Getting Freedom From Debt (or Cents to Get Debt-Free) has a guest post about DIY Birthday Cakes.
Nothing New Nothing Wasted has some thoughts on the wastefulness of birthday decorations and disposables.
Here's our own post about Birthdays, Frugal and Otherwise, from a few years ago, with a link to this frugal-birthdays post at The Common Room. And here are the posts from Crayons' Horse Party (last year), Flower Fairy Party Menu (two years ago, with extra comments about the cupcakes), and Butterfly Birthday (five years ago). Other ideas we've used are meeting friends at a park (booking a (free) gazebo in case of drizzle) or having a party that's mostly outside--does save on decorations. Or a tea party for little girls--if you already have the teacups and things, your decorating problems are solved. I read, I think in the Tightwad Gazette, about a parent who took birthday guests to either a flea market or a thrift shop, giving them each a couple of dollars to spend. As far as the issue of the guests bringing presents goes...we've struggled with that one, and solved it at one party by asking them to bring supplies for MCC school kits instead. (That inspired one of the guests, who asked the kids at her own next birthday to bring needed supplies for an animal shelter. We've also been to a wintertime party where it was requested that we bring mittens, hats etc. for a mission for homeless people.) Our kids have been to some very creative parties too where the main activity was sewing or some other craft...one of them brought home a rice-filled hot bag one time. For the Apprentice's ninth birthday, we hot-glued things on painters' caps (cheap from the paint store) and had backyard games like charades.
One idea that was less successful for us was the time we took little Apprentice and her friends to a McDonald's playland--I posted about that a long time ago. That was a year when we opted for "simple" (as in "make it simple for us") instead of "frugal"--but some of our "frugal" parties have gotten better reactions from the guests. This weekend's bowling party was more on the "simple" than "frugal" end, and we did use some disposables (because it's hard to manage china plates at the bowling alley), but there's nothing to say that you should never have parties like that either. We like to support that family-run business, they charge a reasonable price for an hour's bowling plus free chips and drinks, and it was something that Crayons was really looking forward to. We thought about doing a home-based superheroes party, but this time around, she really wanted to do something like bowling...and after a busy rest-of-the-weekend, I was just as glad not to have to figure out party games. So I don't apologize for that. (Besides, we lucked out--the people who had the party room just before us left all their pink balloons up on the wall!)