October 20, 2017

Host a Teenage Birthday Party…on a budget!


As the time came for our oldest son to turn sixteen,  I wanted to plan something special, sentimental, and yet still be deemed successful in his teenage eyes.

As the time came closer for this birthday party, he assured me, “Don’t worry, mom, I’ll take care of it all.”

With that one phrase, the sentimental aspect had been obliterated, but I knew “making it a success” still needed to be upheld.  He took care of all the invitations…(mass email and announcement on Facebook …who knew…). And once again, his strong reassurance resonated , “Don’t worry, Mom, only forty have said they can come with sixty unconfirmed, but it’s still 2 days before, so who knows…”

WHAT? Oh, that makes it “SO” easy to plan for food. Being a mom of teens requires flexibility and creativity with party ideas, so I determined the challenge of throwing a large Sweet Sixteen party on a frugal budget could be done. Rest assured, it can, yes it can be done.

Honestly? What has taken American parents hostage to the all mighty birthday dollar? It’s become a preconceived notion that hundreds, if not thousands of dollars need to be spent on children’s  birthday parties; it continues to boggle my mind.

I am convinced that when our children are grown, they are not going to remember the fancy rented thing-a-ma-jobs, the over the top decorations, or the crazy amount of money spent on grab bags/favors.

I am convinced that the creativity, love and ingenuity that comes with honoring their special day will be what resonates within their heart and memory.

Some of our children’s fondest birthday memories? Mud football, treasure hunts, water balloon fights, pyramid building contests, tiara decorating…yes, all moments that were priceless – literally. 🙂 Yet, I know that those things would not be considered “cool” at sixteen. Knowing that he was already a little worried that his friends would think his party “dumb,” I resigned to NOT be the mom that threw an uncool party.

So what needs to be determined when throwing a teenage birthday party on a budget?

  • Food/Menu
  • Decorations
  • How many/Who to invite
  • Theme/Activities/Games

Food choices

Looking through the narrow lens of multiple teenage boys,  success is measured by prioritizing large quantities of food. They’ll take tons of food over quality any day, so I decided not to stress over a smorgasbord of homemade goodies.

Throwing together food for large groups is something I am used to, but with a mystery curve of 60 guests, it narrowed my choices just a bit. Typically, I love doing homemade pizza for groups up to twenty five, but we choose hot dogs and burgers since we could easily use the left overs at a later time. Buying these in bulk at Sam’s Club or Cosco is a  frugal option and adding the typical junk – chips, pickles, cookies, soda etc. was brainless. I then added some homemade touches by making my taco dip, cheese ball and veggies/ dip for those girls who were watching their figure (or at least watching it in front of the guys. 🙂 )

Dessert – Remember how I initially made the donut birthday cake with Marked Down Krispy Kreme donuts? Well,  my final run to Walmart revealed a marked down, day old sheet cake that I added to the repertoire (and I promise, no teens knew or cared that it’s a day old – only my pocket book squealed with delight.)


I choose to go simple, but fun. I decorated the back deck with strings of lights, which gave an instant party atmosphere. Both inside and outside tables had simple tablescapes, but I can’t believe I don’t have any pictures of them (bad blogger). Yet, the best decorating accent piece for the whole party, I found hours earlier that day for only $2. 🙂

Rushing back from last minute errands, one last yard sale of the season (end of Nov) called my name. Pulling over, I saw this garden cart – worn, broken and lonely. When it’s owner said “take ‘er for $2,” I knew something magical was about to take place.

And it did! This sorry looking cart was perfect for the drinks and snacks. I put a clear, plastic garbage bag in the bottom and filled it with ice. Instantly,  festive drink holder was born.

(And once spring hits, I’m going to spray paint this baby and give her the rightful place she deserves….I just don’t know where that is yet. 🙂 )

I told you she was broken, and I had to think fast. She’s missing one wheel, but we’re home schoolers and have LOTS of books. I haven’t figured out how to add another wheel, though, but I have time.

Determining the Guest List

A sentimental time of honoring our son would have called for a short and sweet guest list of treasured mentors and guest. But since this was a celebratory time, with guests invited by my son, the more the merrier. (Merrier ended up being seventy five guests with some coming and going throughout the evening.)
Enough life lessons and communications about the importance of choosing friends wisely led to complete freedom for my son to invite whoever he wanted. He has a solid, quality group of friends from the youth group, but if you’re skeptical at all, this factor needs to be carefully considered.  Teen age parties can quickly get out of hand and the old adage, “a few bad apples spoils the bunch,”  could not be more true.


