How to Throw a Circus Party on a Budget
So a week ago I turned 40, and I decided to embrace this major milestone of my life by throwing a big circus themed party.
I had seen loads of pics of gorgeous circus and carnival themed parties on Pinterest, so I set out to recreate something of the feel but without breaking the bank. As well as food and drinks, I wanted to have a candy bar, a photo booth, and some side show games and attractions. I thought I’d talk you through what we did, so you can get some tips and inspiration for creating your own circus party without breaking the bank. And if you read all the way through to the end, there’s a little freebie for you to print off and get your circus party started!
The party was for around 30 people. It started at 4pm with afternoon tea, and at around 6/6:30pm we set up the buffet with food for dinner. In between we played games and played some music with our old band. The party finished around 8pm. Here’s what we did:
I managed to buy a second hand set of candy jars, including 6 small and 7 large ones as well as a scoop and paper bags, from someone selling off their wedding supplies after their wedding. It was more jars than I needed, but I only paid £10 for everything, which I thought was a good deal. I used the six smaller jars for the Candy Bar, and the bigger jars for other things.
The jars are plastic, which is a lot safer with the kids than glass and means they are also easier to store for future use. Though there always seems to be demand for these so I could also just sell them on again. I also spent around £5 on sweets for the Candy Bar.
We had three games: a Ball Toss, a Ring Toss, and a ‘Knock em Down’. The Ball Toss cost absolutely nothing to make. We still had boxes left over from our recent move, and stuck two of these together with masking tape for added height. Then we cut a round hole at the top, and cut open the bottom. We also added an extra piece of angled cardboard at the bottom so that when the balls are thrown in the top they roll out the front instead of just sitting in the bottom of the box. When I say we, I mean my husband and Oskar. Here they are at work, constructing the box…
We (the husband and I this time) then painted the box white with some left over paint from doing up our apartment, and later added the red stripes, labels, and embellishments with paint and pens from my craft supplies. To play the game, we used juggling balls we already had.
For the Ring Toss, I cut a cardboard box from a recent Amazon delivery in half and covered it in tape from our general supplies. I covered six empty water bottles in coloured tape, also from my craft supplies, and stuck them down with my glue gun. If you don’t have coloured tape you could also cover them in paper, or just lesve them as is and just cut off the drinks labels. Total cost for the Ring Toss was £1 for a pack of six water bottles from Poundland, and £3.46 for a pack of 12 hoops off Amazon, though we only needed five of them.
And, finally, to make the ‘Knock em Down’ we just printed off labels (we went for a number 40 to match the occasion) and stuck them on to 500ml drinking cups with clear packing tape from our general supplies. The cups cost £1.50 for a pack of 12, but actually I had previously made this game for the boys’ birthday party last year – with Paw Patrol pictures instead of the 40 – so since I was reusing the cups you could argue it cost me nothing. Again, we used juggling balls we already owned to play the game.
Total cost of all three games (including the cups): £5.96! I also bought a big box of prizes for £13.99 which included 100 pieces. I only used about a third of these (which I displayed in jars that I hadn’t used for the Candy Bar), and the left overs will do us for the next couple of kids birthday parties. A third of the box of prizes costs about £4.60, bringing the final total for the games up to a grand £10.56
The photo booth is what we spent our largest chunk of party planning money on, because we bought quite a few props for this. But I felt okay doing this as we could add them to our dressing up box – which our boys use frequently – afterwards, so I wasn’t just spending all that money for a one off event.
You could keep the costs down by making or borrowing more of the props. We bought a clown wig, bow tie and glasses, a red sparkly hat, a tiger mask, an elephant nose, a beard (for the bearded lady), and some inflatable strong man weights. We also added in a top hat, a tutu and some sparkly necklaces from our existing dressing up box, and we made a fire-breather prop from cardboard. The hula hoop I found in a skip a couple of weeks before the party!
I also bought a box of 36 clown noses, which was more than we needed for the photo booth but we were giving these out as party favours too. So you could cut the costs for your photo booth down further by just buying one or two noses.
Total cost for the photo booth props was £33.25 plus £5.66 for the backdrop, for which we cut red and white crepe paper in to strips and hung it up with masking tape left over from painting out flat.
Other Sideshow Attractions
For the Fortune Teller, to create the crystal ball I filled an 18cm diameter plastic bauble with scrunched up tissue paper, and stuck it on top of a plastic cup that was left over from making the ‘Knock em Down’ game. I draped a sparkly cape from the boys’ existing dressing up box around it. Next to that, I placed another one of the large jars that I hadn’t used for the candy bar, which I filled with shredded tissue paper and lots of folded up fortunes that I had printed out. All the tissue paper was packing that I had saved from various deliveries, so the only thing I had to buy was the plastic bauble which meant the whole Fortune Teller setup cost around £4.20 (I bought it for 4.75 Euros in Germany in my summer holidays).
