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making inexpensive birthday desserts

My son is celebrating his fourth birthday this year, and I am interested in baking something. However, I'm on a very limited budget this year and would like to make something that involves very inexpensive ingredients, preferably involving ingredients that I can purchase for under $12.00. I know this probably sounds like a stretch, but I need to save this year while still giving my son something that he'll enjoy.

Any assistance you can provide would be very much appreciated.

Thanking you in advance.



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  1. I always have a box of cake mix on hand for those times I have to bake something for a work celebration, like a coworker's birthday. It's my secret :)

    Take a look at http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/m... for some ideas on how to fancy up some boxed cake mix. The other night I made a lemon cake mix with lemonade instead of water, which boosted the lemon flavor. Then I made my own icing with 2 tbsp Grand Marnier + 1 cup powdered sugar. Stuck it in a ziploc bag, cut the tip, then piped on icing in cute designs.

    24 cupcakes with icing only cost me less than $5 and my coworkers ate all my cupcakes and left behind the fancy Kara's Cupcakes someone purchased for $3 each :)

    1. by cake mixes (duncan hines is passable) and make cupcakes. Make your own frosting tho very easy and cheaper, tastes a million times better and you can make a bunch of colours and flavours. You can even make plain icing and just put a spoonful of jam in to make different flavours so you don't have to buy extract. chocolate with strawberry is good. white with chocolate... sprinkles are fun for kids...

      lemon bars are good and fairly inexpensive. maybe $5 a 9x12 sheet

      1 Reply
      1. re: daislander

        Wow than you so much, Bobabear and Daislander. Your advice and recommendations are very much appreciated!

      2. Using shaped pans to form a boxed cake mix is another way to make a fun cake. Stop by your local thrift store or scan local Craigslist ads for inexpensive / free specialty cake pans (teddy bear, dinosaur, trucks, etc.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: MidwesternerTT

          You can work with basic pan shapes as well - make them, cut them into pieces, rearrange a bit, and cover in icing. It can be as simple as three small round cakes assembled into a snowman shape - trim around the edges to make slightly smaller shapes of two of them, use licorice to make the arms, ice in white icing and add the features and decorations in coloured icing.

        2. You have lots of options, cupcakes, regular cakes, pies. My rec is to hit up a Dollar or 99 Cent Only Store. Great values on party stuff etc.

            1. There is a lot you can do with "decoration" to make boxed cakes very exciting - especially for a 4 year old!

              I was going to suggest profiteroles. They are inexpensive to make and would be great for 4 year olds (just don't put the chocolate sauce on top of them) - kind of like ice cream you get to hold in your hand and run around and eat.

              1. A four-year-old is not going to be particular about the quality of the cake... a boxed cake will satisfy them nicely. If you want to be 'fancy' buy the Duncan Hines 'deluxe' mix for three dollars-something per box - the German Chocolate cake and carrot cake are delicious (I add more raisins to the carrot cake because I like more fruit).

                1. I want to thank you all for your contributions.i honestly didn't expect such a wonderful turnout, and i really appreciate all of the helpful advice. Now that I'm armed with some really great ideas,it's time for me to get to work!

                  Thanks again!

                  1. You can make an awesome budget-friendly ice cream cake!

                    1) Line a round cake pan with plastic wrap. Add your ice cream and put it in the freezer. The cake pan acts as a mold.

                    2) With a similar-sized pan, bake your cake using a store bought cake mix. Once it has finished baking, allow it to cool down.

                    3) Once cooled down, cut your cake in half. Get your ice cream disc from the freezer and place in between the two halves.

                    4) Frost it with cool whip frosting or just plain cool whip and you have yourself a tasty dessert!

                    5 Replies
                      1. re: TripleCremeDecadence

                        Good, easy idea. My family likes ice cream birthday cakes and those Baskin Robbins ones are (1) expensive and (2) not all that good. I am going to give this a try.

                        1. Cupcakes or some kind of poke cake come to mind. If budget permits you could have them decorate the top themselves.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ruthie789

                            Yup, one of the best birthday parties for little kids involved plain colored frosted cupcakes with muffin pans filled with sprinkles, alphabet cereal, gummy bears, m&ms etc. Let the kids go to town to decorate their personal cakes. Messy but fun.

