We’ve all been to one of those fabulous birthday parties thrown by a super-crafty mom who has loads of time and energy to spare. The decorations are amazing. The cake is homemade. The entertainment is endless – a bounce house, face painting, and pony rides. You think, one year I’m going to throw a party like this … but, this is not the year! This year you’re swamped and on a budget. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you’re not channeling your inner Martha Stewart. The whole point of a birthday party is for your little one to have fun celebrating with family and friends.
Here are nine tips for planning an awesome party on a tight timeline and strict budget.
1. Relax and pick one area to focus on.
The first step is to relax and realize you don’t have to do it all. Pick one area to focus on – something that let’s you put your personal stamp on the party, but won’t overtax you. If you enjoy expressing your creative side, make hand-made decorations. If baking is your thing, go all out with the birthday cake.
2. Consider electronic invitations.
Electronic invitations are a great way to save time and money. Enter the email addresses of your invitees and the site automatically sends out invitations, track the RSVPs, and send out reminders before the party. Most busy moms appreciate receiving electronic invitations – there’s no invitation to lose, and you just click a button to RSVP. Sites such as evite.com make sending electronic invitations quick and easy.
3. Pick a theme.
A theme helps set the mood of your celebration and gives focus to your decorations and entertainment. Get creative, think about your child’s favorite activities, books, TV shows and movies. Picking a “generic” theme instead of a character-specific theme can be easier on the wallet. For example, if your little princess wants a princess party you can hit the dollar store in search of anything pink and sparkly, instead of spending big bucks on Beauty and the Beast plates and napkins.
4. Remember that timing matters.
When you pick a time for the festivities, remember that the time will dictate the amount and type of food you’ll need to serve. A party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a Saturday usually involves serving lunch – which can really bump up your budget. If the party starts later, you’ll have the option of just serving snacks and cake.
5. Chose a location and entertainment.
The location and entertainment has a big impact on the amount of time and money you spend. If you pick a venue that does all inclusive birthday parties you’ll spend less time, but maybe more money. Many of these venues offer more economical rates on weekdays, so be sure to ask.
If you hold the party at your house or a park, you’ll invest less money but more time preparing and cleaning. At home parties can be tons of fun, and there are plenty of entertaining and inexpensive party games that you can put together quickly – musical chairs, scavenger hunts, freeze dances and obstacle courses. It’s really up to you, simply decide where you want to place your energy and dollars.
6. Decorate! Plan your decorations around your theme.
Save a few dollars by using things you already have that fit the theme – lawn chairs, towels, sand pails, and a colorful umbrella can help set the mood for your beach theme. If you’re little one picked a character-specific theme such as Thomas the Train, Elmo, or Barbie find a few character-specific items. Then, buy “generic” items in a solid color that fit your theme and fill in with these. If you’re on a tight budget, think old school – crepe paper streamers and balloons! Both are a great, inexpensive way to bring a lot of color and fun to a room. Many of the all-inclusive venues supply the decorations, so be sure to check before you buy anything.
7. Simplify the food.
Does your theme lend itself to any specific type of food? Ballpark food like hotdogs and popcorn is perfect for a baseball themed party – not to mention inexpensive! Pizza is always quick and easy. If you opt for pizza ask the pizza place to “double cut” the pizzas. You’ll end up with smaller, kid-size pieces, need fewer pies and have less going to waste. And, don’t forget to use coupons when you order!
8. Streamline the goody bags.
The cost of all the little goodies that go into the gift bags can add up to big bucks. Not to mention the time they take to put together. Consider giving a single item – a coloring book, sand pail, race car, or big bubble wand and bubbles. Or, plan a party activity that incorporates an end-of-party gift. If you decorate cookies, wrap a decorated cookie in a cellophane bag, tie it with a bow and present it to each party guest as they leave. Or, have a treasure hunt where the “pirates” take home all the booty they find.
9. Accept help if it’s offered.
You don’t have to do it all yourself! If family or friends offer help, take advantage of their talents. Having someone else bake the cake or help with face painting during the party can be a big help. Be sure let your helpers know their assistance was appreciated with a small token or a thank you note. n
Jessica Baldis is a freelance writer who has given her fair share of birthday parties for her three sons.