A super-cheap birthday party? Check.
This was the first year we hosted a kids-only birthday party. We wanted something that would be fun and engaging, but also inexpensive. This party was perfect for the parent with more time than money. Party guests were encouraged to wear their clothes and accessories backwards, and many of them did. A few told us that they were even wearing their underwear backwards. That was a little awkward, but you have to admire their commitment.
There is a cost breakdown at the end of the post, but here are the basics for hosting your own backwards birthday party. We hosted a 90-minute party for my daughter’s fourth birthday, and that was the perfect amount of time. Older kids could easily go a full two hours or more, as they will stick with the activities a little longer.
- I have terrible handwriting, so I wanted to create the invitations on the computer. We purchased a pack of birthday-themed stationery and printed the invitations on it.
- We went very simple, spelling “ytrap yadhtrib sdrawkcab,” and then clarifying that we would like the person to join us for a backwards party in case the reader didn’t get the backwards typing. It would’ve been cooler with a mirror flip text tool in the word processor, but we have hippie programs that did not provide this text effect.
- You will need the who-what-where-when, and then I added a description of what participants would be doing: “Backwards games, backwards cake, and other backwards activities.” We made it clear with the times and the description of activities that it was a cake-only sort of party.
Activity #1: Prepare the backwards pinatas
- At the end of the party, there will be a backwards pinata. Since traditional pinatas are broken, spilling the contents onto the floor so that kids can collect the prizes, a backwards pinata starts with the prizes already on the ground. The participants then pick up the prizes and stuff them into pinatas.
- The pinatas are very easy to make. We used two long tables and set up piles of fringed crepe paper, stickers, markers, and crayons all along the length of the tables. Each child gets a paper lunch sack, a glue stick, and some artistic license.
- Beforehand, measure out strips of crepe paper that will wrap around the outside of the bag. Cut fringe halfway up each piece so that it looks like papier mache but goes on with a line of glue in a very short period of time.
- Apply glue to the solid side of the crepe paper, then wrap each strip around the bag. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
- With preschool kids, most glued on a couple of hunks of crepe paper, then hit the stickers and markers pretty quickly.
- Adult helpers wrote names on the pinatas for easy distribution later in the party. We were supposed to also punch two holes in the top so that a string could pass through after the pinatas were filled, sealing the pinatas, but all of our adults were too busy. Nobody complained that there was no string for the pinatas at our party.
- At the end of the activity, all pinatas were placed in a basket so they were sure to make it to the pinata grounds later.
Game #1: Backwards Bean Bag Toss
- This is exactly what it sounds like. It was a riot to watch little kids try to toss bean bags over their shoulders to hit a target, but they grew bored with this pretty quickly. We used BIG metal bins as the targets.
- We used three sets of bags and a bin so that there was less idle time for little people. Again, this could be modified for older audiences.
Backwards cake and present time:
- Most kids eat the frosting first, so we put it inside the cupcakes so they would have to eat their cake backwards.
- Bake cupcakes and cool completely, then use a pastry bag with a straight tip to squeeze in some frosting. Before serving, we dusted ours with powdered sugar.
- Present time can be tricky, so we wanted to open them while kids were still eating. It was a great plan that didn’t pan out for us, but I still stand by the idea.
Game #2: Backwards Simon Says. We never got to this game, which is a shame – I think it would have been a blast. Tell players to do the opposite of whatever “Simon Says.” After a practice round, the leader should follow his/her own cues to throw the kids off, then sit back and see what the opposite of “Make a silly face” is.
- Practice prompt: “Simon says: Reach way up high into the air.” The players should all reach down to the ground. Once they get it, then the fun begins.
- Some other prompts:
- Raise your right hand
- Whisper “Happy Birthday”
- Touch your toes
- Scream “I want cake!”
- Look very angry
- Jump up in the air
- Make a silly face
- Push the person next to you.
Backwards pinata: Much safer than the traditional pinata, there are no bats and less of a stampede.
- Each prize should be in its own bowl, bucket, or other container for ease of set-up during the party.
- These bins should be placed around the room/yard with enough space that the participants aren’t trampling one another to get to them.
- If there are limits, tell the kids before you give them their bags – our rule was: only one of each item until everyone has gotten at least one, then there was open season on the rest. There were some exceptions, which were overseen by a grown-up who told kids they could take way more than 1 Starburst, for example.
- Give the kids their own pinatas, then count backwards from 10 and let them loose.
- After they have filled their pinatas, a hole puncher and piece of yarn can be used to close and seal the pinatas – tie the two ends of the string together to make a purse string of sorts for easy transport.
Other backwards party ideas, if you have extra time: Backwards relay races, backwards basketball or baseball (players run the bases before they hit), backwards fairy tales (either writing or reading), and a backwards meal if you plan on serving lunch or dinner (start with dessert, then work your way back through the courses).
Expenses (I rounded up to the nearest dollar, though these do not include tax):
- Invitations: Printed on our computer, sent to school for distribution. We got fun stationery from a local crafts store ($3)
- Pinata-making supplies: Paper lunch bags ($1), crepe paper rolls from a local dollar store ($3), glue sticks from dollar store ($4), markers, stickers, and crayons from our family stockpile (free!)
- Games: Backwards Simon Says (FREE) and a backwards bean bag toss – we borrowed bean bags from family members with Bag-O sets and used big tubs we already had (FREE!).
- Pinata fillings: These were the only real expense of this party, and it replaced the goody bags that most kids bring home from parties. We shopped at our dollar store, the party supply store, and the grocery store for these. We bought several items at Target, but ended up returning them because we found the same things for a much lower price at these other places. At the dollar store, we got: Mardi Gras beads ($2), party blowers ($2), candy jewelry ($1), and glitter pencils ($2). At the party supply store, we got: a big pack of over 300 stickers on 10 sheets – I just cut them into smaller chunks on my own ($3), and fancy jewelry rings ($4). The rest of the candy came from the grocery store, keeping an eye on what was on sale during the weeks before the party: Hershey Kisses and Starburst – they make a huge bang for the buck, as each pack contains about 100 pieces ($5 total), Nestle Crunch fun size bars ($4), and Smarties ($2). We had a TON of candy and several stickers left over, so we could have spent less on those. The toys and jewelry were completely gone, though – very popular with the preschool ladies. Total cost of pinata fillings: $25
- Backwards cake: I tried doing it from scratch for free, but I am a terrible baker. We opted for an Organic vanilla cake mix, which made 24 cupcakes for $3.50 and made a chocolate marshmallow frosting from ingredients already in our fridge and pantry. We served milk and water as drinks so that we didn’t send them into sugar shock ($4).
- Extra time filling activities: We had short attention spans, so the yard was freely available for partyers who needed a diversion. I made a double batch of my bubbles, we brought out the sidewalk chalk and balls, and the swingset was rarely without at least one child on it. I already had all of the bubble materials, so these were free. It would be $3.50 if you needed to go out and buy the liquid glycerin.
For those of you who are not big on mental math – we spent about $45 on this party for 12 children (we had enough materials to handle over 16). Thank-you notes from the dollar store and postage ran us about $7 – we could’ve delivered them through school or by visiting, taking the cost down to $2, but I’m really lazy.