I love a good party. I mean, who doesn’t? But over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to increase your chances of success, and minimize your level of stress, without jeopardizing the wow-factor you’re aiming for. Become a pro on how to plan a party (well, partly, anyway) and save some time and money, with these six easy tips.
1. Give yourself enough time
By starting the planning process several months in advance, you give yourself an opportunity to save money and allow time to focus on the details that will really set your party apart from others. For example, I knew I’d need eye-patches, swords, skulls, and tablecloths to use as decorations for my twin boys’ pirate-themed birthday party. Since I was planning in advance, I knew I could score most of these things on clearance right after Halloween, even though the party wasn’t planned until December. There was an abundance of pirate-themed accessories available at that time, and I was able to get them at awesome prices.
Early in the planning, I focused on designing a message-in-a-bottle invitation. A scroll was placed inside the bottle and sealed with a wax skull and cross bone. Since I had plenty of time to wait for shipping, I was able to save money on the wax seal by ordering it on eBay.
I was also able to convince my husband that his new favorite beer was Sierra Nevada—their short bottles were exactly what I was looking for to hide the scroll invite inside, and I knew that the “bottle-gathering” job would take more than a weekend, even for the biggest beer enthusiast!
2. Look for inspiration all around you
There’s no shortage of great party ideas out there, and accessibility to these ideas has been made even easier with the likes of Pinterest. However, I think that some of the best inspiration comes from unexpected places right around you. When I settle on a party theme, I immerse myself in learning as much about the subject as I can. The result is that the details feel a lot more authentic to the theme. When starting the planning of a Superhero Monster Truck birthday party for my boys, I went to my local library and got a stack of comic books to read. I had already experienced two Monster Jam Shows (I did mention I have twin boys, right?), so I knew that there were Superhero Monster Trucks that would work perfectly for the theme.
I decided the best way to pull this all together was to create an invitation in the form of a short “comic book,” using an app that I already had on my iPad. The comic book invite featured photos of the boys in their superhero costumes from Halloween, combined with a few photos of Monster Trucks. The villain in the comic was the “Cake Monster” (or, in other words, my husband dressed up in a monster mask that we had lying around from Halloween). The party was set up as a superhero training camp, and when the Cake Monster made a special appearance, the guests used their newly acquired super-skills to defeat him. (I‘m still hearing about this villain showing up!!)
3. Don’t try to do it all!
It’s really easy to get carried away in things like banners, gift bags, cupcake tags, water bottle wraps, and games… But a party can actually be “overdone”. Not to mention you can become “overdone” from trying to pull all those details together. I’d suggest picking a few details that you believe will really set the party’s tone (or better yet, set it apart from all the rest), and executing those things really well. When I decided to host a Dr. Seuss party for (you guessed it) my boys, I fell in love with the amazing topsy turvey Dr. Seuss cakes I had been seeing online, and I knew I had to have one for this party. However, there were two big problems with this idea: 1. Dr. Seuss is a licensed property that not many bakeries have the rights to use, and 2. If I could find a bakery willing to create it, I probably wasn’t going to be able to afford it.
So, I decided I would focus most of my energy on teaching myself how to make my own Dr. Seuss-style topsy turvey cake. This meant I had to cut back on making a ton of other fun Dr. Seuss crafts, so instead, I kept the focus on easier things, like fun food-tags that emphasized the word play that Dr. Seuss is known for.
4. Splashes of color go a long way
An easy way to tie a theme through your whole party is with the use of color. Picking two or three colors and incorporating them into things like your invitation, decorations, and food can really help set the tone for your party, and usually takes very little effort. This is the strategy I used to try and impress all my dear, creative co-workers when we decided, last-minute, to throw Emily (yep, the Emily who writes for this blog) a surprise bridal shower at my house.
With little time to prepare handmade decorations, I used pinks and yellows wherever I could to create the color theme. The themed food included watermelon and pineapple, pink sherbet, and pink cake-pops displayed on a dish of yellow Lemonheads. Sliced lemons held yellow chevron food tags, and I also placed mini-vases of pink gerbera daisies and yellow daisies (from my yard) throughout the party. Even the gifts helped tie the color theme together with pink and yellow wrapping paper and bows!
5. Use what you have
Before making a long list of items to run out and buy for your next party, take inventory of what you already have—either at home, or that you could borrow from friends or family. You’d be surprised at what you can find that would work perfectly as-is, or with just a few modifications! Many years ago I purchased (on clearance) these great wire photo-holders that I use for food tags and decorative signs. I’ve had them for so long, but I use them at almost every celebration I host.
As part of the decorations for the Dr. Seuss party I mentioned earlier, I used old Dr. Seuss books from my childhood, as well as books my boys got as gifts–super cute, on-theme, and FREE! For my sister’s recent backyard wedding, I used glass mason jars (that she already had) for all the flower arrangements and candle lights. During the ceremony, the vows were exchanged under a wooden arbor I borrowed from a friend.
Just a few weeks after the wedding, I hosted a Roaring 20s birthday soirée, and was able to reuse both the jars and arbor to create a speakeasy entrance and walkway.
6. Have FUN at your party!
This might be the best piece of advice I can give anyone, because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed at the event you host. Is everyone having fun? Does everything look perfect? What about the food—does it taste good?! But when you stop worrying, and start enjoying the wonderful celebration you pulled together, everyone else will enjoy and have fun, too. And as you might be able to see below, I’ve gotten pretty good at telling myself, “Work’s over, it’s time to party!”
With every new event I host, I always learn something new that’ll help me in the future. I hope you’ll find these tips just as useful in planning your next party.
And I’m sure you have a few great party-planning tips, too, so please feel free to share them if you do!
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Draeger and Tess Smith Photography