The Frugal/Green Life is One Big Party

by Katy on March 11, 2009 · 15 comments

The following is a reprint of an earlier column. Enjoy.

My son’s 11th birthday is coming up, and it’s time to start brainstorming some party ideas. Please put your ideas in the comments section below. 



A parenting challenge that is sure to rise its ugly head exactly once a year is this – How do you throw a kick-ass kids’ birthday party yet stick to your goals of frugality and green living? No one wants to have their child suffer as a result of their parents’ idealistic goals. But I’m here to tell you that you can have it all – a fun, cheap and environmentally responsible party to wow the pre-teen set.

I will use the example of my sons’ 10th birthday party from last week. We organized an “Arcade Action” party at the house, and not to sound too smug, but it was a huge success! The party was such a hit that even my finicky 12 year old wants a repeat of it for his next birthday.

We already own 2 TV sets and 2 video game systems, and I borrowed extras from family and friends. An air hockey table was freed from its basement exile, and my husband set up a goalie net in the driveway for kids to take lacrosse, street hockey and soccer goal attempts. We also played Dance, Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Pac Man, and a couple other games. 

Each child was given a “game card” at the door. The cards had little squares to check off for each game played, and when everything was checked off, the kid could then pick their favors from the prize table. This meant the children circulated through all the stations and we had no problems with kids hogging the “good” games.

The favors were secondhand books I had been amassing from a local Goodwill that often prices juvenile fiction at 49 cents apiece. I only bought books that looked new, and most were classic fiction and “Newberry Award” winner types. I also had a juicy stash of comic books from “Free Comic Book Day” (which is held annually on the first Saturday of May.) Each kid got to choose two books and two comics, and all were very excited about these prizes.

Mugs and plates were ceramic, napkins and tablecloths were fabric. My goal here was for zero garbage to be generated. Cupcake liners did hit the landfill though, so I guess I am human. Of course the gifts received were as packaging-o-rrific as could be expected.

The total cost of the party was approximately $20 for the books, homemade cupcakes, lemon-aide concentrate and snacks combined. It would have cost us more to take the family to a first run movie. 

Have you thrown a great party that you want to share with the Non-Consumer Advocate community? Please tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

sybil March 12, 2009 at 3:21 am

At about age 10, we had a touch football game for my son’s birthday – it was a huge success. We went to a nearby park, divided the boys into teams alphabetically, Dads refereed, Moms cheered. We grilled hot dogs, had watermelon and I made a huge cake. We did it every year – rain or shine….the rainy ones were actually the most fun, one kid said “This is the best day of my life – I love getting this filthy with permission!” It’s become an annual tradition, and now at 18, the boys still meet for this game – and do it again on New Year’s Day every year!


Jinger March 12, 2009 at 6:31 am

I love it! I remember some of the best parties my children ever had ever of the same type…one was a carnival in the back yard with bean bag toss games, face painting, pop corn and hot dogs and clowns (me, dressed up!) Another was a backyard water party with water guns, water balloons, a wading pool and make your own sundaes.
It’s great to get creative and still put on a fabulous kid’s party.


Kori March 12, 2009 at 7:23 am

My teenage twin daughters; birthday is in June, and they’ve decided they want to have an 80’s Movie Marathon sleepover. We have a fairly extensive movie collection at our house (from our pre-Non Consumer days) and anything we don’t already own, I’m pretty sure we can get from the library or borrow from friends. For dinner, we’re doing a build-your-own pizza bar (I’m making the crust, my hubby is making the mozz and the veggies will be from our garden); snacks will be the usual popcorn, chex mix (homemade, of course), etc.; and for dessert I’ll be baking two tiny cakes, plus setting up a chocolate fondue station for dipping fruit. Breakfast will be homemade cinnamon rolls and fresh fruit. All in all, I’m expecting to come in at less than $20 for any extraneous ingredients that aren’t already in my pantry, but everything else will be free. The best part about this is that my girls are more excited about this birthday party than they’ve been about their last four or five parties, which were all of the over-the-top, ridiculous comsumption variety. Go figure!


Angela March 12, 2009 at 11:45 am

The old Eastern bloc countries used to produce a lot of great filmmakers. I had the honor of studying with one of them back in film school and he explained it was because they were censored, so they had to be more creative with their stories.

That’s what this post reminds me of- it’s so much fun to be frugal and green because you’re so much more creative when you have some limits (even if they’re self-imposed). I never understood the way parents started taking their children’s birthday parties so seriously and spending tons of money to upstage each other. When we were kids some of our parties were as simple as playing in the park. Kids just want games and other kids and maybe some cake and ice cream.


maclynx March 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

BBQ, Supermodel photos in the park on the play equipment, Sleepover or is that non-sleepover, pancakes at midnight and a makeover party in the bathroom at 3am. 11 preteens had a great night and we all slept well the next night!


BohoBelle March 12, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Hi Katy,

I didn’t read this post first time around, so thanks for the repeat.

Would you mind doing a post on what you did for your wedding ceremony and after party?

I’ll be happily getting married later this year and would love to use my creativity and frug-fabulousness to make a magical day for us and our friends and families.

I’d love to hear what other readers have done for their own weddings or seen at friend’s events.

