Do you feel pressured into throwing outlandish birthday parties, complete with themes, destinations, entertainment, elaborate goody bags and catering, for your kids? Do you feel like you need to match or even surpass the extravaganzas the other kids are having? Fun and glamorous as they appear, an hour or two alone of one of these Pinterest- and Instagram-worthy parties will leave you with a huge dent in your wallet.

But contrary to what some social-media boards will have you believe, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great party for your little one. And, in the long run, it pays to say no. Here are some easy ways to save on your child’s next birthday.

1. Invite just a few friends

You’re not obligated to invite everyone in your child’s class. Consider how much it will cost per child and multiply it by the number of kids in the class. Also bear in mind, your kid might not even be close to everyone in the class. Some parents go by age, inviting six children to a six-year-old’s party, for instance. Keep it simple by sending invitations to the parents of your kid’s BFFs. You can even spare yourself printing costs by sending out e-vites.

2. DIY decorations and food

There’s no shortage of cost-saving DIY birthday tutorials across the Internet or social media. A simple Google search will show you do-it-yourself cookie-decorating stations, cake-making hacks, crafty decorations, party favours, free games and more. And think about going old-school with goody bags, especially for the littlest children. A treat, a balloon and a handful of dollar-store items can still impress.

3. Ask your kids what they want to do for their birthday

Before you go all-out on a birthday bash, simply find out what your child wants to do. It’s your child’s big day, after all, not yours. Does your child really want a princess-, unicorn- or superhero-themed party with entertainers and other theatrics? You might be pleasantly surprised to find that your children simply want to hang out with their friends and eat pizza and cake. If they want something with a little more fanfare, let them know what kind of budget you have and what the various elements of the celebration will cost. It’s a great way to get them involved in the party-planning process and teach them about financial responsibility.

4. Splurge only on milestone birthdays

Do you remember every single birthday party you ever had as a kid? No? Chances are your child won’t, either. So if you feel the urge to splurge on a birthday bash, you can aim to make their milestones memorable. Whether it’s a destination trip to Disney World, a luxurious spa weekend or a gnarly party with a DJ, indulge them a little when they turn a special age – like 13 or 16 – and stick to more frugal party ideas for all their other birthdays.

5. Ask family and friends to contribute to an RESP

Instead of giving your children birthday gifts that will be quickly outgrown, broken or just turn into clutter, suggest that your family and close friends contribute to a registered education savings plan (RESP). What’s that? An RESP is a tax-sheltered savings plan designed to help you save for your child’s post-secondary schooling. The tax advantage comes in when you take the money out, as it will be taxed in your low-earning/no-earning child’s hands, rather than yours. Plus, the government will match 20% of your annual contributions up to $500 per year to a lifetime maximum of $7,200, for each child. That’s more than seven grand in free money – plus whatever investment growth that money generates while it’s in the plan.

Worried your kids will hate this idea? Babies and toddlers are unlikely to throw a fuss over it. However, if your child or teen wants actual presents, ask your family to put some of their gift budget towards the RESP, and buy something your child can unwrap with the rest.

Your little ones might not understand the benefits of an RESP now. But they’ll thank you for it later, especially if it helps them avoid the pain of student debt.

  • Want to know how much it’ll cost to put your kids through college or university? Try out our free RESP calculator. You’ll get a sense of how much you’ll need to save to help cover your children’s education costs.