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A Frugal First Fest

As your baby's first birthday approaches, you may not be sure if you want to throw her a party. After all, why spend all that money on food, decorations, and party favors when she's too young to appreciate it? On the other hand, the thought of not marking such a momentous occasion probably doesn't feel right either.

Luckily, you don't have to break the bank to pull off a successful birthday party for your 1-year-old. Just follow a few money-saving tips.

Think small. Limit the guest list to 20 people, including the other babies. Any more guests could intimidate your baby as well as increase the cost of the party.

Time it right. Plan your party in the mid-morning or in the afternoon, say, between 3 and 5 p.m., to avoid the expense of serving lunch or dinner. Snacks and drinks are all you'll need.

Plan a potluck. Friends and relatives will be only too happy to bring the chips and dip, veggies, and any other simple dishes.

Make invitations. Cut teddy bears out of construction paper, and then write down the party information on the bear's belly. Or cut out paper balloons and attach a piece of ribbon to each for a tail, suggests Penny Warner, author of Baby Birthday Parties. Another fun idea: Glue a funny photo of your baby on a piece of paper and write the party specifics in a cartoon bubble coming out of her mouth.

Decorate with what you have. Make things festive by placing your baby's stuffed animals around the party room and draping brightly colored baby blankets on the sofa and chairs. If you're artistic, use sidewalk chalk to decorate the driveway with flowers, hearts, and other shapes.

Less is more. "One simple activity is all you need for babies this young," says Warner. Put out some blocks for them to play with or delight them by blowing bubbles. Or form a baby band: Turn empty oatmeal containers into drums and make tambourines by filling two disposable aluminum pie pans with beans, then taping them together tightly (loose beans are a choking hazard). Let the babies bang away!

Cut the (cup)cakes. You don't have to spend a small fortune on a fancy cake when babies find cupcakes easier to eat anyway. Make or buy frosted ones, then decorate them with sprinkles.

Say goodbye in style. Send each child home with a small parting gift, such as bath toys that you can buy in bulk. Or, if you have a Polaroid camera, take a shot of each baby during the party, place them in inexpensive frames, and hand them out as souvenirs.

"Hand over" thank-you notes. Dip your baby's hand in washable paint and let her stamp plain stock cards or white paper with her handprint while you add a note. Personalized cards will mean more to your guests than store-bought ones and will save you a few more dollars.

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