Here now are some of our experiences celebrating birthdays in a way that costs less and hopefully uses fewer natural resources.
You can start with creative invites. My wife sent these out for a cowboy-themed party. Though considering that she spent like a week making them, they're probably not the best low-cost, low-effort option.
And leis are a wearable decoration.
The food is easy to do yourself. Tacos are a good option.
Popcorn is an easy snack to pass around.
You can make your own plates fun and goofy. This is a spider meatloaf my mom made for a birthday.
Desserts? Having kids decorate cookies is always a hit.
Ditto for cupcakes
Note too the PB&J sandwiches cut out in fun shapes, and the fruit skewers.
You or a nearby grandma can make your own cake
We almost always make our own pinatas, from Santa-shaped
to weird scarecrows
to Edward Gorey-looking dog/gargoyles
to creatures shaped more by available materials than by any prior planning.
What to fill the pinatas with? We've managed to avoid candy, albeit by replacing it with cheap plastic trinkets.
You can make your own paper confetti, which is also a thrill when it comes out of the pinata.
As for activities to keep kids busy, you can make a maze or a castle for them to play in
or just strew boxes about for them to make their own inventions.
Balloons are surefire entertainment.
You can easily learn how to make balloon animals with a kit, and this is a good source of excitement and wonder, too.
If you're near a playground, just take the kids there for a while to play.
We did this once in Arlington, and parents were wowed. It was like the most novel thing they'd ever seen.
If you find old play equipment in the alley, hold on to it for your next Bday party, as we did with this basketball hoop.
More quiet activities can include puzzles
They can make their own party hats or just draw on butcher paper on the floor.
One year we had a friend's daughter who is studying child development serve as the party coordinator. She made really cool stick horses as party favors for kids to take home.