Quick Tips for Getting Your Party off the Ground
One of the most recurring questions in my research for this booklet was the following: “Why have a birthday party for your infant child?” Many expressed puzzlement over why anyone would even bother holding a celebration for a child who is too young to even decide whether she or he wants a party. As the thinking goes, “it’s not like they’ll remember it.” I understand this sentiment because I was once there myself. Yet, I eventually realized that birthday parties very often take on significant meaning, a meaning beyond the child’s personal experiences. Often enough, birthday parties can be about the people within the birthday person’s life. What I have noticed many parents forget how important and enjoyable birthday parties can be for the people around the birthday child’s life. Birthday parties don’t just have to be about pleasing the birthday child–although this is certainly an important consideration! Birthday parties can also be events where children and adults celebrate company, solidarity, and togetherness.
We know parties take many forms. They can be large or small picnics in a public park, movie-watching moments, or even quiet strolls on the beach. They can consist of as little as two or three people or they can be as large as the entire class at your child’s school. Obviously, what will work for some people will definitely not work for others.
Here we will focus on quick tips to get your party planning off the ground in the most constructive way possible. Please also make sure to visit some of the resources on the links page to take full advantage of what this chapter has to offer.
Invitations are often very tricky for parents to compromise. Invariably, they ask themselves whom they should invite, how they should invite, and whether they should ask the invitees for some money to cover the costs of the party. On this latter issue, debates often get heated over proper etiquette for asking for money and assistance!
Some parties won’t even require invitations. Many parents, for example, have been able to skirt the invitation issue entirely by using word-of-mouth or simply deciding that the party is to only consist of a limited number of guests. Many parents who have held birthday parties for their toddlers decided that all birthday parties would be family gatherings until the child was old enough to decide for herself. It is entirely possible that you might not even need an invitation for the party! If you decide that you are going to use invitations to invite more than just family, please continue reading this section, as you will discover some strategies to cut costs when sending out invitations:
Strategy #1: Make Your Own Invitation Out of Recycled Materials
Got some paper bags lying around the house that you haven’t used in months? How about those old newspapers or magazines or paper plates from a former purchase? All of these materials could potentially be used for an excellent arts & crafts project. Is your child old enough to speak and make artsy pictures? Have him or her help you make the invitations and make this a personal project for the two of you to bond over! By having the child help out, this will not only help free up some time, but also might supply the added benefit of providing at least one valuable lesson for the child: learning how much work being a party host takes!
If your child is not old enough for this endeavor, however, and you don’t think that you’ll be able to utilize the resources listed, you might consider putting pen to paper and writing personalized messages to be hand-delivered or mailed to the potential guests, along with some pretty drawings that either you or your child can use to decorate the card. Doubtless, a personalized message will be more meaningful than your generic Hallmark Birthday Invitation. It will also show the guest that you’ve given the birthday party some thought and determined that their presence is important. This will be far better in setting the tone of the party than something impersonal.
One last benefit to this strategy is that you’re using recycled materials which, in turn, benefits the environment. How impressed will your party guests be when they see you pushing for an eco-friendly birthday celebration!
While mailing invitations costs money there are many options outside of mailing invitations that are available to you. Some parents will bypass the invitation completely and use word-of-mouth to get people hooked to the idea of a celebration and to generate some buzz for your child! Others may employ the internet (which will be discussed at length in the next section). One possible alternative could be to have your child hand-deliver the invitation to her friends who could then pass the invitation on to their parents. This hand-delivery method may work depending on your circumstances, but if not, safer strategies involve the internet which is what we will turn to next.
Strategy #2: Use Internet Resources
So let’s say that you don’t have the resources mentioned above to whip out some nifty recycled arts & crafts project. Or let’s say that you don’t have the time to implement this activity before the celebration.
Do you have a computer or phone with internet connection? If so, then you have a virtually limitless supply of electronic birthday cards, right at your very finger tips, absolutely free of charge! Evite.com has been one of the most popular services for doing this sort of thing, but there are others out there as well (many of which are mentioned in the resources section at the end of this book). Some services will be more customizable than others, and it will take a bit of searching to find which ones work best for you. The templates and instructions on these websites are generally pretty easy to follow, and shouldn’t take you too long to complete, say, no more than fifteen minutes. Use the glossary in the back to peruse the list of services provided to determine how you can more effectively utilize these opportunities to suit your needs.
Also, if you’re technologically savvy, you can sync these services to your phone and send them out through App services that are available. This will also help you free up some time to take care of other important birthday party related supplies!
Strategy #3: Invite Fewer Guests
Do yourself a BIG favor and set an amount of kids that you’re inviting to this party. I mention this specifically because oftentimes parents spread themselves too thin by worrying about all of the guests they need to take care of. Don’t let this be you! If you find yourself stressing over mailing too many invitations and coordinating too many people, simply invite less! Not sure you can? Don’t know how? There are many ways you can do this, some of which I list right here:
1. Invite only your family to the party (at least until your child is old enough to decide)
2. If your child wants to invite friends, have them invite only the number of friends equal to the birthday child’s age. So if the child turns five years old, for example, invite five friends.
