A Dinosaur Birthday Party...on the Cheap

I admit it; I love putting together themed children's parties. But while I've always prided myself on using more creativity than money for these parties, this year I found I had to trim the party budget more than usual. The good news is, my child still loved the party, and we all had a lot of fun.

Dinosaurs were the theme. (We included a few dragons, too, since I'm a bit of a crypozoologist and feel the legends of dragons are probably based on dinosaurs.) I began with a simple invitation; I've found that keeping it digital makes the invitation hassle- and cost-free. In this case, I found an invite I really liked, then created something similar for our own purposes. (Cost: $0)

Next, I considered decorations. I wanted to absolutely minimize costs in this area, since most decorations are used for the day, then thrown away. This year, I didn't buy banners, helium balloons, or even streamers.

Fortunately, my kids have a collection of toy dinosaurs. I had them bring all of them to me, and we scattered them throughout the party area, including on the tables and at the entry to the house. I actually gave this job to the birthday girl, and she had fun getting the dinos "just so" in flower pots and on a piece of petrified wood on the porch. (Cost: $0; if you have to purchase toy dinos, expect to pay about $1-2 a piece for them)

I didn't mind buying some plain balloons. (Cost: $2) I thought about sticking to green and orange or yellow - which seemed dinosaur-like colors - but instead I used a rainbow of colors. I hung these everywhere I could think of, and they did a great deal to create a festive look.

I found some neat 3-D dinosaurs (including a "Pterodactyl," Triceratops, T-Rex, and "Brontosaurus") and printed the Pterodactyl (actually a pteranodon) on my home printer, using cheapo ink cartridges. (Cost: difficult to estimate, but definitely under $2; if you don't have a printer, or your printer ink is expensive, places like Staples print inexpensively.) I hung these with thread (Cost: I already had the thread and used just pennies of it. You could also use ribbon or string you have on hand.) from the ceiling fan that is over the buffet table, plus in a few other places. My 3 year old thought these were magical, and the birthday girl couldn't wait to add them as decor in her room.

Our other decorations were birthday banners I'd saved from previous years (all cheapies from the Dollar Tree) and Dollar Tree plastic tablecloths.  (Cost $2) I also made several dinosaur banners - a simple, cheap project. I found coloring book pictures of  dinosaurs and cut them out. Then I placed them on top of stacks of colorful Dollar Tree construction paper, used them as templates, and cut out stacks of dinos at one time. Finally, I strung them up. (Cost: $1) After the party, I hung the dino banners in my children's rooms.

In addition, I drew dinosaur footprints on the sidewalk and driveway leading up to our house. My kids got a giggle out of the fact that they lead right into our house. (Cost: 45 cents for a box of chalk)

In years past, I've always made something fun for the other kids at the party (all cousins) to take home. This year, I did something simple. My daughter and I made dinosaur treat bags from brown lunch bags and filled them with dinosaur fossil footprints cookies (full instructions here). (Cost: We already had the bags, so it cost us pennies; if you have to buy bags, expect to pay up to $1 or $2 for more than you need; the cookies were also made with ingredients I already had, but I'd estimate the cost at $2, tops.)

I also found some free printable dinosaur masks. I was going to color them in on the computer, but ran out of time. So I just stapled elastic (each end of it knotted) to the masks and let the kids take the masks home to color. (Cost: about $2)

We kept the food very basic (Cost: about $70 for burgers, hot dogs, salads, and chips), but I've seen other parties where they named all the food in a cute way. For example, "T-Rex 'Taters" and "Brontosaurus Bananas." I thought about doing more general categories (marked with cute signs), like "Carnivore," "Herbivore," and "Sweetavore," but I just didn't have the space on my table for this.

For the cake, my daughter had very specific ideas. She wanted a smoking volcano cake - with a T-rex eating a cow off to one side. I mostly followed the instructions here, but, trying to use only pans I already owned, chose to bake the bottom part of the cake in a bundt pan, the middle part in an 8 in. round pan (I trimmed this cake a bit to shape the volcano), and the top in my 4 cups Pyrex measuring cup.

Just before serving the cake, my husband put dry ice and water into the cup in the center of the cake, and I put the part of the cake baked in the measuring cup on top, then decorated the whole with the candy lava. The dry ice worked fantastic initially, but then petered out, so I felt rushed putting the final touches on the cake. I had intended to add frosting between the base of the cake and the measuring cup portion of the cake, but didn't - so there was an obvious "seam." If I ever make a smoking volcano cake again, I will only make a hole for the dry ice in the measuring cup portion of the cake (the top end of the volcano). I think that because our cake had a rather tall "vent" for the dry ice "smoke" to come through, the gasses stayed down inside the cake too much. (Cost: I purchased cake mix - about $3 - but made the frosting - about $2. Because we had to travel a bit to buy dry ice, and because dry ice "melts," we bought more than we needed - much more, it turned out. It was only 99 cents a lb., but we spent $12 on it. I already had the birthday candles, but if you have to buy them, expect to pay about $1.)

Finally, there were the games. We played "hot dinosaur egg" (which is just "hot potato" with a plastic Easter egg in place of the potato), while playing a dinosaur song I found online. We also did a dinosaur egg relay where I gave each child a spoon and placed a plastic Easter egg on it and had them walk a course as quickly as they could. If an egg fell from a spoon, that player had to start over at the beginning. It proved fun and challenging for all. But the most popular game was probably "dinosaur egg stomp." I tied a balloon to each child's ankle and told the kids to defend their "egg" while trying to stomp on and pop everyone else's. We played that a few times. (Cost: I had everything needed for these games, so our cost was $0. But you might need to buy a bag of balloons and some curling ribbon at the Dollar Tree for $1 each. It's best to buy the plastic eggs at the Dollar Tree near Easter time, $1, but if you need them out of season, you can buy them at Oriental Trading for $4 plus shipping)

Other ideas I didn't use, but liked:

* Using ferns and rocks as decoration.

* Dino soap favors. I was going to use blown out eggs, ready to pour glycerine soap, and tiny dinosaur toys to make these, but not having any of these supplies on hand, I ended up taking a pass. Still, these soaps are a fun way to get kids to wash themselves!

* Edible dinosaur bones.

* My daughter loves party hats, and these dino hats would be very easy to make. Just form a cone from cardstock, punch holes for ribbon ties, and add the saw-tooth decoration.

* Free printable dinosaur pennant at NickJr's website.

* Dinosaur rocks, finger puppets, dino feet, dino tails, and many more ideas here.

Total Cost of Party: about $99.

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  1. Very cute. :) Your dino cake is so much more creative than mine last year!! You can see a pic of it here: http://tanyadennisbooks.com/2011/08/04/big-birthday-wishes/ We just used malt ball Easter eggs for dino eggs around the bottom and molded chocolate pops to stick in the top.

  2. Tanya, hey, as long as the kiddo is happy, who cares how "easy" the cake is!