Assuring my son that his guests would have a blast just hanging out at our house took some convincing.

Yet, I know one thing. Suburban kids coming to the country is always a fun thing. There’s something about our wooded setting that just screams, “Kids Heaven.”It’s all about relationships for the teen years, so activities do not have to be elaborate. Even though I am the “Queen of Forced Bonding,” I resisted the urge to do my mixer type, get to know you games. 🙂

We had our fire pit/bon fire area set up for smores and roasted hot dogs. The boys had a stroke of creative genius and rigged up my key board amp to their Ipod, hung strobe lights from the trees and made a make shift dance area (carefully monitored, of course.)

Then to top if off, we had my neighbor bring his big ‘ole Kabota for a hay ride.

This made the evening. Nothing else would have needed to occur but this, and the night would have been a success.

(Knowing that many of you don’t happen to have a neighbor like this in your hip pocket, the night would have been a success without this as well. The hay ride just stretched the party out by another hour and a half.)

There were so many wonderful things about that evening, but the highlight happened when my son grabbed me in a corner and shared, “This party is really awesome. I think everyone is having a blast, don’t you?”

And if a night of seventy five doesn’t sound like enough bedlam to you, we had to christen it with a proper bedlam moment,  didn’t we?

Teen age drivers…that should say enough….This Grand Cherokee pulled right up and got stuck on TOP of the tree stump in the middle of our turn around driveway. Seeing so much testosterone run freely as they lifted the vehicle off the stump was enough to even make me want to grunt along with them.  (I missed the picture by just a second…bummer, it was funny).

So as the final guest left at 12:30 am, (with six additional guys deciding to spend the night), the teenage boy birthday party on a budget was complete with the final outcome = magical memories.


  1. Wow, I am so impressed! What a fun party, and you managed to have that many kids without any problems. Your son has great friends and you did an awesome job making it a really fun night! Thx for the inspiration.


  2. I was admiring your drink holder in the pics and then read it was only $2?! Way to go! I would have never seen a garden cart the way you did, but I’m watching for one at the yard sales this spring.


  3. YOU ARE AN AMAZING MOM! My husband and his brothers like to joke that their friend always liked their parents (my FIL and MIL) better than they actually liked the brothers… I think after a shin-dig like that, you may come off with the same success!

    You inspire me! Only 8 years until i have to pull off a sweet 16…

    oh my


  4. Sounds like a youth group activity to me. And those are fun times. What a perfect party! So glad your son had a fun 16th birthday. Good job!


  5. What a braved woman you are to have so many teens at your home at once! I live in the country too and even though I have the room for that many….the thought scares me and makes me tremble. I have to remember you when my 14 year old son’s birthday rolls around. You are truley inspirational!


  6. Way to go, Jen! Kids like to have their friends over. That’s what they want. . . not hundreds or thousands of dollars spent on so-called special activities. What’s special are their relationships with their friends–and the fact that their parents will make their day a celebration.

    When we gave a graduation party for my son last spring, you know what were the hits of the party? Little bottles of Coke (bought at Sam’s very inexpensively) and sparklers. Yes, sparklers–the kind that are less than $1 per box in the summertime. That’s what those high-school graduates enjoyed.

    I hope a lot of parents read this post and take home a valuable lesson!

    Love ya,


  7. Good job mom! I agree with you! The simple, creative home parties are my kids’ favorites! And it’s all about the food for the boys. 😉


  8. “This party is really awesome. I think everyone is having a blast, don’t you?” That made me cry. 🙂


  9. Now THAT sounds like one rockin’ sweet sixteen par-tay! Awesome, awesome job putting it together. Have I ever told you how much I love your fun and frugal inspiration? : )


  10. A few weeks ago we had a surprise 16th party for my son –
    I am ALL into THEMED parties – but they take a lot of work. My son and I came real close to making a LOST party theme….but he did not want those that do not watch it feel out of it. Plus he knew I would have games and quizes which did not thrill him.
    He decided to just go to a movie with a friend and hang out in an old record shop.
    That is what he thought.
    His sweet friends gathered at a local pizza parlor – thank you facebook…..
    God blessed us with the outside patio to ourselves with big lantern heaters, big screen tv’s playing music from the 80’s and 90’s (Kasey Kasem and all).
    I added big 16 balloons, lots of pizza with coupons and it looked great!
    It is so true – teenagers just want to hang out. Nate said it was one of his best memories ever to walk in and see such great friends!


