Kids’ birthday parties on a budget

August 1, 2019

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Planning a birthday party for a little one can put a big dent in your bank account — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Parenting and travel writer Guiomar Ochoa, of, has a few tips and party ideas to keep costs low and spirits high on your child’s big day.

Host your party during off-meal hours

One thing that can add up quickly is food — especially if your child is young and parents stay for the party. Before you know it, a simple fete for 15 friends turns into lunch for 50 and a sheet cake the size of your kitchen counter. Ochoa said one way to cut back on expenses is to plan a party at off-meal hours, such as 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., so a meal is not expected. Stock up on snacks, have enough cake for everyone and call it a day.

Take advantage of the weather

Spring and summer babies have it easier than their cold-weather counterparts, since holding a party outside is a much less-expensive option than renting an indoor space. If you have access to a backyard, water activities, such as a sprinkler and a bucket of water balloons, are always a hit. You can also host a party at a local splash park, playground or recreation center. Some offer picnic tables and a covered area for a small fee, and the kids are guaranteed to be amused (and tired).

Plan a pizza party

Hosting a pizza-themed party where the kids can toss, top and eat their own pies is a great way to entertain and feed a small crowd. If you don’t feel like having your kitchen decorated in flour and pepperoni, Ochoa recommends 7th Hill Pizza in D.C.’s Palisades neighborhood. For $16.95 a person, the kids can design their own pizzas. The restaurant will take care of the ingredients, the cooking and the cleaning.

Go retro

Don’t forget about the places where you once had your birthday parties. Ochoa said bowling alleys and rolling skating rinks are still a lot of fun, and they are a lot less expensive than newer indoor adventure options. She recommends checking out Fort Myer Bowling Center, which provides everything you need for a two-hour party (including a meal) for $13 a person, as well as the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, which charges a $70 fee for rolling skating parties.

The following two options are a little pricier, but are still relatively inexpensive compared to other popular party spots in the D.C. area. Plus, the fees support a good cause:

Make it a movie theme

If your child is a movie buff, screen their favorite flick. At The Avalon Theater, a nonprofit film center on Connecticut Avenue NW, party hosts can rent the second-floor theater on weekend mornings, bring a movie to show and invite 100 of their closest friends for a $300 fee.

“If you have a large group, this is where you want to go,” Ochoa said.

Young ones can hum loudly to their favorite singalong; older kids can kick back to “Star Wars.” Ochoa has even heard of parents hiring characters — or dressing up, themselves — to add to the theme. And because the party rentals are limited to a 10 a.m. showing, you’re off the hook for providing lunch. Just remember the cupcakes.

Hot tip: Fire station birthdays

Many fire stations in the D.C. area host birthday parties — perfect for engine enthusiasts. Packages often include a dedicated room, a fire safety talk and gear demonstration, a chance to climb into the truck, helmets and/or goody bags for the kids and access to a kitchen for any food you want to bring in. The fee, usually around $250, supports your local fire station.

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