Every parent will eventually be tasked with planning and executing a kid’s birthday party at some point. Even those lucky enough to be in a relationship with an event-planning genius need to be prepared in case their partner gets tied up with another commitment. And winging it isn’t a good idea because you could easily go way over budget or find yourself faced with a guest who has a severe allergy you weren’t expecting.
Check out these seven tips to help ensure a smooth and memorable birthday party.
1. Budget your time and money
Before you get too carried away with any ideas of throwing the ultimate party you never got to experience as a child, figure out how much time and money you can commit to a party. If booking a venue is a reasonable expense, start looking into reservations as soon as you can. Popular party spots can book up well in advance and you don’t want to end up scrambling. The nice thing about locations that specialize in parties is they take care of most of the planning for you. Just know they can be costly.
For those with a more limited budget, an at-home party is going to be the best option. Party supplies can actually be pretty cheap if you stick to basics like balloons and streamers.
2. Pick a theme (yes, really)
Finding the best theme might seem daunting, but chances are good your child probably has a few ideas already. If you’re drawing a blank, Today’s Parent suggested a few easy ideas for different age groups that would all be great options. Say your child is really into baseball. For food, you can serve hot dogs and caramel corn. An actual game of baseball will work if the kids are old enough, but even baseball-themed activities will work for younger children.
Even if your kids are older, a loose theme is a good idea because it makes planning so much easier.
3. Send out invitations early
Nothing puts a damper on a party quite like a 25% attendance rate, which is why you need to get your invitations out on the early side. Punchbowl recommended sending invitations two to four weeks in advance so families have a chance to adjust their schedules and get a present. Don’t feel like you need to send elaborately decorated cards in the mail, either. Apartment Therapy said electronic versions are perfectly acceptable. They also make it easier for guests to RSVP, so you’ll end up hearing back from invitees earlier.
4. Don’t be too rigid with your plan
Having a plan always helps you avoid disaster, but be prepared for things to go off the rails a little bit. Mommy Poppins said to just smile and go with it, particularly if the kids are having fun. Having a backup plan is a good idea as well. Outdoor parties can get rained out and sometimes a performer will get sick at the last minute. Plan an emergency venue, even if it’s your living room, as well as alternative games.
5. Keep the food simple
Don’t bother with a catering company or trying to pull off an elaborate, 15-layer cake. According to Real Simple, finger foods are the easiest to pull off and they’re usually kids’ favorites anyways. If you insist on cooking the food yourself, do as much as you can in advance. Trying to cook for a crowd while getting organized in the hours leading up to the party will just leave you frazzled. As for cake, every kid will be happy with something from the grocery store.
6. Remember the goody bags
It may be your child’s party, but the other kids also want to feel special. Fortunately, it’s as easy as sending them away with a little gift bag. Parenting said to go for inexpensive, fun toys like kazoos. According to the article, you can easily put together a great goody bag for less than $5 a pop. You can also match the gifts to the theme, even if it’s just using a particular color.
7. Keep a gift log for thank you notes
In the excitement of shredding through wrapping paper, it can be easy to forget who gave which gift when the extravaganza’s over. The Washington Post recommended writing down a list as your kid opens each gift to make sure you’re able to send thank you notes accordingly. They don’t have to be elaborate, but a quick thank you is always a nice gesture. It’s also an important lesson in gratitude for the birthday boy or girl.
Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec