A Frugal Race Car Birthday Party for my Boys

 photo IMG_1513Medium_zpsd42c72f1.jpgMy eldest son, Lee (now 7), and second son, Ike (now 5), have birthday's 4 days apart. Every year I debate whether I should make them a joint birthday party, especially since they basically have the same friends, and it would take the work load off my shoulders to be able to knock out two birds with one stone... However, I also want the kids to feel special, that they get their own special day and celebration, that they're valued for themselves, and not just as part of a whole... so I vacillate. Three birthdays ago I made them separate parties, two years ago I made them a joint party, last year I made them separate parties, and then this year I was planning on making them separate parties, but then...
My extended family has lots of birthdays in September, and the family was planning on getting together to celebrate two birthdays that were on the same day, and when they realized that my sons' birthdays (as well as another person) were also within a couple of days, we decided to have a joint family celebration for all 5 birthday boys... That clinched it- if there was going to be a joint family party, I wasn't also going to make two birthday parties for my boys in addition- I'd do joint for them as well (and they were cool with it).

So, I asked them what theme they wanted for the birthday party, and they both agreed to a race car themed party.
I've written previously about why I like doing themed parties, but in short, I find we can have more fun and make the party cheaper as long as it fits a theme.

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For the cake, I made a race track cake with toy race cars on it. This was actually one of the easier birthday cakes I've designed- I just made two cakes- one round one and one square one (both gluten free vegan, one chocolate and one vanilla), cut the circle cake in half and place each half on either side of the square cake, and then frosted the cake.
I made the frosting out of a coconut oil based "butter cream" style frosting, made with homemade powdered sugar. I was pretty bummed out about the frosting, I'll admit- I used $17 in reward points from iherb to buy all natural food colors- India Tree brand- and saved it to make my kid's birthday party special... only the blue food coloring that I tried to use to make the frosting blue, came out of the bottle a greenish grey... and it turned the frosting a very faint pink. Bummer. So the cake was frosted with a pale pink frosting. (At least my sons are good sports and didn't complain about that.)
Fortunately, I had a drop more success in turning the coconut I had into a sort of green color to be used as grass. (Ok, let's forget that it looks more like a booger colored green. At least it's not pink.)

To make the race track, especially since the food coloring wasn't exactly working, I decided to make a chocolate flavored/colored fondant. I googled for a no bake fondant recipe, replaced corn syrup with honey, and colored it with cocoa powder... and while it wasn't as easy to work with as standard fondant (from what I could tell, anyhow), at least it rolled out nicely and I was able to cut out the track to top the cake with.
I piped my "pink" frosting onto the fondant to make lanes, sprinkled on the coconut "grass", and made the start sign with paper and wooden skewers, and then placed a bunch of race cars on the track.
Did it look professional? Nope. But that's cool with me. I got a lot of appreciation from my kids, the kids at the party, and even their parents who came, and everyone thought it tasted good, even though it was gluten free, so that was awesome.

For party decorations... I just took a solid colored tablecloth and covered it with a bunch of toy cars that my kids had.

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For snacks I tried to not have it so junky- so I made a huge amount of apple "wheels" (love my fruit corer) as well as carrot and cucumber "wheels". Not themed I also served potato chips, popcorn, and crispy fried noodles.
For drinks I had water, lemonade, and iced herbal tea.

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Fortunately my kids' friends aren't opposed to healthy food, especially if it's cut into fun shapes, so this was all eaten, even if it's not your standard party food. And they had enough sugar with the birthday cake.

For activities, we played our standard party game- pin the "whatever" on the "whatever". In this case, it was pin the wheel on the race car- my mom drew this picture of a race car on a large paper, and kids had wheels which they had to try to put in place, blindfolded, like pin the tail on the donkey, only with race cars.

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Ike and Lee really like riding toys- Ike and Lee both had Swivel Car type riding toys (though they are cheaper at the store where I bought them from than on Amazon, but Ike's got stolen about a year ago when he left it in the park. My boys had been riding double on Lee's car, racing down the street with it, so for their birthday, I bought Ike a new one, and at their party, they had races on these cars. Our next door neighbor also has two of these, so they contributed their cars as well for our races, so we had 4 cars.
We had regular races with the cars, then relay races, then races with two people on each car, etc... They had a great time.

