10 Over-The-Top Kid’s Birthday Party Ideas On A Budget, For Pizza-&-Cake Moms

When I was a kid, birthday parties included the basics: a store-bought cake (if you were lucky, an ice cream Fudgie the Whale one from Carvel), a goody bag including tchotchkes from Oriental Trading Company, and one of three activities — rollerskating, laser tag, or a slumber party. Today, living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen a trend towards birthday parties falling closer in line budget-wise to weddings rather than a classic ’90s birthday party. And while we would all love to throw our kids a Kardashian/Jenner-level event where guests walk in through a life-size version of our child’s head (a la Stormiworld), it’s not gonna happen.

However, there are budget-friendly options that can emulate a little bit of the “wow factor” of some of these over-the-top birthday parties. I’ve got 10 of them for you, based on some of the birthday party extra-ness Angelenos have shared with me.

“We were invited for a puppy party… literally the mom brought in puppies for the party. It felt like ‘Bridesmaids’ 2.0” – Cindy, party guest

Puppies are universally crowd-pleasers. However, finding a company that does this may be tough. Plus, of course, all that cuteness comes at a cost. If you’re planning a backyard party, why not extend the invite to four-legged friends? Add in the caveat that it has to be pups that get along with both people and other dogs — you know, the kind that thrives at the dog park — and we’re sure you’ll get a few pooches that the kids will love. Purchase a large dog playpen like this one from Amazon if you want to keep the dogs contained.

“I’ve never seen a cake like this. It was a literal life-sized version of the birthday boy. It was made by a company that creates elaborate wedding cakes, and they had their own staff to cut it.” – Alex, caterer

Yes, a cake sculpture is impressive. But your little one is already adorable, so why not use a cake with their actual face on it? Most grocery stores with a bakery will do photo cakes if you send them a photo. Or, for an even less expensive option, order this edible cake topper from Walmart and pick up a plain sheet cake to put it on.

If you do want a multi-tier cake that will wow your guests, here’s another option: fake it! The company Fun Cake (you may have seen them on Shark Tank) makes fake cakes that look real — they’re covered in fondant — but are actually made of styrofoam. Once the candles are blown out, the cake can be wheeled into the kitchen, and there, you can cut inexpensive sheet cake to serve. Genius.

“I was just at a kid’s birthday with a full petting zoo. They brought in pens, woodchips, and tons of animals, including goats, pigs, and horses. I hope my kids aren’t expecting the same!” – Lindsay, party guest

If you’ve got the space and finances, a petting zoo can be a hit. But also, it could leave behind quite a stench. Here’s a stink-free way to entertain the kiddos: Have some helpful adults dress up like farm animals. Between this pig costume, this cow one, and this chicken, you’ve got yourself a party, all for around $100. (Bonus: Think of the blackmail videos you’ll get of your costumed friends and/or family in full barnyard creature regalia.)

“I can’t even imagine what my cousin spent on balloons for my nephew’s second birthday. To enter the party, you walked through a balloon tunnel that must have been a quarter mile long.” – Andie, party guest

Balloons have always been associated with birthday parties, but now people are hiring entire companies to create giant balloon displays. The good news? There is a middle ground. It’s between spending thousands on balloon decor and having a few random ones floating on the floor throughout your home. You can DIY balloon arches, and it’s achievable even for the creatively inept — promise. TikTok mom Jennie DiMatteo (@jenniedimatteo) shows you how in this video below.

“Mini horses seem to be all the rage at these Beverly Hills birthday parties.” – Brooke, party guest

Mini horses are cute as can be, but at around $500/hour, they can blow a birthday budget real quickly. Luckily, another solution exists for your pony-obsessed birthday babe: PonyCycle. The first of their kind, these ride-on toys are powered by human motions. They are available from Amazon and come in three different sizes suitable for ages 3 and up. Once the party is over, either save them for your own kids or resell them on a place like Facebook Marketplace to make back some of your money.

“I was just a party where they had a really famous singer come and sing about three songs to the kids. Honestly, I don’t think any of the kids knew who she was!” – Ashley, photographer

We’re all for a party that caters to adults, but at the end of the day, it’s about the birthday boy or girl. You can have your kid’s favorite songs sung by a performer, and they’ll be just as happy as if the original artist was there themselves. If you have a local theater or playhouse, ask if you can put up a posting that you are looking for someone to perform at your child’s birthday. This is an easy way to find talent at an affordable price!

“My friend just had an entire Ferris wheel bought into her backyard for her 4-year-old’s birthday party. It was pretty impressive.” – Harlie, party guest

A Ferris wheel is cool and all, but… do you really want to be able to see into your next-door neighbor’s backyard? Who knows what goes on over there?! Kidding aside, this lofty investment is the ultimate one for a carnival-themed birthday, but there is more to a carnival than rides. Focus on the game aspect, and you’ll keep kids active throughout the entire party. With some ping-pong balls and fish bowls from a dollar store (adding goldfish is up to you), you can easily create a goldfish toss game. Similarly, cheap paper towel stands and pool rings can create a ring toss. As always, Amazon is to the rescue. You can buy bean bag toss games or can toss games for less than $20.

“My daughter just attended a party where they flew twelve 10-year-old girls to Las Vegas to see a show and then came back that same night.” – Amanda, mother of party guest

I don’t have a solution to making airfare affordable enough to fly your party guests anywhere, but you can certainly transform your place into another city by having a themed party. Whether it’s Paris or Las Vegas,

affordable decorations can bring the city to you! How cute is the Las Vegas backdrop for less than $10? Have fun with the theme, and make sure to incorporate it into your food as well! Macarons (Trader Joe’s has some good ones) are perfect for your Paris soiree.

“I am surprised by how many children’s birthday parties we are hired for. We create elaborate charcuterie boards, dessert towers, and passed hors d’oeuvre for kids’ parties when half of the guests are still breastfeeding!” – Robert, cater waiter

When did it all get so fancy? Before you get overwhelmed, know that pizza and cake never go out of style. But if you want to up the ante, you can create a candy charcuterie board that will surely wow your guest. While it looks impressive, it’s actually quite simple. Just follow the hashtag #candycharcuterieboard on TikTok for tons of DIY inspiration.

At the end of the day, kids are easy to please and appreciate the simpler things in life (you know, the whole “buy a kid a gift, and their favorite part is the box”). With these tips, you can impress your guests and still send your children to college!

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