Amy Clark

Our Thrifty (And Holiday-Inspired) Birthday Party


This was a big year for Emily! We celebrated her birthday with a family brunch and followed it up with her first fantastic friend birthday party with twenty-six guests! While throwing two parties may sound expensive, I wanted to share a few ways that we were able to celebrate Emily’s big day and keep it on a budget.

The first thing I did was send an evite to invite everyone in lieu of fancy invitations. We planned an afternoon get together with snacks and a decorate your own Christmas craft and cupcake bash instead of a luncheon. It was a great way to kill the afternoon, the time allowed for our older friends to come after school, and everyone got to leave with their own little creation.

The table was set with another inexpensive vinyl tablecloth from The Christmas Tree Shoppe ($2.99). I brought out our cupcake stands (a Walmart purchase for $5 each) and topped each with a red ornament. Sundae cups from the Dollar Store (already in the cupboard) were filled with candy canes that each child could take home and tied with a little white grosgrain ribbon.

To complete the holiday look, I got out my beautiful Nativity Hurricane Candle Set that I had received last year from DaySpring to review. In all of the holiday madness, I didn’t get to show these off last year, but I could not wait to get them out this year. Aren’t they stunning?

I also threw together a holiday music playlist on our computer for everyone to enjoy while we did our decorating and crafting. Everything from Diane Krall to Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald was mixed into our holiday celebration. No celebration is complete without music, in my humble opinion!

In our front room, I set up a folding table with all of the holiday crafting supplies on it. I was going to do ornament decorating, but it got expensive with the amount of supplies I was going to need to buy. I found these cute little foam kits that included placemats and door hangers with tons of fun little foam stickers…enough for twenty crafts in each kit. The total cost spent on all of the craft supplies (with plenty leftover for decorating on Christmas Eve) was $10 thanks to the half off sales at Hobby Lobby.


I was so inspired by the cupcake decorating party that was featured on Ohdeedoh (and in our weekly Notebook) that I thought that would be a fun activity for the kids to do too. I spent $4 on cupcake decorating supplies and piled them into my tin tray for the kids to assemble. I had bought a ton of cute tin stuff for entertaining for my son’s patriotic birthday party. With a holiday baby and a 4th of July baby, I know that the red items can be used often in our house.

It was time to wait for our friends to arrive and enjoy all of the food and festivities with them. We are so thankful to have so many great people in our lives to celebrate with us! The food and punch bowl overfloweth for the big day!

Here are the dishes that we shared with our friends! What made these dishes really special though? They were ALL make-ahead dishes and ALL thrifty so that I could enjoy the day with my special birthday girl!


It was time to enjoy our favorite Birthday Cupcakes. These are my favorite cupcakes in the world and are always the hit of any party. If you decorate them, the chocolate syrup frosting with sprinkles are a must! This year we left them undecorated for our activity for the kids.

The Best Birthday Cupcakes (From Cupcakes: The Cake Doctor Book)

24 paper liners
1 package plain butter recipe golden cake mix (I subbed with white and loved it!)
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with liners. Set the pans aside. Place the cake mix, cream cheese, sugar, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds, until the ingredients are well blended then stop the machine and scrape down the sides.

Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should be smooth and thickened.

Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (You should get between 22-24 cupcakes). Place the pans in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 24-27 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips.

Place them on a wire rack to cool fifteen minutes before frosting.

The star of the party, by far, was the cheese ball. I had so many recipe requests after the party for this one! It is so embarrassingly easy, but is always a showstopper when I bring it to holiday get togethers. Put the ingredients for this recipe on your grocery list and relish the joy in ease of the preparation and the compliments that come from it!

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

This dip was nicknamed “Crack Dip” after the bowl was scraped clean when I brought it for Thanksgiving one year. I love to bring a sweet dessert dip that can be an unexpected surprise among the pies and holiday cookies. If you want to buy all of the ingredients at Aldi, I have employed my hand held chopper to chop up regular size chocolate chips for this recipe before with great results!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
More chocolate chips (optional) or chopped nuts, to roll the ball in

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Form cheese into a ball using hand protection (Saran wrap, wax paper, etc). Optional- just before serving, roll in additional chocolate chips or nuts of your choice. Serve with graham crackers.

Hate punch? It is likely you just hate that ginger ale in the punch. This punch is ginger ale free and looks positively festive for any holiday occasion. I barely had enough for a glass left and this punch is always a hit at all of our parties!

Holiday Party Punch

2 liter bottle strawberry-flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate (yellow)
1 can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.


Hit the thrift stores for vintage tins and fill them up with holiday goodies for a unique display of yummy treats! This Chex Mix was cooked up in the slow cooker. If your slow cooker runs hot, I would just keep it on LOW instead of the HIGH that the recipe calls for. Mine about burnt up without keeping a careful eye on it. Putting it in the slow cooker while cooking up the rest of the food is a great way to make the house smell yummy and free up your stove in the process! This recipe easily doubles and I did just that for our party!

Slow Cooker Chex Mix

1 cup Cheerios toasted oat cereal
1 1/2 cups Rice Chex
1 cup Wheat Chex
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup pretzel stick
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion salt

Combine first 5 ingredients in your slow cooker. Mi
x remaining ingredients and pour over cereal mixture; toss to coat. Cook on HIGH, uncovered, for 2 hours (I would recommend cooking on low if your slow cooker runs really hot like mine!) Stir mixture well every 30 minutes. Turn slow cooker to LOW and cook for 2-4 hours. Store in air tight container. Makes 5 cups.

Emily had a fantastic party filled with more girlie gifts than a girl could ever ask for. My, turning four is quite grand! Happy birthday sweet Emily Marie! I am so thankful for your honest-to-goodness girl power, girlie ways, and assertive little spirit. I am one lucky mom!

Published December 22, 2009 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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