3. Invite fewer of your own friends. Do this by accidentally “running out” of invitations or explain that the party was just for a small number of family members.
Most of the time, if you’re honest with people about not being able to invite them because the party was too large and difficult to coordinate, they will usually understand. Besides, if your child is a toddler, he or she probably won’t have the verbal skills to request a large party, and certainly your own friends won’t be holding a grudge against you for not inviting them to your child’s 2nd birthday bash. I find that most of the time, friends usually are content with staying back.
Once again, if your child is old enough to decide, keep the number of invitees at a minimum by following the strategies above. If your child wishes to invite many of her friends, have her work on planning the party by making decorations or writing some of the invitations. This will help teach your child and her fiends how important it is to be a good host and the sort of responsibilities that go into planning a party.
Still, another possible option for limiting the number of guests is to simply be honest with your child and let them know what your budget is. Letting your child know how much money you have to spend not only establishes boundaries but may also impart good financial and fiscal responsibility onto your child: values that she or he can’t afford to live without. Two birds with one stone!
If you do decide to invite more guests than the age of your child, and if your child is at that ripe old age where they insist on inviting the whole class, well, that is totally do-able if you hold the party in a public park and have your child run the PR for the event. Just make sure that the party is held at a time of day when you don’t have to do a lot of cooking, because such a large party could turn into more work and more money spent than you need or can handle!
When you’re feeling anxious about all of the chores you have to do for the party, it’s helpful to take a step back and evaluate the situation. And then invite less. Never invite more people than you can handle.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to understand the space where you are having the party! Before any of the other planning takes place, you must–absolutely MUST–have a space in mind, or a few that you’re deciding on. This is non-negotiable because it determines the shape of the party. Probably one of the most cost-effective places you can have your birthday party is in your very own home! Don’t be afraid to have the party in your home! Countless parents decide that they would rather just forego the headache of coordinating birthday parties in public or semi-public places, and opt to have their birthday parties in the comfort of their own home or living room. Depending on how old your child is, and who is invited, holding a party in your own home may be a very a good option. After all, you cut costs on travel expenses and much of what you already need for the party, such as decorations and food, is probably already in your home to one degree or another. Having the party in your home can also serve as a good backup plan in the event of bad weather. If your child is young enough, she or he may not care either way where the party is located, which gives you enough license to decide that the party is going to be in the house. If the party is small, holding the party at home may very well be your best bet for saving costs. But please remember: The house could have lots of busy party guests who will all need a place to sit, a place to put garbage, and a place to eat that is spill friendly. And on that note…
There are some parents who would prefer to keep the children as far away from the china and delicate antique porcelain as possible, and many opt to have the party some place local but at a comfortable-enough distance from the house. But before you go spending your money on one of those pay-as-you-go indoor play farms, see if you can’t first find a decent enough public place where you can hold the party for free. Public parks can be an excellent choice because they afford the parent, child, and guests ample opportunity to initiate fun activities and games. And more often than not, children can initiate their own games with their friends in the park, with little or no help from you. If your child is celebrating a birthday during the winter time when there is snow on the ground, maybe you can go sleigh riding or build a snowman! If you’re thinking that your child might need a little help, feel free to check out some of the ideas listed in the chapters to come, as well as the glossary which has a list of resources you can draw from to get more ideas.
If the public park is unavailable for whatever reason, a decent alternative would be to hold the party at a recreation center. I have also heard of some parents even showing up one day at Chuck E. Cheese and claiming reservations that they never actually made. If parents are firm and committed enough, they can often enjoy such places at a reduced rate, or at no rate at all! Parents have been able to save a lot of money through implementing this strategy, but you didn’t hear it from me.
Wherever you have the party, make sure that it’s in a safe location and with ample enough space. There are many games that one can initiate in an open field, but it’s important to also consider whether the area is guarded enough to be suitable for such activities.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you don’t have an open park or field available. What if you live in a city? Believe it or not, there are plenty of alternatives outside of your local park and open field. Fortunately, there are many places open to the public that do not require any upfront cost or deposit, just as long as you make an appointment and commit to the time that you’re going to be using the space. Some of these places include pavilions and community rooms at local libraries. Check with library staff to book the date. Library community rooms are some of the best places to hold birthday parties because A) they cost you nothing and B) they afford you the privacy and space to enjoy the company of others. If for whatever reason your local library isn’t available to you, another great option would be houses of worship (such as churches, temples, and synagogues) which are likely to have some available space. Although each establishment is different and will have its own set of rules, it is worth looking into when you consider how often these places are used for birthday parties. Finally, like recreation centers, local community centers are also great places to hold birthday parties for little or no money.
Given all of the options that you have at your disposal, there’s no reason to feel bogged down by the decision over where to hold the birthday party. Just remember that the party location is only a small portion of the overall experience, and it never hurts to remind yourself that you’re doing this to enjoy the company of others! Many parents often get caught up in trying to maximize the wow-factor of their parties, trying to impress others, and I have seen many parents discuss the difficulty of raising enough money to create this extravaganza for their two year-old. But as I’ve already mentioned before, prepping for the party doesn’t need to cost you anything! Sometimes all it takes is just a little tweaking here and there of the party “theme” in order to make the party much less expensive than it would have been.