For the Tattoo Parlour, we simply set up a bowl with water, a little sponge from my craft supplies, and a pile of circus themed temporary tattoos.
I bought a pack of six dozen tattoos on Amazon for £4.99, which was way more than I needed but a pack of one dozen would have cost £2.50 so getting the bigger pack worked out cheaper per tattoo and I now have loads left to hand out at my kids future birthday parties!
When we were looking through Pinterest for inspiration, Oskar saw a picture of a popcorn vendor and really, really wanted to do this for the party. Seriously, he was talking about this for months!
We made the tray out of another large cardboard box we had kicking around, which we covered in tape from my craft supplies and added the ribbon, also from my craft supplies. Then we stuck on the sign we had printed off. So the only cost for the popcorn vendor were the actual popcorn boxes, and we got a box of 24 for £7.29 on Amazon.
Since we already had so much going on, we kept the other decorations simple. I got one large, plastic red and white striped table cloth (cost: £2.49) for the side table where we set up the candy bar, tattoos and fortune teller. For all other tables I got a large white paper banquet roll. The cost for the whole roll was £10.40 but we only used around half of the 25 metres at most, so I’ve only included half the cost in my calculations. The rest of the roll will serve us for another couple of kids parties.
I also bought two packets of red and white striped napkins at £1.59 each, and by chance I found a little circus sign for £2.40 so I added that to the decorations too. To make the tables look less bare, I’d printed off some fake tickets saying ‘candy’ and ‘popcorn’ which we scattered between the napkins, as well as dotting some of the red clown noses around the tables. We also printed off all the signs ourselves that you can see in the photos. Total cost for table coverings, napkins and decor was £13.27.
Food & Drink
Finally, there was the catering, which can always leave a big hole in any party budget, but for around 30 people we only spent around £40 on food (including the sweeties for the candy bar), and the same again on drinks. How did we do this? We did what we had already successfully done for our wedding nine years earlier – we invited everyone to bring something sweet or savoury for a bring and share buffet! We supplied a birthday cake, tea and coffee for afternoon (we just brought along our tea and coffee from home), and some baguettes, a cheese board and grapes for the buffet, as well as a couple of bottles of wine and beer, and some juice. Our guests brought more cake, doughnuts, lots of salads, crisps, hummus, ham, gherkins, a savoury cheese flan…it was quite a spread! We even had some leftovers to take home. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of any of the buffet, except for my birthday cake:
So, to sum up the cost of our circus party:
£10.00 – Candy Bar
£10.56 – Games (including prizes)
£38.91 – Photo Booth
£4.20 – Fortune Teller
£4.99 – Tattoo Parlour
£7.29 – Popcorn Vendor
£13.27 – table coverings, napkins & decor
Plus around £80 for food & drink (including sweeties for the candy bar)
I realise that still may seem like a lot of money to some and not much like a party on a shoestring, but I’ve seen people spends hundreds of pounds on the kinds of parties shown on Pinterest. So in comparison ours did feel a lot more budget friendly – without losing anything in terms of impact or enjoyment – and hopefully has given you some inspiration for recreating your own circus party without breaking the bank and shown you where you could make savings. For example, you could cut back on prizes and just play games for fun, you could make or borrow more props for a photo booth instead of buying so many, you could have someone dress up as a fortune teller instead of setting up a crystal ball, or you could serve popcorn in little paper bags which are cheaper than popcorn boxes. Just a couple extra suggestions to get you thinking.
Anyway, I hope this post has helped to show how you can create a big impact party without spending big bucks. Do you have any other great budgeting tips for parties? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. And if you end up recreating a circus party yourself, I’d love to see your pictures so please feel free to share and tag me in on Instagram and Twitter.
To get your circus party started, I’ve got some free signs for you to download that my husband created for my party. You are welcome to print these off for your personal use (click to open media file, then right-click to save):
Oh wow this is such a great idea! I’m wondering if I can convince my daughter to have one of these for her next birthday??!
Oh these are all brilliant! What a fun and creative idea for a party. I love your ball toss and the ball throw looks brilliant. Love that it’s all affordable too.
This is just brilliant and on a budget too! Ball toss looks fab and so does the photo booth x
Annette, 3 Little Buttons
Awww what a gorgeous idea for a party! Those games are genius and how clever to organise everything yourself. Happy Birthday
Oh wow, this is amazing! It looks SO good, I would never have thought to host a circus themed party but it looks absolutely great. I would have loved this as a kid and it has definitely given me inspiration for Luke’s next birthday.
This is brilliant! I bet everyone had a wonderful time. My fav bit was the games section!
Happy belated birthday, your circus themed party sounds amazing and love the tips. In our house we are all about budget friendly everything
What great ideas and I love that ball toss!
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