I have 5 slipped disc in my back so dancing and hiking are out and I have no friends and no money.

      These are only good if you have friends what if you dont.

    • profile image

      kim zaremba 

      21 months ago

      balloons are only $.99 for 20...blow 10 up and rub on hair and stick to wall. other ten are for balloon games...such as water balloon toss in summer or squish the balloon in winter or monkey in the middle

    • Jordan West profile image

      Jordan 

      4 years ago from Denver, CO

      Good article. It'll be useful with my birthday just around the corner!

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I appreciate the support for such an important topic. There really is so much more to the world than money! Thanks for such quality comments here.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 

      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good ideas, I must say. What works for me at a party is music and dancing, and you're so right--I cherish that time more than any gift.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Very timely Christy. Money is at a premium but birthdays are a time to celebrate. Don't forget there are free concerts or free museums too.

      If you do have that party you can always add "BYO..." bring your own, whatever. We've planned a surprise party for my husband's 70th and the invitations read "no presents please, this is a celebration of life".

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 

      5 years ago from United States

      I love your ideas... Even people who are not that creative are really encouraged to chip in their ideas when it comes to mounting a birthday party (for a friend, for instance). It's more fun that way. Thanks

    • topratedgift profile image

      Kate Jacobs 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia, USA

      Nice! I really like this hub. Great ideas for those who have no money.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks for these great ideas. We get really creative when we think of how to do things totally for free. I do enjoy walks and drives. Dancing was in the back of my mind - and now it's in the front.

      With sites like Google free music and Netflix watch instantly, much more music and many more movies can be free than ever before.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Yes, if we are inventive we can find ways to save costs!

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 

      5 years ago from Malaysia

      This will come handy in this economy slowdown. There's always free or almost free thing out there if we dare to look for it.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Yes, that is exactly my point here. Thank-you!

    • profile image

      Jeremy Rawlings 

      5 years ago

      I liked the photo of the couple in the fields. Looks like it's in 3D. It goes to show not everything needs to be solved with money.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      allelsematters, I hope you are able to put together a little celebration. Enjoy the outdoors or ask a friend to help contribute toward the cake. Cakes are fun when made as a group!

    • allelsematters profile image

      Lady Jen Palven 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      Great Hub!My birthday is next month and my mom said that no party since we have to save money for a very important reason but can't help it my friends are so excited when it comes to birthdays and my problem is i don't have baking tools so that i will be the one to bake my own cake plus our place is not that big for birthday parties.And i really want to have a party to enjoy and loosen up a bit.. sigh

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Awesome, sounds like a fun time at the park! Glad you enjoyed the read and thanks for connecting.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 

      6 years ago from Austin, TX

      I like your ideas. :)

      Just going to a park and, if there's a free live gig going, or a free fireworks show, then it's going to be a superb birthday, as long as you're with your loved ones. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      MagicFive, so true. Sometimes the best ideas are ones that have no financial costs. Liking your positive attitude!

    • MAGICFIVE profile image

      MAGICFIVE 

      6 years ago from New York

      These are all great, creative ideas! Sometimes when you're short on money, you need to rely on your creativity....the funny thing is, often this produces the most memorable results!

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks julierit. I needed to cut back financially and am glad you can also benefit from the tips!

    • profile image

      julierit 

      6 years ago

      this' great! i couldn't have guessed better, considering the economic situation of my country.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Nyamache, that sounds fun! In this uncertain economy, dancing would be a great way to lift spirits!

    • Nyamache profile image

      Joshua Nyamache 

      6 years ago from Kenya

      Thanks for sharing this useful hub. I remember how I celebrated my birthday during the days I was in college without spending money. All I did was invite my friends we danced all night to our favorite music.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @vespawoolf, Yes! I believe experiences trump material gifts. Glad you agree!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 

      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      These are great ideas! Most important are the memories created and the time and attention given to your friend. Voted up!

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Nora411, now that it is nice outside you we have more options for outdoor festivities! Glad the hub helped you with the party planning!

    • Nora411 profile image

      Nora411 

      6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Great tips! I think I can even use some this for an anniversary coming up since were a little tight on cash.... beach day! Haha thanks for the ideas :) voting up and sharing!

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @dwachira, I'm pleased I could help! Hope the birthday is lots of fun.

