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Creative Ways to Celebrate Birthdays With No Money

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.

If you're low on cash, don't despair: You can still help your loved one celebrate a very happy birthday with these tips.

If you're low on cash, don't despair: You can still help your loved one celebrate a very happy birthday with these tips.

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.
A picnic is a fun, easy, inexpensive gift idea.

A picnic is a fun, easy, inexpensive gift idea.

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.

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).
Why not have a simple party with some board or card games and snacks?

Why not have a simple party with some board or card games and snacks?

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.
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Read More From Holidappy

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

Cakes can be expensive, but there are other dessert options.

Cakes can be expensive, but there are other dessert options.

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...

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.

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.
Homemade gifts or treats are cheap and may be more memorable than store-bought ones.

Homemade gifts or treats are cheap and may be more memorable than store-bought ones.

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!

Silly String is a fun party idea that won't break your budget.

Silly String is a fun party idea that won't break your budget.

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 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.

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.