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.
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.
- Fruit, cookie, or candy kabobs.
- 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).
- Chips and salsa.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 22, 2020:
These are all great ideas, Christy, to keep costs down when celebrating birthdays or other events like anniversaries. People are getting creative right now during the pandemic. Virtual parties are becoming the norm.
Deborah, on July 21, 2020:
I want to celebrate my birthday pool party or should I go to the club at my house. I don't feel like going spending money.
clairecutie on June 29, 2020:
i dont know how to make a party this is awsome now how to make a party
Brynlee on June 25, 2020:
this is awesome!!! these presents really helped
Ruby on May 30, 2020:
Great ideas thank you so much this helped my imagination run away!!!
Caitlin Lydon on April 04, 2020:
I find this really interesting and helpful but It should have more ideas. Also you could ask different people what they would do for there boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife. But it's a really good sight
InnaYazu on March 22, 2020:
thank you. now, on quarantine, its even harder
agreement on January 07, 2020:
useful ideas i like them.
firstname.lastname@example.org on October 01, 2019:
Very nice and amazing ideas shared here. Good work keep it up.
swetha on March 19, 2019:
good. it is very helpful. I like your ideas
Constance on September 21, 2018:
dd Your Comment...
Selene on August 13, 2018:
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
queenie morgane on August 13, 2018:
well my birthday is this friday! and seriouslyyy im broke azzzzzzzz
amanx on July 24, 2018:
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
Amber on April 25, 2017:
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.
kim zaremba on February 26, 2017:
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 from Denver, CO on July 29, 2014:
Good article. It'll be useful with my birthday just around the corner!
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 15, 2013:
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 from Upstate New York on December 12, 2013:
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.
Mary Craig from New York on December 12, 2013:
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 from United States on December 12, 2013:
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
Kate Jacobs from Atlanta, Georgia, USA on August 23, 2013:
Nice! I really like this hub. Great ideas for those who have no money.
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 28, 2013:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 19, 2013:
Yes, if we are inventive we can find ways to save costs!
KenWu from Malaysia on March 09, 2013:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 01, 2013:
Yes, that is exactly my point here. Thank-you!
Jeremy Rawlings on January 28, 2013:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 30, 2012:
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!
Lady Jen Palven from Philippines on September 28, 2012:
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
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 08, 2012:
Awesome, sounds like a fun time at the park! Glad you enjoyed the read and thanks for connecting.
iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on September 04, 2012:
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. :)
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2012:
MagicFive, so true. Sometimes the best ideas are ones that have no financial costs. Liking your positive attitude!
MAGICFIVE from New York on August 25, 2012:
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!
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 15, 2012:
Thanks julierit. I needed to cut back financially and am glad you can also benefit from the tips!
julierit on August 14, 2012:
this' great! i couldn't have guessed better, considering the economic situation of my country.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 08, 2012:
Nyamache, that sounds fun! In this uncertain economy, dancing would be a great way to lift spirits!
Joshua Nyamache from Kenya on August 07, 2012:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 24, 2012:
@vespawoolf, Yes! I believe experiences trump material gifts. Glad you agree!
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on July 24, 2012:
These are great ideas! Most important are the memories created and the time and attention given to your friend. Voted up!
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 12, 2012:
@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 from Chicago, IL on July 11, 2012:
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!
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 22, 2012:
@dwachira, I'm pleased I could help! Hope the birthday is lots of fun.
Danson Wachira from Nairobi, Kenya on June 21, 2012:
Hi ChristyWrites, my Son's birthday is due in two weeks and this is what i just needed, great tips, Voted up and shared.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 18, 2012:
@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 from Germany and Philippines on June 17, 2012:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 30, 2012:
@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!
Susan Ream from Michigan on May 29, 2012:
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!
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 28, 2012:
@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 from Texas on May 27, 2012:
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 :)
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2012:
@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!
Jane Carroll on May 26, 2012:
Great ideas...my birthday is next week...hope my family doesn't read this...LOL!
KDuBarry03 on May 26, 2012:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 26, 2012:
@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 from Nepal on May 26, 2012:
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 from Cornwall, Ontario, The Seaway City on May 26, 2012:
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/
Dianna Mendez on May 25, 2012:
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.
Christy Birmingham (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 24, 2012:
@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.
lovedoctor926 on May 23, 2012:
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!
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on May 23, 2012:
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 from the beautiful south on May 23, 2012:
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!