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They come around once every year — per kid. Ideally, they’re supposed to be fun, festive, meaningful for you, memorable for your child, a blast for their friends, and at least tolerable for the grown-ups they bring in tow. And don’t forget Instagram-worthy.
In reality, kids’ birthday parties can usually be summed up as chaotic, messy and expensive. As you clean up the remnants of wrapping paper and desperately push pieces of leftover cake on reluctant guests as they filter out, you’re likely being rushed out the door by a party venue manager who just wants to get the next group in. You cringe as you pay the bill and make your exit, hoping it was all worth it. 
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According to a survey by BabyCenter, 26% of parents reported spending around $500 on a first birthday party alone. As far as social media, celebrities and other wealthy parents are concerned, a kid’s party that costs more than your wedding did is perfectly normal.
The event planning and services industry has jumped all over this. One kids party venue franchise, KitCreate Studio, pitches to potential franchisees to “get in on the action” of a $48 billion annual child-related services industry. “Americans are working longer hours than ever before. With long work hours come busy calendars and parents that don’t necessarily have the time to plan birthday parties.
“As a result, they turn to child entertainment franchises to help them create memorable birthdays and events for their children,” the KidCreate franchise website says. “The potential for birthday party business opportunities is enormous.” 
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If you’re ready to buck the pressure and bring your child’s party back down to earth, read on. You can indeed throw a memorable, fun, and, yes — Instagram-worthy — party for $100 or less. Here’s how.
Often the biggest expense of the party, this is the first area to stop the spend. Venues like indoor play gyms, roller skating rinks, or a good old Chuck E. Cheese pizza party can typically run from around $200 to well over $500, depending on your number of guests and add-on services.
Many venues lure you in with the promise of making it easy by handling all the setup and cleanup, plus dangling extras like invitations, decorations and favors as part of the package. This is the busy parent siren call you must resist. If you can be strong in this moment, the rest will be easy.
The first and most obvious free place to host a party is your home or yard. If that’s not doable, consider asking a close friend or relative. Park picnic shelters are another great option that are typically free and can be reserved in advance. You can dress them up with decorations, and your house is spared from the impact of a party hurricane. For summer birthdays, skip the water park and set up a party picnic at a public splash park. 
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Since you were smart and skipped the party venue and all its upsells, you’re now free to choose your own invitations that will undoubtedly be more personal and representative of your child anyway.
There are plenty of places online where you can create and customize free invitations. Try sites like Paperless Post or Canva, which offers loads of cute templates and allow you to design your own invite from scratch. Send them to your guests online or by email and you’ve paid zero dollars for paper products and postage.
When it comes to parties, the dollar store is your best friend. Twenty-five bucks can easily fill your space with garlands, banners, pom-poms, balloons, streamers and party hats, or crafty and creative decor you dream up yourself. For an outdoor picnic party, all you need are a few plastic tablecloths and balloons. 
If you want to keep little hands occupied, grab some fun craft supplies and have them make their own garlands, collect twigs to decorate with tissue paper flowers, or any of the countless adorable ideas for DIY party decorations you can find on Pinterest. 
For favors, use your extra decorations to garnish bottles of bubbles for guests or mini containers planted with flower or herb seedlings to grab on their way out the door.
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The timing of your party can make or break your food budget. Avoid mealtime hours around lunch or dinner to avoid having to put out a filling spread. Light snacks and beverages will keep your guests happy until cake time. 
If you do want to include a more substantial meal, a make-your-own-pizza bar is a fun activity that will keep the kids busy and allow them to eat their creations. Stores like Trader Joe’s sell inexpensive pre-made fresh dough that you can quarter into personal-size pizzas that can go into the oven in batches at a time. 
Or put out a spread of finger foods like mini corn dogs, chicken nuggets, sliders and fruit kabobs that are budget-friendly and fun to eat.
Buying a fancy cake from a bakery can easily set you back at least $50. Fortunately, you don’t need ‘Great British Bake Off’ skills to whip up an adorably charming birthday cake. And since most kids don’t have particularly fancy or sophisticated tastes, a grocery store boxed cake mix is an easy crowd pleaser.
If you already have a cake pan, go ahead and splurge on a simple set of cake decorating supplies ($10 on Amazon) to take your cake up a notch.
By the time the party ends and everyone filters out, any unclaimed leftover cake won’t seem like such a waste. On top of that, closing out a birthday celebration with more personal and homemade touches will help you check the ‘meaningful’ and ‘memorable’ boxes as well.
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