Joshua turned 3 last week and all he wanted for his birthday was a train-themed party. We happened to be buying and selling houses the same week of the party, and we didn’t have time to make it fancy or drop a lot of money. I really appreciate a good themed party, especially now that my oldest is old enough to appreciate it. He was so excited about his train party, he’s talked about it for months. So I wanted to make sure we still delivered even without spending much time or money on it.
Inexpensive party decor is my JAM, y’all. I really love creating special parties that don’t break the bank, and this train party was no exception. I like to shop mostly at the Dollar Tree, get some great party food from Aldi, and then make some of my own printables to cut out into banners and pop into frames. If that’s your style, or if you’re in a pinch to throw together a special party for a little kiddo in your life, then I’ve got some ideas and free party printables for you!
Dollar Tree Shopping List
Before I start making or ordering anything for a party, I first go to the Dollar tree to see what I can find so I don’t overspend on things like candles, streamers, balloons, etc. Here are my staples that I grab for any party, regardless of the theme or occasion:
- String (for banners)
- Tape (to hang up banners)
- Party Favors – I usually grab the little clear favor bags with the twist ties for them to go in!
- Paper Plates – They have so many colors!
- Plastic Utensils
- Serving Bowls & Platters – Seriously so easy. Instead of breaking out your fancy serving ware, just grab a couple of these for easy clean up
- Table Cloths – We usually do park parties and cover the picnic tables with these for easy clean up!
- Black 8×10 frames – I grab a few of these to put themed signs in
- Wrapping Paper & Gift Bags – They have the cutest and cheapest wrapping supplies you’ll find I swear!
Location location location! Y’all, kids birthday parties are expensive if you pay to have them at a place. If your parents ever threw you a party at a laser tag place, Chuck E. Cheese, the bowling alley or anywhere else like that, please go thank them. It is so expensive! We assume we will have lots of birthday parties to throw in our lifetime of parenthood, so we choose to stick to parks or have them at our house for free (at least for now).
Parks are awesome because they have a built-in activity, they allow for any amount of guests, and they are just about the easiest clean up you’ll find. Our parks cost about $40 to reserve the pavilion, but depending on where you live it could be free for you!
Also, an easy (and free!) way to go the extra mile with a themed party is to have it at a place that has elements of the theme. For example, I tried to reserve a park that had a train structure to climb on. (However I procrastinated way too much so that didn’t happen, but it was the thought that counted, okay?) If you have a dinosaur party, find a park with a Dino structure, etc. You’ll be surprised what you can find!
If you don’t have time or care to DIY the decor yourself, I love this set from Amazon. However, if you are still a few days out and have a printer at home, I love printable decorations. I love them even more if they’re free! So I have made all of the printable decorations used for this party available to download for free in this post.
I always make some signs to go in some 8×10 frames. You can use one you already have at home, or you can get one for $1 at the Dollar Tree. In the printables, I have included signs that say:
- All Aboard!
- Welcome to the Party!
- Chugga Chugga Choo Choo
- Chugga Chugga Two Two (If your little is turning two!)
- Wet Your Whistle
- The Dining Car
- Baggage Claim – Thanks for Coming!
- A Railroad Crossing Sign
I made a printable banner that matched the rest of the decor to hang. I used some string we had on hand and some tape. I’ve also used hot glue and twine many times and that works great, too.
Another easy way to add some inexpensive train-themed decor is to make a train track out of chalk along the sidewalk! We didn’t arrive early enough to make one, so our friend helped us out by whipping one up in a matter of minutes! It would even be cute to draw it going to the playground so kiddos and their parents know which way to go!
I didn’t do one this time, but I love making a DIY balloon garland! It is way easier than it looks. Just grab a couple of packs of balloons from the Dollar Tree in the colors of your theme and a needle and thread. You simply poke the needle through all of the ends of the balloons and string them together. Then, push them close together and hang them up with some tape! It ends up adding a really cool statement piece for only about $2 or $3 dollars. Balloon garlands are super cute for photo backdrops, too. Just grab an extra table cloth and tape it to a wall and add the garland around it. They even have the big gold number balloons at Dollar Tree to add to it!
If you don’t have time and need a quick Amazon fix, here’s a balloon garland with matching colors! This would be easy to throw together as well.
Themed Food Ideas
Themed food at a party is one of my favorite ways to incorporate the theme. Bonus points if you have some puns in there! Here are a few easy ways we made the food fun and themed!
The easiest and cutest idea is to make a little train out of loaf pans! These are also available at Dollar Tree or any grocery store. In the free printables I have included the wheels to cut out and an engine to cut our and tape on the front one. (I forgot this step, oops!) You can also buy some black construction paper or electrical tape and tape out your own track on the tablecloth for the “train” to go on! (I forgot this step, too. Can you say mom brain?)
I have also included all of the food labels as well. Just print these out on card stock so they stand up nicely! A few ideas for “train cars” you could do are:
- Lumber Car – Pretzels
- Grain Car – Tortilla Chips
- Coal Car – Grapes or Oreos
- Animal Car – Animal Crackers
- Produce Car – Fruits & Veggies
- Cattle Car – Buffalo Chicken Dip or Mini Slider Burgers
- Gravel Car – M&Ms
This is probably one of my favorite ideas and that is train-shaped sandwiches! After seeing this idea, I couldn’t resist and bought these sandwich stamps from Amazon. They come in a big pack, but I didn’t mind because we make a lot of PB&Js in this house and I’m not mad if we can make them fun shapes. The whole pack was worth it to get these cute train sandwiches!
Last but not least, the stop light rice crispy treats were a special request from Joshua. He saw them when I was scrolling Pinterest and would not stop asking for them so we got the ingredients and they were so easy! You just use 3 dots of icing left over from your cake or cupcakes and stick on a red, yellow and green m&m to look like little stoplights!
I like using the Dollar Tree plates and napkins, but if I were to splurge, I would’ve bought these plates and napkins from Amazon, they’re so cute!
For the beverages, we had some coolers with signs on them that said “wet your whistle”. This is included in the printables.
Party Favor Ideas
A really cute and inexpensive party favor are these wooden train whistles. They come out to just under $1 per guest.
Since we didn’t have too many older kids at our party, we got these little sets that included a train whistle, red bandana and a conductor hat. They were so cute and only about $2.50 per guest.
Here are all of the free digital download printables mentioned in the post!
We rushed in from out of town and arrived just as the party started, and threw this together in a matter of minutes. I hope this gives you some fun ideas to throw an easy and inexpensive train party of your own! Let me know in the comments below what your favorite inexpensive party ideas are!
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