In the months leading up to my daughter’s second birthday, I started to squirrel away party ideas. The theme for this year was clear – Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood! My daughter is obsessed with the Mr. Rogers inspired show. I’ve actually heard her whisper, “Daniel Tiger” in her sleep.
I clicked through websites, and browsed party stores to find ideas, while keeping my budget in mind.
Here’s how I created a memorable birthday party for my toddler without stressing out and over-spending:
1. Guest List
Don’t feel obligated to invite every friend from daycare, every neighborhood kid, or every second cousin, twice removed. My husband and I chose to invite just our close family, making for a manageable list.
Pick a time that will work with the birthday kid’s schedule. My daughter takes an afternoon nap, so we started her party at 11 a.m. This gave us time to chat with the guests, snack and play before lunch.
Picking an end time may be helpful, depending upon the age of your guests. Keep your audience in mind, and if you think that setting an end time is necessary, make sure to indicate it on the invitation.
If you’re not a paper crafter, don’t start now. There are other options. You can go the old fashioned route and buy fill-in the blank invitations, you can find free printable invitations, you can create a photo invitation online, or your can forego the paper completely and send out an eVite.
I used a photo invitation. I loaded a few photos onto the Walgreens website and chose a template. I even found a 15% off promo code for the Walgreens site (don’t forget to check RetailMeNot for coupon codes). I was able to put the invitation together and pick-up the finished product the next day.
I bought a crowd pleaser – shredded turkey from Cedar Creek meat market in Appleton. We also served potato salad, macaroni & cheese, fruit pizza, veggies, cheese & crackers and punch. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! Go with the favorites.
I love baking, but I’m not great at decorating. I wanted to make my daughter a Daniel Tiger cake. I followed the directions from a tutorial on PBSKids.org. I thought my daughter would yell, “Daniel Tiger!” upon seeing it. Instead, she gave us a blank look and then said, “Cat.” Well, close enough!
If you are not into baking, there’s no shame in buying a cake. This won’t save you money, but it will save you time and frustration.
6. Entertainment & Music
I only had my 2 year-old and her 4 year-old cousin to entertain. They kept themselves busy by running after each other, stealing food off of the table and playing outside.
If you’re having a party with a lot of kids, having entertainment might be necessary. You can provide a craft, or a simple game. If you’re not the type that needs structure, there is nothing wrong with a little free play. Bubbles, chalk and crayons go a long way!
As for music, the public library is a great resource. Or, check your cable provider’s kids’ music channels. We played a Muppets tribute album, called The Green Album, featuring popular artists covering songs like, “Rainbow Connection” and my daughter’s favorite, “Mahna Mahna.”
We only invited close family, so it was a given that everyone would bring a gift. Even if we had asked people not to bring gifts, they would have. When guests bring gifts, we open all the gifts and thank everyone in-person.
When having a party with friends as well, it’s understandable if you don’t want anyone to feel obligated to bring a gift. If that’s the case, indicate “no gifts” on your invitation. If someone happens to sneak a gift in (there’s always one!), open it once everyone has left, and follow-up with a thank you card.
8. Goodie Bags
I’ve read several blog posts about parents who want to ban goodie bags. I understand why they’re unappealing. What parent needs another cheap toy lying on the floor of the car (you know that’s where those toys end up!)? If you don’t want to make goodie bags, some guests might actually thank you! If you make goodie bags, don’t go overboard. I found some free Daniel Tiger printables at a website called Peonies and Poppyseeds. One of the printables was a favor container that looks like a French fry box. I stuffed glittery tissue paper and candy in them, and avoided the cheapy toys. Of course, you can substitute candy for healthier options like raisins or fruit pouches.
9. Decorations and Paper Goods
I saved money by using more free printables from Peonies and Poppyseeds, which not only included the favor boxes, but also cupcake wrappers, tent labels and little circles with the Daniel Tiger characters on them.
I created a happy birthday banner using the tent labels and some leftover ribbon I had. I cut out the circles and glued them onto toothpicks to stick into the cupcakes. I cut out the cupcake wrappers and taped them around the cupcakes.
The printables required a lot of cutting. I felt like I was in elementary school, doing an art project. It was worth the money I saved though.
The plates, cups and napkins I used were either leftovers from other parties or purchased at Target or The Dollar Tree. I browsed party stores, but actually purchased less expensive options elsewhere. Avoid getting utensils on the cheap though; splurge on quality stuff so the spoons don’t break off in the potato salad! If you have enough to accommodate your guests, use your everyday flatware.
Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered! No one expects you to be Martha Stewart. Besides, even Martha Stewart has minions to assist her. I enlisted the assistance of my husband to do some of the cutting, and my mom and mother-in-law made side dishes and helped clean the house.
I hope these tips are helpful to you when you plan your toddler’s birthday party. Don’t lose sight of why you’re throwing the party. Keep things simple and enjoy watching your little one celebrate. And remember, memorialize the day by taking lots of photos with you, your guests and the birthday kid.
Not sure if you can pull off a Birthday at home? Check out our Birthday Guide for venue ideas. Here are more Birthday ideas: Magic Themed Birthday or a Badger Birthday. Have more ideas or tips? Share them below!
Meghan Petters is a Wisconsin native, and currently lives in the Fox Cities with her husband and spunky toddler. She spends her workdays in a gray, water-stained cubicle, drinking skinny vanilla lattes, attempting to make sense of the legal system. Her dream job is to make mix tapes for her friends all day on her Sony dual cassette boombox. Meghan enjoys music and movies, baking, road trips, writing, photography, daydreaming, getting her feet rubbed and, most recently, coloring with her daughter.
Read more from Meghan here.