    Jens Reply:

    @Hopefull, I’m with you. I love themes, but I just didn’t have the time to pull anything off. It sounds like yours was a huge success. Isn’t it special when they appreciate the little things so much? Loved hearing about yours. 🙂


  11. You are the best mom ever!!! I remember a friend of mine had a big fancy party for her Sweet 16: dancing, dinner, a new car, the works. My parents opted to throw a cook-out for me and a bunch of girl and guy friends, and I had just as much fun. I remember the guys playing basketball and the girls hanging out and playing CDs. It was just as fun. 🙂


  12. It’s a wise woman who recognizes that the teenage guys just want to eat a lot; not necessarily quality, but quantity. And what a ton of work/stress that saved you!
    I’m with you on the kids’ birthday parties. We’ve avoided the high-dollar celebrations so far and have hosted them at home or at our neighborhood park. They’re always a blast.


  13. What a great idea! I am looking to host a similar party for my son’s 16th party in August. I may be asking you for helpful hints!

    btw… I mentioned you in my post about frugal fashions.

    You are such an inspiration to me to show my frugal fashions and tell the world about them!


  14. This looks like so much fun! This is definitely the kind of event that is one of those memories that people look back on for years. Great job!


  15. I loved LOVED reading that! I have 3 boys but they’re far from teen years (I know that’s not true but I’ll keep telling myself that!) You captured the party beautifully. Thank you for sharing your tips, now I’m on a mission to find a beverage cart when garage sale season hits again!


  16. Hi Jen – I am so impressed with the awesome birthday party you threw for your 16-year old. I have two 14 year old boys so I will be planning their parties before I know it and your post made me feel so much more comfortable about being able to throw a fun, memorable party without all the materialistic pressure.

    I grew up out in the country and the best get-togethers I remember were the ones where we hung out on someone’s farm cooking dogs and burgers on the grill and doing rowdy stuff outside. How inspiring you are and your photos were great fun – you really captured the moment well!



  17. really fun!! Kelly


  18. We just did an 18th birthday party . . .
    I did a huge mexican buffet that was cheap and a big hit!


  19. Wow, I bow down to you! LOL! The 16th is so tricky – it’s a fine line between wicked fun and like – totally uncool. Looks like everyone had a riot, and way to think quick under pressure. I love that you chose Hamlet to prop up the table. While it’s now one of my faves, it was a nemesis when I was that age!

    Oh, and I can’t believe you got that cart for $2. I’m so jealous! It’s a wonderful piece.


  20. What a great party! Thanks for sharing the details. We’re having a biggish (albeit smaller than 75 people, I hope) party for my eldest’s 13th birthday, and I’m thilled to get some ideas.


  21. Deborah says:

    I found your site while looking for ideas for my son’s 16th birthday. We are on a limited budget so i love this however what to do when you live in the city. I live in a home under 1300 sq ft and have parking issues. Don’t really want to do the park thing since we have done since a little kid. Have tried so many places but they are so expensive. Even churches charge for their spots (including our own).


  22. Sounds like a wonderful party! Can I ask how much you actually spent on the party?


    Jen Reply:

    Sure – I spent around $100 and that included paying our neighbor for his gas for the hay ride and a tip, and the rest pretty much all went for the food. We decided to serve dinner, which obviously hikes up the cost on anything, but that fed about 75 people.


  23. Wilfredo Osorio says:

    What a fun story, and party well prepared! Thanks for sharing Ma’am!


  24. Hi!
    My name is Ken , I turn 16 on aug 23 and could use some advice because this is going be my own party. I haven’t asked yet and i dont know how to ask strict grandparents if i can use there backyard for the party. Also what kind of game/activities would you suggest 4 those who live in sub-dividsons? Please share your party wisdom with me.
    thank you


  25. When you throw a birthday party for a teen on a budget you are teaching valuable life lessons. At some point, the teen will grow up to face the reality of trying to find fun on a budget. Teaching the teen early will help them think outside-the-box and be happier later.


  26. this really helped me with my party thank you very much! 🙂


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