So far my tiny amount of investigation has left me disappointed as I have found all the mainstream magazines and websites completely over the top and tacky-consumery.

I look forward to your response.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 12, 2009 at 7:48 pm


What a great idea for a column. I got married almost 16 years ago, but it was very frugal yet fabulous.

I agree with you on the wedding magazines.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Klara Le Vine March 12, 2009 at 9:33 pm


Congratulations!!!! My daughter just had a wedding a few months ago, and the best part was all the amazing talented guests who took to the microphone and did all kinds of funny, serious, wonderful singing, poetry reading (poems made especially for the bride and groom), guitar playing (my son, classical, he apologized that couldn’t dance to it).

Sorry I’m not that creative, but just wanted to add where we live we have all kinds of organizations that help with loaning all kinds of things for weddings – from one such I’d gotten the holders that hold candles – there are bridal gowns, decorations, even food – perhaps in your area also?

Also around here there’s a group based on bartering (from the Permaculture philosophy) so they did their entire wedding on a bartering method.


Angela March 12, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Check out this story- it has a lot of good ideas and links about renting a wedding gown or buying one used, how to plan an afternoon party instead of evening which saves a lot of money, and most of all how to make the day creative and personal to YOU as a couple.
Congratulations and best of luck. My husband and I spent next to nothing on our wedding- it was perfect and I’ll never forget it and we’re still together 16 years later…
And I’m sure we’d all love to hear about how Katy and her husband tied the knot in a fabulously frugal way…


Kellychelle March 13, 2009 at 11:13 am

First, as a child my favorite birthday parties were of the day in the park variety. My best friend’s birthday was one week after mine and we shared our birthday party for years. It was so much easier on our families and friends to have one birthday party instead of two in two weekends. Or to deal with the dreaded whose birthday do we attend?

In response to BohoBell, have you considered a destination wedding? It is not the cheapest way to go, but depending on how big a wedding you want it can be very economical and you are guaranteed a honeymoon. Many places are all inclusive and will include the total cost of the wedding in the cost of the trip. My husband and I got married in Jamaica and the cost for a full week for the two of us, as well as our wedding, was $5000. Our family and friends were happy to join us (we had a group of 25) since they were all from out of town anyway. They felt a ticket to an all-inclusive resort was a lot more fun than a flight to Kansas or Oklahoma…

Good luck!


Martha March 13, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Several years ago we started a tradition of hiking up the hill behind our house…first pizza, then a video then when it is good and dark (but the boys arent tired) at between 10 and 11 PM, we start hiking. The first year the boys thought we were nuts but at this point, I think they look forward to it–some years it is really cold and dark, other years there is moonlight, but with a group of kids, 2 parents and a dog, mostly its just fun–and takes about an hour.

When they were much littler, we made sidewalk chalk in TP tubes as the activity, each kid could choose a color. Other years, games in the park…


marianne March 14, 2009 at 6:56 am

2 points on this story. at my after prom party wayyyyyyy back in high school, they hired a “tattoo” artist to draw tattoos on the kids with markers. it was a hit.

as for the wedding, my husband and i got married in italy. we had a wedding coordinator handle everything for about $3200 (paperwork, site, flowers, celloist, ceremony, flowers, pictures). then when we got home we had a small reception for the guests who didnt come out to italy to celebrate. this came to $2500 (hall,fo0d). i made our cake out of styrafoam and flowers and then served the restaraunts tiramasu. i got my dress on ebay (new overstock) for $300. We spent about $8500 total. if you want a dj, check with the local radio station. often their part timers will have the experience of dj’ing with low prices. =)


Non Consumer Girl March 15, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Last year, I held a birthday party at home for my 5 year old daughter. It was a fairy theme, and the colours were pink and white.
We had 8 little girls.
The invitations were handmade by my daughter and myself. They were in fairy wing shape, cut out from pink card and decorated with silver pen and sequins and ribbon.
All of the children came dressed as fairies.
We decorated the entrance to our home with white tulle we already had, so it was like entering fairly land. We had about 50 pink and white balloons.
We had “fairy music” playing in the background.
The table was set up with a pink tablecloth and all of the food was pink and white, for example pink and white cup cakes, pink and white marshmallows, homemade white popcorn, and pink and white heart shaped sandwiches ( white bread and ham). I cut out a heart shaped hole with a smaller cookie cutter on the top slice of the bread, so that the pink ham could be seen.
One of my favorite ideas that I used was I froze pink water in heartshaped ice cube trays, and then put these into each childs white cup with lemonade. The girls were so excited with this, and it looked really effective.
We had a “fairy story” about the tooth fairy.
We played fairy themed party games- Fairy statues, pin the wings on the fairy, pass the fairy parcel etc.
We also made wands, with card, sequins, ribbons and glue.
I made fairy goodie bags with tulle and ribbon and sweets.
My daughter said it was the best party ever and she wants the same party next time!


Non Consumer Girl March 15, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I just wanted to add to my post above, that the total party cost just under $50.


bohobelle March 16, 2009 at 5:12 am

Thanks to everyone who left comments about frug-abulous weddings. Katy I look forward to your post 🙂


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