Everyone loves a good party. But where do you start and how can you make it fun and not spend a fortune. Don’t miss this 5 step list on stress-free, budget-friendly party planning!
- Also, be sure to check out my best decorations for a Unicorn Birthday Party, a Barbie Birthday Party, and a Trolls Birthday Party!
After years of throwing many types of parties – birthdays, holidays, baptisms, showers, BBQs – I can tell you that there is no need to stress with party planning. The perfect party doesn’t involve spending lot of money or time, it involves making smart purchases and planning ahead.
Party planning involves the following steps:
- Decorations and Ambience
- Food and Drink
- Games and Entertainment
- Take Home Treats, aka, Goodie Bags!
1. Invitations and Party Planning Tips
Invitations are crucial to an event… you wouldn’t have a party without guests now! So, how you go about it with your party planning depends on the type of event you are throwing.
When does a text, email, or call work? Save non-written invites for low key events like a get together with friends or a BBQ. The invite should just convey the necessary information: What type of gathering it is; what time it’s at; who’s invited; and whether guests should bring anything additional with them, a side dish, swimsuit, etc.
When does an Evite-style invitation work? Use Evite invitations for kids’ birthday parties. This method is preferable when you are inviting kids. It gives the parents notice and allows them to simply respond via email message as well as immediately schedule it on their calendars.
So when do you splurge on a formal invitation?
This route is ideal for special celebratory events like showers, baptisms, and milestone birthdays. This is a once in a lifetime day for the honoree and it is important to make it stand out. Formal invitations are great for this, and they are so easy to do online, with most companies even mailing the cards to your guests as well. But if you want to go the budget-friendly route for printable cards, there are a lot of great Etsy options to consider where you can buy the template for around $10-15 and print from home using card stock. A fancy look for a lot less than purchasing direct from the paper companies.
Just as a rule of thumb, if you are hosting something like a shower or baptism where you’ll be inviting out of town guests, a month and half notice is appropriate. If guests are all local, you should still give about 3 weeks notice.
2. Decorations and Ambience
Next, consider what you want your party to feel like. Just think of what you want the mood to be and what colors and themes will inspire it. For example, for a girls baby shower, you may want something bright and airy, with pinks and yellows. For your son’s birthday you may want something outdoorsy with a sports theme. Consider who is going to be there when party planning and how you want the the day to go.
To create the mood, you don’t necessarily need decorations. If you were hosting a BBQ, maybe to create the ambience it would just be a matter of rearranging the deck chairs so that everyone were facing each other. Or you could have a big ice chest of drinks so that when people arrived they knew it was a relaxed party.
For birthdays, go the 70/30 route.
Buy 70 percent of your decorations and make or use home items for 30 percent of the rest. That way it doesn’t all feel like it just came from a Party City warehouse, but provides enough to play in the theme without the stress of making everything from scratch.
Parties like baby showers and wedding showers require more decorations and ambience planning. But that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Look online and you will be able to find tons of great items for decorating with your colors. And try to find items that are reusable for future events. Also, you would be amazed how much you can change the mood of a room with little things like rearranging the furniture, opening the curtains, and using the “fancy” serving ware.
The key here is to plan ahead and set a budget. Use what you have on hand and borrow whenever needed. And stop stressing that your party needs to look just like a picture you saw online! Also, remember to set up decorations, tables, chairs, etc, the night before so it is once less thing to worry about the day of the party.
3. Party Planning Food and Drink
This is the hands down most important part of party planning… food and drink! Food and its setup can really add to the feel of the event your hosting. No one wants to go to a beautiful party that only has a sad store-bought cheese tray! But this part of planning doesn’t have to be expensive at all. Really you can make a big impact with a small budget just by planning ahead, making ahead, and focusing on display and set up.
First, envision your menu. Determine what guests will be expecting. Are you having a party during a prime eating time? Will you need to plan for a full lunch or will appetizers suffice? If you are planning a full meal, do you want it to be buffet-style with a sit down time, or do you want guests to serve themselves as they wish. For more casual get togethers it’s best to let people graze as they are at the event, without stressing about putting food away.
