I feel like a birthday party pro. That may be because after 8 years and 3 kids I’ve taped up a lot of streamers and iced a lot of cakes. Our very first kids birthday party was over the top though. I spent about $200, and invited like 50 people. I was a new Mommy celebrating my 1st born’s 1st birthday- I couldn’t help myself. A few parties later I’ve pared down the cost and streamlined the process to reduce stress. A few pointers:
Decorations: You can have a beautiful party without dropping serious cheddar at the party store. I use the classic combination of balloons & streamers and they always look great. You can get whatever colors you need to complement your child’s theme for under $10. Also, don’t bother buying one of those expensive helium tanks to blow up your balloons! You can make them “float” by blowing them up with plain old lung power and hanging the strings from the ceiling, or taping them on the wall to compliment your streamers. I always hang the streamers and balloons at least a couple days before to get the decorations off my to-do list. Save as little for yourself to do the day of as possible.
If there is a specific character or theme you’re trying to accomplish, a couple of well placed items from your local department store’s party section can help. For example, my daughter had a Monster High themed party so I purchased a table cover and wall hanging for about $9 to compliment the streamers and balloons I picked up for $5. After the party, I put her name banner (made in MS Word & printed at home) and the giant poster in her bedroom (minus the happy birthday portion). She now has a M.H. themed decor every day for pretty darn cheap.
Food: Planning ahead goes for food to. Do as much food prep in advance as you can. Less to do the day of the party means less stress and more fun. Feeding a crowd can be pricey and complicated. I like to make simple, inexpensive yet yummy food in large quantities. One idea I’ve used is a hot dog bar. You can cook your dogs (and keep them warm) in the crock pot. I use beef bouillon cubes in the water to give the tube steaks extra flavor. A great idea, found on one of my favorite food blogger, Stephanie O’Dea’s, website is to stand the hot dogs on end to get more into the slow cooker. You can see that post here.
Treat bags for the kids: I have often made homemade goodies like Chex coated in white chocolate or chocolate dipped pretzels, cookies, etc. to fill treat bags. The kids always enjoy it and the adults do too. There have also been parties where I skipped treat bags altogether because they aren’t strictly necessary.
Invitations: Our local Dollar Tree has invitations and thank you cards. They have decorations too. That’s my sweet spot. You could always go free and text, email, or Facebook invite people but I love invites in the mail. It just says party to me.
Cake: When ordered from a store bakery, cakes can be a good chunk of your party budget. $30 for sponge cake & colored Crisco? No, thank you. I like to make my kids’ cakes as often as possible. Sometimes we can’t afford a big gift but I can always fire up the mixer and bake up a box of Duncan Hines. The kids love choosing what kind of cake they want made and come up with ideas throughout the year in anticipation of their next birthday. There have been times when I’ve bought a cake off the rack at Costco to avoid becoming overwhelmed by party prep. Whatever it takes to get it done.
Party space: We have a large family. My husband is one of 5 and they all have kids. So our kids have 13 first cousins and 1 more on the way. Add that to friends and my side of the family… we need a big space. Since two of our kids have winter birthdays, outdoor parties won’t work. We lived in a single-wide mobile home for 2 years and ended up having 3 parties at bounce house places just to accommodate everyone. $250 a pop. Ouch. Now, we live in a house large enough to have everyone over but it’s still a squeeze. So I’ve done away with the big party and we do two small parties for each kid. One with my family and one with just one or two of my husband’s sibs and their kids, as well as a special homemade dinner and cake on their actual birthday. It’s a week long birthday and the kids love it. I leave the decor up all week too. It’s pretty fun!
So these are the things I think of when planning a party. Bottom line. Try not to go overboard. Your blood pressure and your wallet will thank you.