                          2. Let me tell you about the best (in my kids' memories) cake I ever made. And I'm not a baker.

                            I used my usual, back-of-the-Hersey's cocoa-box chocolate cake, then cut into rough chunks. I cleaned out a yellow plastic dump truck and piled the cake chunks in, gluing them together with chocolate pudding. Chocolate chips scattered on top. Served with a yellow plastic shovel. Outdoors!

                            The entire party was impressed. If you already own or can borrow a plastic dump truck, cost is well under $12 assuming flour and other staples are on hand.

                            1. Remember that the child is 4 years old. He would probably be very happy with red jello.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Querencia

                                I know. I guess I just don't want him to think I'm a bad dad even though I'm on a VERY limited budget. Children get all sorts of crazy ideas when they're young about the way birthday parties are supposed to be, and my son has already told me that he wants his birthday juuuust like so-and-so's. He's kind of demanding that way.

                                Anyway, red jello is a great idea, Querencia! Jello hadn't even occurred to me, believe it or not.

                                Makes me wonder if there are any other fun "Birthday foods," outside of the "giants of birthday food," (cakes and cupcakes). Any suggestions?
                                Do parents give birthday ginger breads?

                                Any help is much appreciated, of course!

                                1. re: toddsqui

                                  Rice crispy treats are great because you can mold them, cut them, dip them, roll them in stuff. Tasty, cheap and kids like them.

                                  You can also take chocolate Chip cookies and make ice cream sandwiches with them (the kids can roll the sides in toppings) or do a chocolate wafer cake with nestle chocolate wafers and whipped cream, layered.

                                  I think tcamp and triplecreamdecadence had great ideas as well!

                                  1. re: happybaker

                                    Ooh! Great idea, Happybaker! That could be a lot of fun!

                                    But do you think rice crispy treats for four boys, counting my own, will add up to less than 12.00??

                                    Thanks so much for your contribution!

                                    1. re: toddsqui

                                      Oh sure! You can get generic rice crisps and marshmallows. Are you near an Aldi's?

                                      Just get the chocolate chips for decorating at Trader joes or, if you are in Florida - publix. Their store brand chips are awesome.

                                      And then instead of patting it out in a 13 x 9 pan - do it thinner, on a cookie sheet. This will make it more manageable and, give your more cut outs per batch. Good luck!

                                      1. re: happybaker

                                        Don't have an Aldi's, but definitely Trader Joe's. I'm in Minnesota.

                                        Thanks so much!

                                        1. re: toddsqui

                                          TJ's chips are excellent. Go for it and good luck!

                                          You have some wonderful suggestions from folks here, enough to get you through the next few birthdays (I love the ice cream cake one myself : )

                                  2. re: toddsqui

                                    Does your son want a cake? If so, make him a cake as mentioned above (cake mix is 100% okay, easy, and cheap).

                                    When I was a kid, I went to private school and attended some REALLY extravagant birthday parties. Catered by In-N-Out, DJs and live animals... one party even had David Blaine perform.

                                    And the cakes were outrageous as well.

                                    Come January, I'd ask my mom for some big old multi-tiered cake like so-and-so (I could care less about the entertainment, just wanted a big cake to myself) and she'd tell me "Just wait, you'll get a lovely cake."

                                    And every year without fail, mom baked me a Betty Crocker cake mix cake, the one with sprinkles in the batter. She frosted it with canned frosting and wrote "Happy Birthday" on it with my name. Sometimes she'd add those little plastic clowns or flowers or what have you. And decorate it with sprinkles.

                                    And every year it was the BEST cake ever.

                                    You can see it in all photos of children blowing out their birthday candles. Their eyes are lit up and they are so damn happy to have a cake made just for them. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how big or fussy the cake is, it's just the fact that it's "theirs."

                                    I assure you your son will love your cake mix cake. Write his name on it with frosting and stick on some colorful candles.

                                    Years down the line, he will remember what an awesome dad he had that took the time to do so.

                                    1. re: nothingswrong

                                      Thanks so much, Nothingswrong, for your comments. I appreciate you sharing your experiences with me on this board.

                                      I think my son will take anything, birthday cake or no birthday cake. I just want him to like whatever I bake.

                                      Thanks again!

                                  3. re: Querencia

                                    I have always been facinated with broken glass jello.


                                    She also does it in a bundt pan which looks neat and could be a good substituent for a cake. You could use his favorite colours

                                    You sound like a great dad, hope you have a super birthday

                                    1. re: pumpkinspice

                                      Those are wonderful, thanks for sharing.