Next, set a schedule of when dishes will need to be made and tweak your menu to allow for as many make-ahead options as possible. Store-bought goodies are also a great way to go and such a time saver. Just make sure you serve them on server ware rather than in the store containers they came in.
The day before the party, do as much food prep as possible.
Cut up fruits and veggies, bake things that are good being reheated. You can even freeze cake layers ahead of time in ziplock bags, just take out of the freezer the day of the party and frost. So easy!
For drinks, keep it simple. One homemade item – like punch, lemonade, peach puree for Bellinis, or a signature cocktail – and have the rest be iced tea, soda, wine, and water. Costco is a great place to look for these items in bulk. Grocery stores often have wine discounts for multiple purchases, so keep an eye out for these deals as well.
Don’t feel the need to hire a caterer or order your food. With careful planning, you can do it on your own for a fraction of what you would pay someone else to do it.
Here are some great make-ahead menus for your next party:
4. Games and Entertainment for Party Planning
So this really comes down to how you envision guests spending their time while they’re at your party. If guests all know each other and are comfortable around each other, this part may not be as important. Great conversation can go a long way! But if you have a group of strangers or a bunch of kids, it is important tailor your party planning to include something to keep everyone busy or serve as an ice breaker.
For more casual BBQ-style get togethers, you could set up a game of corn hole or bocce ball. Don’t feel the need to go out and buy anything. If you don’t have these games to play, chances are your guests do and will be more than happy to bring them along. Even a deck of cards or a board game can provide entertainment for smaller more intimate groups. It’s always nice to have something in case the conversation lulls or your guests seem antsy.
For kids parties, always have something planned!
Otherwise, you can expect chaos. For the younger kids, you could rent a bouncy house (reasonably priced if you look online!). You could also have bubbles, chalk art, and simple arts and crafts. For older kids you could have a spa day at home, a karaoke fest in the family room, a pool day, or sports stations in the backyard. As a general rule, the more kids you, the more planning for games and entertainment need to be made. Smaller groups are easier to keep an eye on and are more likely just want to play in the birthday kid’s room.
For baby shower and bridal showers, you always want to have a little something planned as an icebreaker for people who may not know anyone in the group. It is also a nice way to pass the time, and quite honestly, people kind of expect them. Keep these games simple; there are a bunch of free printables available online.
5. Goodie Bags
Everyone love a goodie bag! For moms, its an easy way to get kids to leave a birthday party. Hey, there’s a goodie bag waiting for you by the exit.” (That is until you get to the car and realize there is going to be chocolate and silly string everywhere in 10 seconds!) But goodie bags don’t have to be what you may think, filled with cheap toys and messy candy.
In referring to goodie bags, it’s more just giving your guests something to take home with them. For casual events, it could be a little bags of cookies or a bottle of great beer you found at the store.
With kids, most are expecting a goodie bag when they leave.
This is a good one for the dollar store to handle. Get a coloring book, crayons, some play doh, and bubbles. Do little things that aren’t going to break and that the kids can actually get some use out of. For great goodie bag options for kids, check out Birthday Party Favors. It’s nice not to have treats in the bags either since the kids will already be full of cake from the party!
My favorite goodie bags to put together are for baby showers and wedding showers. I love the girly factor in putting together these bags. You can get little bottles of Champagne or wine and print out custom labels for them. You can download printables and attach lip balms to them. Scented candles, nail polishes, fancy hair ties, there’s just so many options!
Whether you’re throwing a BBQ or a formal wedding shower, easy, budget-friendly party planning can be broken down into 5 simple steps. Invitations; ambience and decorations; food and drink; games and entertainment; and goodie bags.
The best way to approach it is to be organized and start planning. When you don’t give yourself enough time, you tend to overspend and not look for the best deals. Make-ahead meals and store-bought items are great for parties and large wholesalers like Costco are a goldmine for these items. So don’t be afraid to throw a party. Get organized and get a date on the calendar so you can start party planning!