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8 ideas for a fun, budget-friendly first birthday party

Oct. 28, 2013 at 8:03 PM ET

Sure, her first birthday party is more for you than for her. But just because she won’t remember it doesn’t mean you don’t want to go all out! Here’s how to celebrate this important milestone without blowing the mortgage money in the process. (Hint: Save the pony rides for when she’s older!)

Keep the guest list small
The easiest way to keep party costs down is to keep the guest list under control. Consider inviting only family or capping the list at 15 people or so. Think about your ratio of adults to kids, too. Adults eat and drink more than kids do, making them more expensive guests overall.

Save trees, save money
—Yes, stationary stores are addictive and the invitations inside them—especially the ones for first birthday parties—are irresistible. But invitations, envelopes and stamps can get spendy. Instead of splurging (spending both time and money) on paper invites, send a digital invite from e-vite.com or pingg.com where you can customize your missive with a gorgeous smiling picture of the birthday girl or boy. Digital invites mean you don’t waste time calling all the non-RSVPers too.

Morning parties save money
If your party runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., guests will expect lunch in addition to all the birthday cake and other goodies you’re providing. If instead you plan the party in the morning or in the late afternoon, at times that don’t overlap with a major meal, you can get away with serving snacks and nibbles since guests will have already eaten. If you do want to serve a meal, consider that breakfast with an assortment of bagels, coffee and OJ is often a cheaper option than lunch. Whatever you choose, be sure to think about how many adults and children you’ll be hosting so you can plan for both big and small appetites.

Buy two cakes
Get one small, pretty cake for baby to enjoy all to herself (even a gorgeous cupcake would work) and get another larger, less expensive sheet cake for your guests. Baby’s small cake is likely going to be in every single picture, and then once the singing’s done will be smashed by her little hand. You’ll want it to look great, but not be a huge budget buster since she’s the only one who’ll eat it.

Pick plain paper
Consider buying most of your plates, cups, napkins, streamers and tablecloths in classic solid colors instead of an ultra-specific Elmo, princess or other character themes. Simpler paper products are often less expensive in the first place and then you can also reuse the extras on other occasions. Or, buy just the cake plate or just the napkins with the character and coordinate with matching solid color paper products for the rest.

Photos make it personal (for cheap)
Decorate your space by printing up your favorite family shots on your home printer and putting them in frames around the party space. For added specialness, find pictures of her with her cousins, playgroup friends or anyone else who’s attending the party.

Think ahead for goody bags
Goodie bags are great fun to go home with, but amassing all the goodies that go inside can get expensive. In the weeks before your party, have goody bag treats on the brain as you do your regular errands. Check out the clearance rack at your favorite department or crafts store and stock up on inexpensive little toys, coloring books, bubbles and boxes of crayons when you see them, making sure whatever you buy is safe for little hands. You can store away any extras for next year.

Go easy on the gifts
Chances are if your one year old really needs it, you’ve bought it for her already. Don’t feel pressured into picking up another dozen things, or something big just because. Give her a few little things to open on the big day (for the photos) and make a contribution to her college fund if you really must spend. She’s going to be telling you exactly what she wants soon enough!

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