Rainbow Birthday Party – Budget-Friendly Ideas

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We threw our baby girl a birthday party this weekend. She somehow turned 2 when we weren’t looking and we had to celebrate!

As I was planning, I found lots of great ideas, came up with a few of my own, and ended up with a fun, rainbow-themed party that was both budget-friendly and easy to pull together. The best of both worlds!

Step 1: Choose a Theme

As I was searching Pinterest for inspiration, I fell in love with the rainbow theme that seems to be just about everywhere these days. Easy enough. The theme was decided!

Step 2: Budget-Friendly Decorations

We started decorating early, because we knew we didn’t want to be rushing around at the very last minute. I was going for big impact with as little cost as possible.

DIY Decoration #1: Tissue paper pom poms

These were so surprisingly easy and so inexpensive that I know we’ll be using these at future parties. They’re so colorful and even quicker than balloons! Video tutorial to come this week, as promised.

Prep time: 10 or 15 minutes each

Cost: Just $3-4 TOTAL for all supplies (tissue paper, pipe cleaners and ribbon). Less if you have any of those items on hand.

DIY Decoration #2: Paper lanterns

These paper lanterns were very easy to do too. I used a plastic template that I stumbled upon at Jo-Ann Fabrics, but they could also be made by hand in a pinch.

They’re simple, they’re cheap and again… make a pretty big impact for not a lot of money!

The plastic template (from Martha Stewart, who else?) happened to be on sale, so I paid $12. It’s regularly $20. Each lantern takes 1 piece (12×12) of scrapbook paper, which can often be found on sale. In fact, there was a scrapbook paper sale that night, too – 3 for $.99, so these were quite inexpensive, too.

I strung them onto a rainbow ribbon and hung them from the mantle.

Time: About 10-15 minutes total.

Cost: $12 for the plastic template (re-usable); less than $2 for scrapbook paper and $2 for ribbon = $16 with template (or only $4, if you cut these by hand)

DIY Decoration #3: Photo montage (see photo below)

I like to have a few photos up of the kids at their parties, so guests can see how they’ve grown over the years. This year, I wanted to make sure it fit the colorful theme and I lucked out. I found these very colorful clipboards at the dollar store ($1 each), along with packages of colorful chip clips to hold the photos up.

Cost: $6 total for clipboards and clips

DIY Decoration #4: “Taste the Rainbow” candy table

To continue with the colorful theme, we had a small candy table on display. My very patient husband sorted out a bag of M&Ms into different colors and we used mason jars that we already had to display them. I found Rainbow Nerds and displayed those in a bowl we already had. I took all the colorful tissue paper clippings (left over from making the tissue paper pom poms) and put those in a clear vase we already had.

Then I went around and looked for my kids’ most colorful toys. I lucked out and found this wooden rainbow elephant puzzle of theirs and I also tossed some colorful crayons in a bowl we already had.

The big splurge here was that fabulous rainbow fabric, which was just a perfect splash of color – and can be used for something else entirely after the party.

Cost: Fabric – $10; M&Ms and Nerds $5-6, Toys, tissue paper and crayons FREE

Time: Minimal

Step 3: The Food

We relied on our usual for the main course (pizza), but wanted to make everything else a little more colorful, so we had both a fruit tray and a vegetable tray in the shape of rainbows. I was particularly excited about the cauliflower clouds.

Step 4: The Cake

Here’s my favorite part of the kids’ parties. I love experimenting with baking the cakes – and trying to find fun ways to make them memorable cakes.

This year I had my heart set on making this beautiful rainbow cake, because what else do you make to fit a rainbow-themed birthday party?

Well, if you ask the birthday girl… you make an Elmo cake. “No, no, honey. Elmo doesn’t go with the theme!” But… for some reason, my almost-2-year-old didn’t quite “get” the idea of a theme, so every time her party came up? Sure enough, she asked for an Elmo cake.

To make the rainbow cake, I started the night before. I made enough batter for two cakes and split the batter up into 6 different bowls. Using food coloring, I transformed each of those bowls into a different color of the rainbow. Then popped them into the oven (3 at a time). Once they were done, I let them cool, wrapped each in plastic wrap and stuck them in the freezer overnight. Hint: I’m not big on disposable stuff, but in this case, it was more than worth it to grab 6 aluminum foil cake pans. For $2 total, I saved myself a ton of time and work. Since I only own 2 round cake pans, it would’ve taken 3 times as long to cook everything and time in between to scrub everything clean.

In the morning, I made the buttercream frosting, then took out each layer and shaved a little off the top of each with a sharp knife, so the next layer would lie flat. Then I spread a thin layer of frosting, grabbed the next layer from the freezer, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You get the idea.

Tip: Cake is always easier to work with frozen – and it thaws quickly. So as I finished each layer, I put the cake back into the freezer to firm up. While the cake was back in the freezer I took out the next small layer to shape and prepare. I always build the cakes on a cake board (just a flat piece of cardboard, basically), so it’s easy to transport to and from the freezer and eventually, from the kitchen to the dining room.

And here’s the finished product, which was a total hit!

And because the birthday girl deserves to get her one small request for her own party (even when it doesn’t fit into her mom’s “theme”), I made a batch of Elmo cupcakes as well.



  1. crystal says

    OOOH I love it!! It turned out so great!! :) The snacks look delicious & the cake is amazing!! I’m so glad you posted pictures!

  2. says

    that is the cutest party! I love the decorations! I am trying to come up with an idea for my daughter’s high school graduation. I know there are a ton of graduation decorations, but something a little brighter would be good. working on it. I like the doorway flowers , very cute!

    • Alissa says

      Thanks – we got on a roll with the rainbows. I scrambled a little when she started requesting Elmo. Good thing he’s colorful, too!

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