                                  4. I second Jello, it was the first thing I thought of. I also feel the need to add that having a budget doesn't make you a bad father. It says a lot that you care enough to put so much thought and effort into making his day special even with your limited funds. He is a lucky little boy!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: VeganKatie

                                      Thanks so much, VeganKatie. I really appreciate your contribution.

                                      1. re: VeganKatie

                                        +1 my family was very, very poor, growing up we didn't have birthday parties, or cake, presents etc. but I never once felt deprived because I always knew how much my parents loved me. I wouldn't trade my childhood with that of a billionaire family.

                                        From my experience, it's okay to let a child know that money is tight or that something is not affordable. Don't feel like you can't tell that to a child.

                                        As for desserts, the ideas of chocolate chip cookies, jello, cake mix are all great ideas. It would be really great to actually have your son help with the preparation of the dessert, I remember when I was a kid, I always wanted to help, and frankly, spending time with your dad is the best gift I could imagine as a child.

                                      2. Funfetti cake mix. Everyone loves funfetti. You can get some sprinkles and go to town! If you want, you can make your own frosting. Buy some powdered sugar, butter, milk and a drop of vanilla extract. You can get all this at Walmart to save you a few bucks or the nearest dollar store. Happy 4th birthday!!!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: trolley

                                          Thanks so much for the suggestion, Trolley! Never heard of Funfetti cake mix before! Will definitely go check it out at my dollar store!

                                          Thanks so much!

                                          1. re: toddsqui

                                            I'm not a big fan of box cakes. i turn my nose up to them all the time. partly, bc my mother never made boxed cakes so I don't think I acquired a taste for them. Anyway, went to a kid b-day party and had a great cupcake that was filled with sprinkles. so cute and fun! asked the host and she whispered in my ear "funfetti" and gave me a wink. A box costs about $4.

                                            1. re: trolley

                                              Yes, Funfetti is what my mother made me every single year, and she still does to this day if I see her around my birthday. She insists on it.

                                              I bake from scratch terribly often--nearly every day there is something freshly made on my counter--but my mother's Funfetti cake is looked forward to. Now that I'm an adult and don't have a "real" birthday party, she sends me home with the rest of the cake and I stay up late eating it out of the pan :\

                                        2. You could also do a cookie cake/pizza.

                                          Make a batch of tollhouse cookie dough (or buy a tub) and press it out into a pizza pan. Bake, then decorate and cut into slivers.

                                          Or, bake as cookies, cool, then stack two or three cookies using chocolate frosting as the "glue" then decorate the top. So everyone has their own cake and/or, can decorate their own cake!

                                          Never underestimate the power of chocolate frosting, mini-marshmallows and sprinkles.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: happybaker

                                            Amazing idea! Thank you so much, Happybaker!!

                                            1. re: happybaker

                                              Even though I'm a big fan of Funfetti cake mix as stated above, this could be a great idea to keep the tykes occupied if you're lacking in entertainment.

                                              Kids love to decorate food, and they're much more likely to eat and enjoy it afterward if they took part in its creation.

                                              Christmas before last, I was assigned a rowdy room full of children at a Christmas party and was supposed to somehow keep them entertained (alone) for several hours while the other adults caught up with one another.

                                              I baked off several dozen sugar cookies and mixed up a bunch of different colored royal icing (kept in Ziplocs with a corner cut off for piping), and set out a crap ton of sprinkles and icing sugars.

                                              Those kids didn't move from the table for 3 hours. Not once. And come dinner time, they still didn't want to get up.

                                              The looks on their faces and we showed off their creations to their parents was priceless as well.

                                            2. Cake pops are fun too.

                                              1. Nothing about the cake and frosting matters if you allow your son to make it and especially decorate it himself.

                                                1. I have two boys and have made a number of birthday cakes. I have slaved over from-scratch cakes, and the kids prefer the boxed cake mix cakes every time. If you want to go for chocolate, this doctored up one is excellent: http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/1628...

                                                  When my oldest turned 3, I did two boxes of brownie mix in a larger pan (bigger than a 9 x 13 but I don't recall the exact size) then cut it to look like a bulldozer. Canned frosting tinted yellow (and a little bit of it brown) and a tube of the black wilton icing. One gumdrop, one pretzel and two wilton candy melts (we can buy all of that in bulk here in Canada - where you can literally buy one gumdrop). The whole thing probably cost $6-7. Here's a photo: