Welcome to part two of my birthday planning series. Scroll down to read Part One. Full disclosure: I am usually a complete stress case before any party. I freak out about why our house is messy and smells like a dog (this really isn’t a mystery). Last year I ran to the store at the very last minute and bought four bottles of wine just in case any of the preschool moms wanted to have a drink….at 10:00 AM. Thankfully, my mother and my dear friend Brenda usually show up early so I can make them decorate the cake and greet people while I brush my teeth. Yes, I am one classy mommy. So, there is a fair share of, “Do as I say, not as I do…” in this post, but maybe if I write it, I can finally follow my own advice! I’ll let you know!
With that in mind, here are some of my best tips for saving some time and money if the party is at your place. In just a jiffy, I have a post with my very favorite themes and ideas. I’m also inviting you to share yours, over at the Facebook page.
Can you do this? First, do a little soul searching. Generally speaking, a home party is going to be cheaper than renting a venue. However, if you will end up remodeling your bathroom or buying food for an army, the costs will add up fast. If cleaning your house will make everyone nuts (raises hand) you should factor that in as well. Assuming you can open you door with a smile and creative a festive atmosphere without breaking the bank, read on!!
The Guests: The standard rule is to invite the same number of guests as the age of your child. However, this may not be practical if you have a gang of cousins or a pack of preschool pals. Frankly, I’d rather fit in one more child than hurt feelings. This is one of those things that does get easier as kids get older. Children in first grade and above can understand that not everyone goes to every party, and they’re a bit better at being discreet. Btw, at most schools it is a big no-no to have children pass out invitations, so make sure you know the rules. If you truly need to keep it small, consider inviting just the family, just girls or boys (I promise if you hold a princess tea my guys do Not want to come), or just pals from one area of acquaintance. You can also try to make sure you don’t end up with a bunch of siblings. Just write on the invitation, “We regret that we don’t have room for siblings.” If you’re fine with parents leaving, write, “Drop-offs welcome.” If you’d prefer they stay, write, “We look forward to partying with all our friends and their favorite grown-up,” or something along those lines. Please note: If you encourage adults to stay you need to provide food for them. Because I said so.
Food: Consider the time of day and plan accordingly. If you aren’t partying during a meal time, I think it’s fine to stick with cake, ice cream, and punch. If you are getting into the lunch or dinner hour, I think you need to serve food, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Crackers, cut veggies and dip, and cheese are fine. Sandwiches with the crust cut off are also popular ; you can cut them into shapes to match your theme if you want. Take out pizza seems to be standard at parties for older children. I am not a baker, but I have made some pretty cute cakes from Family Fun magazine recipes. If you can’t find a good one, do cupcakes and put a decorative doo-dad on the top of each, or some bright candies.
Decorations: Pick a theme and then buy a few coordinating items at your party store of choice-I’d suggest getting the plates and napkins. Buy a plastic tablecloth in a matching color at the dollar store along with your paper goods. You’ll save a ton over going all matchy matchy at the party place. Crepe paper and banners are fun, but colorful balloons in matching colors go a lot further towards looking festive, and you can send them home with the guests assuming they’re old enough to be safe around balloons (balloons are bad news for babies and mouthy toddlers-special SFM paranoia).
Entertainment: First, you need to have some activity for the children to do other than watching your child open presents and eating cake. Again, because I said so.
I like activities that double as favors-decorate t-shirts; do a simple craft….we went to one around Halloween where the kids painted pumpkins. So fun. Simple party games are also fun as are treasure hunts and so on. You might also have some entertainment come to you. If you can’t afford a professional, think outside the box. Maybe you have a teenager who could come show the kids some karate moves or cheers, or maybe your neighbor has a dog who does tricks. Older kids get better at entertaining themselves. I had these super cute monster puppets for my oldest’s last birthday, but they just wanted to run around and play Nerf. You might also just let everyone hang out in the playroom, but make sure all your kids are o.k. having all their things played with. Now, at a certain age you are going to have to start supervising More. If you leave a bunch of tweens to their own devices, the party is going to turn into texting rumors about that girl from algebra no one likes, and you are going to get a call from the principal. You’ve been warned.
Goody Bags: My kids are crazy about goody bags. Oriental Trading is a good source for all kinds of junk for every possible theme, but this is another good area to think outside the box. Young children love getting character bandaids, travel sized shampoos, flower seeds, and school supplies. I usually buy a giant sack of crayons in August when they go as low as .20 a box. You might also consider skipping the bag and giving one item with good play value. I went to a party where every child got a large sized bottle of bubbles tied to a balloon on the way out. Perfect.
Presents: Some folks like to open presents after the party. Others feel strongly that gift opening is part of the event. Others skip presents entirely (see yesterday’s post for some alternatives). I don’t really feel strongly about it one way or the other, but I do feel strongly that you need to do thank-you notes. This isn’t just about manners; it’s a life skill your kids need to learn. “Thank you for coming to my party. I love the ______ “is fine-just do them. My clever friend Desi does present opening after the party, and she always manages to get a picture of her son opening each gift and looking delighted to include with the thank-you. Clever, huh?
Looking for some specifics? Want to hear the cutest ideas I’ve stolen from dozens of parties? Coming right up! Don’t forget to come on over to the SFM Facebook page and share yours, too! You’re also welcome to ask for suggestions: SFM readers are always up for a challenge.