Setting up the Party
On many message boards relating to party-planning, you’ll often observe more than a few people debating the merits of asking guests to chip in for some of the food. Some people will follow the line of thinking that you shouldn’t ask guests for a contribution while others will take the opposite view. Still, others will say that it will depend on circumstances. But what if you could circumvent this issue entirely by framing the birthday party as a get-together, instead? What if the emphasis of your party is on bringing people together? Sure, you could celebrate the birthday child, but what if there was just a little more inclusion of others, a demonstration of your appreciation for their company.
How about making the birthday party a potluck! Truth told, this is one way to have guests contribute without necessarily feeling like you’re taking advantage of anyone. Potlucks are great because they allow you to collaborate with your close friends and family to make the party—or at least the food of the party—much more festive. If everyone is contributing, not only does it take the strain off of you and reduce costs, but it actually serves to bring you and your guests closer together. Remember that you set the rules, both for your children and all of the invited guests. If the party is ordained a potluck, then it’s a potluck!
One way to save on costs is to invite guests to participate in any of the planning stages of the birthday party, in the decorations, for example, or in the event itself. Have them bring balloons already blown up, make a picture to hang up for the birthday person, or bring a ball to share with party guests at the event. Share recipes, coordinate who is bringing what, offer assistance to others if they need it, and try to set a really appetizing assortment of food and drink for both the children and even the adults. This makes the party more of a team effort which in turn makes everyone feel like they’re taking part in something special, and for everyone’s benefit!
One final note is in order. If you’re having the party in your home and your child is old enough to have a whole stash of toys, it may be a good idea to have your child put those toys in a safe location. If there are toys that are special or books that are favorites, then have the child put them in a box and place them out of the way at least one or two days in advance so that they are safe from accidents and out of the way during set up. This allows them to be in charge of the things they want to share and the things that are too special to risk damaging. Take it from me: this step shouldn’t be taken for granted as children are very protective of their belongings. Keep this in mind!
Decorations don’t need to be extravagant, but I will say that they do enhance the visual value of the party. It always FEELS like a party when there are streamers and balloons popped up on doorways and windows. However, much like the potluck idea above, there are many ways that you can turn what would otherwise be laborious work into fun activities that everyone can partake in, including your birthday child!
Instead of going to the party store and buying your typical balloons, why not make your own decorations that you can suspend from your walls? Make a birthday sign that says “Happy Birthday,” and hang it up on the walls of the birthday space or on the bark of a tree outside. Decorate the tables with handmade paper garlands, or paper runners. Use paper cups in the middle of the table to entice guests to start creating their own masterpieces of birthday art. Allow the birthday boy or girl to create a designer piece of art for each guest. Or make birthday drawings that make use of colorful tablecloth or banner that has been lying around the house, or just make the party based on one single theme and find different objects around the house that you can strategically place around to highlight this theme. Many parents often go with a color theme, such as a “pink party,” or a party for “blue dinosaurs.” This is your chance to be creative and to decorate with wild abandon! Work with your team (i.e. your spouse and child) to ensure that the party is going to be a smash.
If you find that you absolutely must go to a store and get something “party-related,” thrift stores often have sections called “party favors,” where items are sold at deep discounts. There are also after-holiday specials which you may wish to consider. Believe it or not, balloons and confetti are actuallyquite cheap, and you certainly won’t hit the $12.00 mark if you purchase a package of them, particularly if it’s during a holiday season.
The dollar store can be a parent’s best friend, especially when it comes to saving money on birthday parties. And in truth, much of the tips provided in this e-book largely depend on you shopping exclusively at one of these stores to maximize your money-saving ability. Just remember that 90% off is THE perfect price! Period. And whatever you do, please see the glossary at the back of this book for some internet resources to help you locate your nearest thrift store.
The internet is also a surprisingly good resource for finding decorations. You can print out all sorts of patterns relevant to the party theme. Just type in a google search “birthday party design patterns,” or even “birthday designs” and see what pops up! You’ll find pictures that you can download and place on tables or walls. Also make sure to check out printfree.com which will allow you to use some really neat banners. You can find many similar websites online, some of which will even customize your banners for the individual occasion. Search around with keywords like “customized banners,” and you shouldn’t have to look far.
When thinking about decorations, the most important thing for you to keep in mind is to keep it simple. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and in many respects, the rule of “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Silly) really is appropriate here.
The basics of party planning were covered in this chapter, which include invitations, decorations, and locations. In terms of the invitations and decorations, I mentioned resources that you could use to build your own quality, low-cost items that will enhance the party. Also mentioned were cost-effective locations for the birthday party. The take-home message in all of this should be that making all of these things happen–invitations, decorations, and the like– doesn’t have to be as stressful as it seems, and the resources I have provided to you should give you a bit of a head-start in your planning process, or at least set your thinking on course for more practical and cost-effective options!
If you’re thinking about putting on a party for your child who is under the age of two, please proceed to the next chapter which contains several tips and tricks you can use at your disposal. Otherwise, feel free to skip around and find the information that is most relevant to your needs, while also bearing in mind the page of links above.