9 DIY Birthday Party Secrets You Never Knew

Warning: Planning a DIY party is not for the faint of heart. Proceed with caution, because once you start, there is no going back.

We live in a day and age of Pinterest, Tumblr, blogs, apps, and more, many of which are geared towards the DIY obsessed. Everything is at our fingertips, and honestly, we don’t even need an ounce of thought to come up with a lot of this stuff. Sure, it’s very well possible that we’re just too exhausted to plan our own parties, but I like to think it’s because we are being investigative geniuses.

All you need is a goal,  a creative mindset, and a computer.

I will admit that because I am an artist, I feel that it’s my duty to live up to the creative expectations. I will also admit that although it can be time consuming, I absolutely love it. Perhaps it is because it is something that my mother did for us when we were younger and it’s something that I want to carry on. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m an art junky and am a sucker for anything that I can put together.

One of my favorite things to do with my kiddos is plan a fun and creative birthday party with them. The theme is picked and I set out to find ideas to pull everything together. I’m not a professional party planner by any means. Actually, I’m pretty far from it. I’m just a mom trying to keep up with a trend and throw my kids an event that they will enjoy. In order to help other moms that are experiencing their first birthday party or those that are wanting to transition to the DIY trend, I am including some helpful tips, along with a break down of my daughter’s most recent DIY movie theater party.

DIY birthday party planning tips ideas

Helpful tips for throwing a DIY party:

1. Give yourself a budget

Ask yourself how much money you want to invest. We typically have our parties at home to save on cost, so we can splurge on a lot of the decorative items. Once you have a budget you can decide what type of supplies are needed to create your DIY creations and where to go for all of your shopping.

2. The perfect invitation: One word…Etsy

If you haven’t jumped on the Etsy band wagon, you need to. It’s a DIY haven of artists and craftsmen/women from around the world. You can honestly find anything and everything that your heart desires here. For me, this allows me to have a more personal touch. If I’m not making my own invitation or if I can’t find a free printable online, then Etsy is my go-to place. One of my favorite new features of Etsy is their automatic digital download. You can purchase your perfect invitation ranging from $3.00-$15.00. It’s easy, and once purchased, you are sent a pdf with your invitation. Simply print out your cards on some cardstock and voila!

Don’t have the time for printing invitations? Join in on the digital trend. Make an event on Facebook or send an invitation through email. The nice thing about this is it saves on postage, finding addresses, and allows you to follow up easily with RSVPs.

3. Creating a Plan

Who would have thought that there was once a day when men and women needed to come up with ideas on their own. Who had the time?! Well, if you’re a mom like me then you’ve definitely heard of Pinterest. If not, I’m sorry, because once you start your adventure there you won’t stop…EVER. However, if addiction is not your thing, then Tublr is another favorite of mine. These two websites are where I do ALL of my party planning. I create a board or a page specifically for my girls and then I “pin” away. Because life can be hectic, this is the perfect way for me to plan.

DIY birthday party tips

4. Searching for the goods

Once you have all of your ideas saved on your Pinterest board, you can begin creating. This is where you can either save money or spend money. I cross my fingers and hope that I save. To start, seek out your crafty and creative friends. Ask if they are available to help or see if they are up for a trade. If money is an issue, perhaps you can return the favor by offering a service for them. I always tell my friends that I work for cupcakes and Starbucks. Perhaps they will, too!

Although, if you don’t have that artsy friend or know of a baking diva, don’t worry, because there is still an alternative to forking out a ton of cash.

5. Shop local

Whatever you do, avoid the party stores if you can. The items are overpriced and cheap quality. They can be good for buying in bulk, but other than that, you can find some pretty amazing things if you know what to look for. I love to venture through some of the local thrift stores to see what I can find. Oftentimes it’s finding a centerpiece, chalkboard for a sign, or little trinkets to accent with. If you have a party in the spring and summer, garage sales are also a fantastic way to find items for super cheap. You’d be surprised what you can find or how you can turn someone else’s “trash” into your DIY treasures.

6. Reach out on Social Media

There are a TON of community resale groups on facebook like “Iowa City Stuff for Sale/Trade”. You can simply scroll through to see if anything catches your eye, or even post what you are looking for.

7. Look for the discounts

Places like Dollar Tree and Oriental Trading Company are fantastic stores to purchase your bulk items like plates, napkins, silverware, and gift bags. On occasion, I can also find some of these items at our local resale stores, like Stuff Etc.

8. Keep the food simple

If you’re throwing a party for family this might be a little difficult, but if you’re throwing a party for kids ,keep in mind that the majority of children aren’t going to want to eat a catered meal. This month my daughter will be turning six and is having a movie theater-themed party to watch her favorite movie, Trolls. We are going to serve hotdogs, a single serving of popcorn, fruit snacks, and a drink while they enjoy the movie. All of which can be purchased in bulk and something that kids will actually eat. This rule also applies for the cake. If served with ice cream, kids will often choose the ice cream over the cake. I always try to remind myself to purchase a smaller cake and then supplement with ice cream if we have to. This protects me from eating the leftover cake alone in my closet while binge watching a Netflix original.

DIY birthday party planning tips

9. A little effort can go a long way

Sometimes going the extra mile can make it all worthwhile. I can honestly say that I love transforming our house into an imaginary place for a few hours. Kids love role playing, so this has always been fun to do. Start by transforming 2-3 areas for impact. We typically focus on the front yard, entry way, and kitchen so that they are the first things that her friends see when they enter the party, as well as visit for snacks, cake, and ice cream. Everything else can have more subtle decorations like balloons for accents. 

DIY birthday party planning tips

A breakdown of my most recent DIY party

DIY Movie Theater Party – Budget: $100

My daughter is obsessed with the new Dreamworks movie, Trolls, so I wasn’t surprised when she asked for a Trolls-themed party. We decided to step it up a notch and throw an indoor movie themed party.

Invitations – $11.00

Pre-cut white cards and envelopes from Michael’s: 25 count for $5.99
Yellow and red cardstock: $0.59 each
Yellow glitter glue: $1.99

DIY birthday party planning tips

Accessories/Decorations – $18.55

Red wrapping paper for hallway runner: $1.00 Michael’s
2 gold colored scrapbook papers for name tags: $1.29 each
2 popcorn bags from Amazon – 20 count: $2.99
Snack trays for food from Amazon – 25 count: $5.99
Kid cups with lid/straw – 12 count: $5.99

 DIY birthday party planning tips

Goodie Bags – $10.97

Used leftover popcorn bags: $0
Troll pencils – 12 count: $2.99
DIY buttons from Michael’s – 12 count: $4.99
Movie credit keychains from Amazon – 12 count: $2.99

Food – $30.26

Sheet cake from HyVee: $21.00
2 packs of hotdogs from HyVee: $1.29
1 large bag of popcorn: $2.99
HyVee icecream: $2.99
3 HyVee 2 liter pops: $1.99

Games/Crafts – $10.00

1 large sheet of poster board from Target: $0.99
Crayons: $0 (We have a TON.)
1 package of foam stickers from Target: $4.99
1 package of light up balls – 6 count: $3.99

All other supplies we had on hand, which included cardstock paper, items that I printed from my computer, yarn, and markers.

DIY birthday party planning tips 

Total Cost: $69.81 with a savings of $30.19 from our original budget.

With a goal, a creative mindset, and a computer, you can create an amazing DIY birthday party for your kiddo, AND keep it under budget. Happy planning!

What themes have you had for your kids’ birthdays? 


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


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