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How to have a frugal birthday celebration

Jane Berry 3rd Apr 2023 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Welcome to the Frugal Column, where I aim to inspire you to live your best life without breaking the bank. You can follow my award-winning blog Shoestring Cottage and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I am also the author of Extreme Frugality: Save Money Like Your Grandma.

When money is tight and you have a birthday or anniversary coming up, it’s easy to feel down-hearted. You may think that you cannot afford to treat a loved one to properly mark the occasion. However, there are many ways to have a frugal birthday celebration, and I hope these ideas will spark some inspiration.


It is the thought that counts

frugal birthday celebrations

I know it is a cliché, but just showing a friend or relative that you have thought of them can be enough. A small, inexpensive gift that is well thought out is likely to be better received than something more expensive that is ill-considered. 

For example, you can spend a lot on a cream tea gift experience – upwards of £40. But the recipient of your gift is likely to have to pay to travel to the venue. A thoughtful alternative might be to invite them to your home for a home-made cream tea, or take it to them! 

I once made a friend a cream tea hamper for her birthday and delivered it to her door. In the weeks before, I found a pretty vintage cup and saucer and a wicker basket in the charity shop. As her birthday approached, I bought some upmarket tea bags, jam, scones and clotted cream in the supermarket and put them in a gift box. She was really touched that I had put in so much effort, and the fact that I had only spent £15 in total didn’t matter.

The constraints of a tight budget can actually make you more creative, so approach it as a fun challenge to have a frugal birthday celebration everyone can appreciate.


Get creative

If you are into crafts, it is likely that you can make a range of fabulous gifts for friends and family. You can knit or sew little plush toys for children, make soaps or candles, or create beautiful cards – hopefully using materials that you already have or can source cheaply. You could also paint or embroider a picture or knit a throw.

However, you don’t have to have any artistic talents to make home-made gifts. Here are some ideas for thoughtful presents pretty much anyone can put together.


Cheap but effective frugal birthday gift ideas

  • Print off some nice photos of you and the birthday person and put them in a frame.
  • Make a memory book. I did this for my dad’s 90th birthday. I got copies of photos from various periods and told the story of his life. It included pictures of his parents and sisters, his wedding day to Mum, each of my siblings, who all wrote him a letter, and all the grandchildren. He loved it and shed a few tears as he went through it.
  • If you are buying for a football fan, look on eBay to see if you can source football programmes from the year of the recipient’s birth. I found some West Ham ones for just a few pounds for my brother’s birthday when I was doing a whole year of buying only second hand. You can do this for other sports and activities too, of course.
  • Make chutneys, jams, biscuits, sweets or cakes. Whatever your offerings are, present them nicely in a gift box or basket and tie with ribbons or lace.
  • Grow some plants from seeds or cuttings. This requires some forward planning, of course. Look out for attractive second-hand planters in charity shops and at boot sales to put them in. Talking of which, you can often buy plants cheaply at car boot sales, so if you don’t have the time or skills to grow your own, this can be a cost-effective alternative to buying from a garden centre.
  • For children especially, consider buying second hand. When my kids were small, they had a lot of things purchased from car boots, classified adverts and charity shops. They didn’t seem to mind! These days, Facebook selling groups are excellent places to find pre-loved toys.


Frugal gatherings for adults

You don’t have to hire a venue and caterers to throw a good adult party. When I was growing up, the most glamorous parties were held in the local church hall with all the catering done by relatives. If you have a lot of people to gather together, it is still worth exploring church halls, scout huts and parish council community halls.

But mostly, parties were small events held at home. As well as keeping the cost low, you have everything you need in your own home and can take your time getting ready and clearing up. 

You can really go to town on the decorations to make your home party ready without breaking the bank. I have reusable fabric bunting in a variety of colours that comes out for any frugal birthday celebration. A balloon arch kit is usually around a tenner and is very effective.

A display of photographs of the birthday girl or boy always goes down well, especially cute baby ones and embarrassing teenage fashion statements.


Party food and drink

If you are catering, set a budget and keep it simple. A big pot of curry with rice and lots of pitta bread will fill people up, or you could make a high tea with sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps and cakes.

For an evening party, you can get away with providing just nibbles and soft drinks, and request that your guests bring a bottle. After all, it is the getting together that is important, not how posh your canapes are.

Alternatively, make your frugal birthday celebration a pot luck supper, where each guest brings a dish. These are often the best feasts of all.


Children’s parties

frugal birthday cake

There can be an element of one upmanship with children’s parties. Some parents pay a fortune for entertainers and bouncy castles, whilst others take the whole party to a soft play centre or the zoo. These are all very expensive options when you have a small budget.

A small party at home or in the garden won’t break the bank, and there are loads of fun activities you can do.

My children used to love old school party games, like pass the parcel, musical statues and pin the tail on the donkey.

Other fun things include pizza making (let them put toppings on ready made pizza bases), decorating fairy cakes, and various sticking and glueing type craft activities. Buy crafts supplies from £1 shops.

Again, keep food simple. Kids are fussy, so plain cheese or jam sandwiches usually go down well, as do crisps, mini sausages, cucumber and carrot sticks, sausage rolls and Party Rings.

Supermarkets offer a range of inexpensive birthday cakes, or you can make your own and decorate it with as many sweets as you can fit on! 

A favourite with my daughters that didn’t test my limited cake making skills was a Barbie cake. This was very simple. I made a sponge cake in a pudding bowl, sliced it horizontally and filled it with jam. This then became Barbie’s skirt. I pulled the legs off a cheap plastic version of Barbie, then pushed her body into the skirt. This was decorated with buttercream icing and jelly sweets. 

These are just some ideas to have a frugal birthday celebration. Once you let your creative juices flow, I am sure you will come up with loads more. Have fun!


Do you have any tips one how to have a frugal birthday celebration? Leave them in the comments below!

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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