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 

      6 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi ChristyWrites, my Son's birthday is due in two weeks and this is what i just needed, great tips, Voted up and shared.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Thelma, I am glad you find the hub useful. Saving money and focusing on fun times together is most important :) I appreciate the comment.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      These are great tips on celebrating birthdays without spending money. I could use these tips in August as I have a lot of relatives who will be celebrating their natal days. Thanks for sharing.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Mekenzie, that gingerbread contest sounds like so much fun! I appreciate that you understand the message of the hub is not about money but instead about spending time with people we really care about on our birthdays. Thank-you for the vote and great comment!

    • Mekenzie profile image

      Susan Ream 

      6 years ago from Michigan

      Christy, What a great hub. In these days many are struggling to make ends meet. Celebrations need to be about being together and cherishing the moments! We, as a family, were forced into a 'no presents' Christmas a few years back because of loss of job etc. My children rose to the occasion saying Christmas is not about presents anyway. All of the grandkids were super and never asked once about presents.

      We had a gingerbread house making contest, between each family, and the grandkids each chose a stuffed animal that had belonged to their parent or aunt/uncle. It was probably the best celebration we ever had.

      Loved your ideas and thank you for the websites. Voted Up and Awesome!

      Mekenzie

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Jamie, thanks! You really got to the heart of my hub. Experiences are so much more meaningful than material goods. I'm so glad you connected with the hub. I appreciate the vote too.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Christy, I really love this..and what a concept- focusing more on the day, having fun and making memories rather than worrying about purchasing gifts. I truly appreciate hubs like this. It is a great reminder that not everything has to be about money. Thank you for sharing this. Voting up and awesome :)

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Jane, LOL you fun girl you! I hope you have a great birthday no matter what you do.

      @KDuBarry, I agree. Debt is happening to too many people. Thanks for stopping by to read!

    • profile image

      Jane Carroll 

      6 years ago

      Great ideas...my birthday is next week...hope my family doesn't read this...LOL!

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 

      6 years ago

      Very useful; especially in this economy. What's the point of spending about $800 for birthdays if there's no money? Great and very informative.

      -KD

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Vinaya, I did not know there were that many for you. There are indeed alternatives to gifts that are lots of fun!

      @Marc, I do not like how commercial birthdays have become. Some families limit gifts to price limits as ways to prevent the over-spending. Trying to buy affection is really a sad thing isn't it.

      @Teaches, yes money is short for so many people these days. I am trying to come up with some economical ideas in many areas of my life. It was nice to share to some of my ideas and have them well-received! Thank-you for your great comment.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      You should have published this hub in April. I celebrated three birthdays, including mine, and I ran out of money.

      But anyway, your ideas are very interesting.

    • Marc Babineau profile image

      Marc Babineau 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, Ontario, The Seaway City

      One problem with being a part of a large family is having to buy so many birthday presents during the year, and then the year-end extravaganza of Christmas present buying. Many people have to buy multiple presents each month, and some don't know when to say when, spending above their means trying to buy other's love/

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      With the economy affecting many families, this is a great way to still celebrate in style. I think all of them are wonderful, but being a movie buff, I would really enjoy the movie theme. Thanks for sharing and helping others to know it is still possible to have a great time.

    • ChristyWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @lovedoctor, yes it really can be fun to just hang out with friends and family! Those are many of my happiest memories. Thanks for adding about the picnic basket, great idea!

      @Sunshine, Thank-you. I like that you make your birthday a 3-day event! I think some people are too focused on the material gifts rather than the activities and it is nice we think alike.

      @Jackie, Thanks for your great compliments! How nice. I do try hard to produce quality work and it is nice to be noticed by you. I really appreciate your kind words.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 

      6 years ago

      These are fantastic ideas without having to spend a fortune! A picnic at the park or beach is a great way to have fun. There are cute picnic baskets you can buy that already come with color assorted plates, cups and utensils. Just pack some sandwiches and cold drinks and you're pretty much set. The movie theater experience sounds awesome! Just gather your closest friend and everyone can pitch in for pizza, soda and beer. Great hub!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Excellent ideas Christy! I'm a huge fan of birthday's and my birthday is actually my favorite holiday and I celebrate the day before, day of and day after. There are countless ways to celebrate without spending a fortune. As long as you are spending the time with people you love, dancing in your living room or taking a long walk are ways to celebrate. Your ideas are superb!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Voted up and across. You put so much work into your hubs and they are all great. Sharing this one too. I love it. We should always try to get around spending money and put our love in our gifts. You tell it well!

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