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This weekend my youngest daughter will turn five. While part of me is mourning the fact that my baby will be five, another part of me is sad that this year, for the first time, we will not be throwing a big party to celebrate her birthday. You see, little Annie was born on Memorial Day. Of my two daughters, she is my little party girl, so every Memorial Day weekend since she was born we have thrown a huge bash to celebrate her special day. Last year it was a Mermaid Party, the year before that was a CAKE party, and the year before that was a Sweet Shop party.
But this year, for the first time, little Annie chose to go Miss Edie’s house instead of having a party.
And as much as I love visiting Edie, the truth is, there is almost nothing I love more than throwing a great party. The food, the decorations, the fun…. Just the mere thought of gathering our friends and family for a celebration, whatever the occasion may be, fills me with an excitement I can’t explain. I could literally get lost in the thrill of planning my next event.
There was a time, however, that my lack of party budget sense left my husband with a serious financial hangover. It wasn’t that I intentionally set out to spend too much, but in my eagerness to throw the perfect party, things seemed to always spiral quickly out-of-control.
Eventually, however, I learned that party planning on a tight budget can actually be more fun then planning an event where money is no object. Setting limits allows your creativity to emerge, forces you to prioritize, and it allows you to focus on making your guests’ comfort your first priority. In fact, through the years I have discovered that there are seven secrets to throwing a fabulous party on a tiny budget, and surprisingly enough, very few of them have to do with spending money! If you’ve got a party coming up, these seven secrets might just make your next gathering the best you’ve ever thrown:
Pick a theme
Every fabulous party needs an original theme. This is KEY. Before you spend a single penny on party supplies, be sure that you have picked a central theme that will keep you focused and on track. A theme helps you set the tone for the party and focus your planning efforts. It also helps keep the budget under control, because you can spend less and yet have a bigger impact when your expenses are all centered around the same main idea. Magazines and Pinterest are full of inspiration and the instant you stumble upon a theme you love, I can assure you that the creative ideas will start rolling in.
After I’ve settled on a theme I like to gather ideas by creating a dedicated board on Pinterest, and then using my favorite ideas to create an inspiration board of ideas (using PicMonkey.com.) These inspiration boards help me eliminate the unessential so that my entire budget is focused on fulfilling that vision.
Here are a few of my favorite party theme ideas:
- Beachy Mermaid Party
- Explorer Party
- Cute as a Button Baby Shower
- Let Them Eat CAKE
- Sweet Shop Birthday Party
- Princess Tea Party
- Happy Daisy Party
- Crafty Pool Party
Make your guests the focus
The details do matter, but not necessarily the details you might think. Pinterest-worthy decorations and a stunning dessert display won’t save a party if the guests aren’t having fun. Good hospitality—personally welcoming each guest, introducing them to other guests, and helping them mingle—is absolutely free.
If your group is naturally quite social and outgoing, or if everyone already knows each other, you may not need to worry about this, but you should still be prepared just in case things start to go awry. Many people are, by nature, shy and uncomfortable in social settings, particularly if there are a lot of people they don’t know.
Icebreaker games, while perhaps silly, can get things off to a light-hearted start. There are usually a few ultra-competitors in every crowd, so offering a little friendly competition can help liven things up as well. And be sure to offer prizes! They don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, just a little something to get things rolling.
No matter what, always be sure to provide enough food and drink! If you can’t afford both food and decorations, opt for food, because hungry guests will not have fun. Even if the party is not at mealtime, provide at least a few substantial snacks & munchies just in case.
Here are a few of my favorite party recipes:
- Sweet & Sour Crockpot Meatballs
- Easy Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Hot Crab Dip
- Overnight French Toast
- Easy Vegetarian Quiche
Entertain the kiddos
Kids don’t need much–most of the time they just want to play–but make sure there are a few “kid zones” within your party environment to keep the youngest attendees occupied. After all, happy children = happy parents! Set up a table with coloring pages or simple crafts—I love wrapping the whole table with brown kraft paper & then letting them loose—or have one room available for play, and another quiet room available for resting or watching a movie. Be sure to also have some kid-friendly food & drinks on hand.
Let your guests pitch in
No one wants to show up to a party empty-handed, and regardless of what you tell them, your guests will always want to bring something. Put that thoughtful party etiquette to use by asking each invitee to bring something that will help you keep your own expenses down, such as an appetizer, dessert, or bottle of wine to share. I promise they won’t mind a bit; on the contrary, they will probably appreciate for once knowing what to bring. Even better, it will prevent you from getting stuck with 20 unnecessary—albeit lovely—hostess gifts.
Splurge on the unexpected
Determine your party budget, save in every way you can, and then, with the money you’ve saved–and you actually might surprise yourself once you truly start to get creative–use your extra cash to surprise your guests with something unique.
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Consider a babysitter, magician, or bounce house to entertain the kids, a professional bartender to serve the drinks, or perhaps some fun door prizes. One or two splurges here and there will leave an unforgettable impression, and your party will be the talk of the town.
Unless your next soiree is a very formal affair, skip the overpriced paper invites in favor of the email variety. Design your own at home on a word processor, or by using a free online graphic editor such a PicMonkey or Canva. Most of us have heard of Evite for email invitations, but there are also a few other really neat & more unique options including Paperless Post, Punchbowl, Celebrations, and Green Envelope. Not only will you save on paper and postage, but managing your guest list will be a breeze.
With inspiration teeming from Pinterest, television, magazines, and the blogosphere, there is honestly no excuse for not joining the DiY revolution. You don’t even have to be exceptionally original or creative; you just have to follow the simple instructions.
Your party budget dollars will stretch much further—and make a bigger impact—if you forgo commercial decorations in favor of ones that are handmade. Likewise, homemade food and desserts, are both cheaper and usually better-tasting than their store-bought counterparts. Even more importantly, handmade decorations and home-cooked food will make your guests feel like they are part of something special and one-of-a-kind.
Here on LWSL there are a number of detailed tutorials for making a variety of basic party decorations, everything from tissue paper puffs, paper party hats, & buntings to simple instructions for sewing your own table runners & simple chair covers All of these can be made for just a few dollars in supplies and very little effort.
Party Prep DiY Projects:
- DIY Beach Glass Bottles
- How to Make a Paper Bunting
- How to Make a Paper Party Hat
- How to Make a Fabric Table Runner
- How to Make a Simple Chair Slipcover
- Ruffled Crepe Paper Streamers
- Burlap Wreath
- Beachy Upcycled Pallet Art
- How to Make a Sandcastle Cake
- How to Make a Skirted Tablecloth
- Wooden Chalk Painted Placemats
- Paper Plate Banner
- Tissue Paper Puffs
At the end of the day, a truly memorable party does not come down to how much you spent, but how your guests feel. In all honesty, no one will remember your adorable overpriced napkins, expensive centerpieces, or even all your Pinterest-worthy DIY projects. On the other hand, if your guests felt comfortable and had a great time, it won’t matter if you spent $10 or $1000.
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What are your best secrets for throwing a fabulous party on a budget?