After the car races, we had running races as well, some regular, and some relay races.

I brought out Lego for the kids to build their own lego race cars... but I'll admit, no one really was interested in doing that, so that was a dud.
I saw the idea to make a race car craft out of toilet paper tubes, but I couldn't collect enough tubes in time, or I would have done it. It seemed like a really cute idea.

For the last activity, I made some different ramps and the kids took toy cars and had contests which cars would go furthest on which ramps.

All in all it was a fun party, and the outlay was very minimal. That's the ideal party in my books.

For presents, in addition to the riding toy I got for Ike, I also got the boys imitation Lego sets. (Enlighten Bricks brand, in case anyone is interested- I got Ike a fire truck and Lee a riot tracking car.) Lego (knock offs), in my opinion are the best investment, as you not only get the toy that the set builds, you can create endless varieties of toys with the Lego to play with, and have the hours of entertainment the building gives, in addition to the amount of time they play with the built toy. I think altogether we've bought our kids 10 Lego sets over the years, and they are the most commonly played with toys. And they don't break and end up in the trash like so many other toys do! (Our Enlighten Bricks brand Lego locally sells for much cheaper than is listed in the links above. I don't know which is the cheapest decent brand to buy in the US.)

There's also some homeschooling equipment and books my kids really wanted me to get them, so I got them before their birthday and presented it to them as a gift, so that way they feel extra special, but it's money I would have been spending anyhow...

Anyhow, all in all we had a fun birthday celebration for my boys (and then the family party a few days later was fun as well), and the only money really spent was on gifts for them that will last for a while and get a lot of use.

Do you make parties for your kids? What do you generally do for parties? What was the best party you made? What was the best gift you got your kids for their birthdays?

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Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Our daughter is two, so we've gotten off pretty easy for her birthday parties so far. We have a similar close birthdays situation in our house: Little Miss's birthday is the day after mine. Instead of a joint party, I think I'll just be out of luck from now on, haha.

    1. Any plans for birthday parties in the future?
      My husband and I also share a birthday with each other as well as with our niece, so lots of overlapping parties!

  2. I also try to do themes and remain on the cheap. Sometimes I find I'll buy decorated plates, but use cheapy napkins, cups and forks, etc. I did pin the bow on the birthday girl w/ the real birthday girl and cut out paper bows. I think that was the most successful "pin the anything on anything" I ever did....it elicited a lot of laughs. Also try to do a craft, but find they often get tossed out or destroyed, so try to do something substantive. The ceramic painting places are a fortune for parties (and even not), so one year I found ceramic banks and salt and pepper shakers in animal shapes on clearance for a dollar or less in craft store. I made my own paint your ceramic party and it was a hugh success. The kids left w/ an item they could use, so it was win/win.

    1. You read my mind- I was planning on posting today (but in the end will probably post tomorrow) about ceramic paining place type things.

      What has been your favorite theme? Pin the bow on the birthday cool sounds really funny and fun. Awesome idea!

    2. I love the idea of paint your own ceramics at home. Cute!

      This year we did snacks and nails and sidewalk chalk. The girls mostly wanted to play. Pretty low key - but they loved it.

  3. I feel so sorry for your kids.

    1. Me too. I mean- their birthday cake's frosting came out pink instead of green, after I paid that much for that food coloring! Can you imagine?

    2. What a snotty comment. Why someone would say such a thing in regards to a creative and fun birthday party is beyond me. Kids love this kind of party!

      The more creative often the more memorable.

      Lots more money doesn't mean lots more fun.

      I find that comment pretty pathetic.

      If my energy always allowed for it, this is the kind of thing I would do too.

    3. Why would you feel sorry for kids whose mom shows how much she loves them with the time she spent planning their birthday? Anyone can just throw money down to go to a pizza place for kids. Penny is teaching them creativity, frugality & appreciation. Those are gifts that last a lifetime. Great job, Penny!

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