Birthday Party Planning Secrets From a Former Event Planner
My family makes a big deal out of birthdays. I remember many of my birthday parties as a kid because they were always a big event. We have a large extended family and parties have always been an “everyone is welcome” event. My husband grew up in a small family that never made a big deal out of birthdays. He had to adjust to my ways, to say the least.
I spent the majority of my career in public relations representing various luxury brands. We hosted events across the country as part of our sponsorship programs, which is to say, I know a lot about throwing theme parties. I have had to pull together events for several hundred people in less than a week. I have hired staff for events from across the country.
What does that mean to my kids? It means mom can throw a great birthday party. When I worked in public relations, I had huge budgets to make my client’s events memorable. Unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited funds for our kids’ birthday parties, so I get creative.
I am seven years in to throwing birthday parties for two boys. I have thrown the following theme parties: monkeys, Super Why, primary colors and shapes, Thomas the Train, pirates, Star Wars, Pokémon, Sesame Street, construction site and Paw Patrol. As you can see, I try to go with whatever my boys are interested in at the time. Our guest list is pretty diverse, including family, friends and their kids and my kids’ friends. On average, we have between 30 – 50 people at our birthday parties.
Timeline for Birthday Party Planning
As they say, timing is everything. If you don’t reserve your venue on time, your whole party may be difficult to orchestrate. If you don’t research party supplies online early, you’ll be forced to go with whatever the stores have in stock. Here is my timeline for birthday party planning.
Birthday Party Timeline – One to Six Months in Advance
We live in a two-bedroom condo so we can’t just throw a birthday party in our home. Since many Los Angeles residents also live in an apartment, condo or home with limited outdoor space, birthday party locations fill up fast.
I didn’t realize that when I was planning my son’s first birthday, which falls around Memorial Day. I went to the city to book a park two months in advance and was shocked to discover that most of the parks that had party space were already booked. We were able to secure the park across the street from our home, which sounds like a great option, except that it is on a hill so everything needed to be dragged up the hill for the party. Not ideal at all.
If you have to book a party anywhere other than your home, start early. You won’t regret booking a party five months in advance, but you will regret waiting too long and not having any options. When I did my son’s birthday party at a bounce house facility, I booked it seven months in advance and I got the last available weekend in May!
Birthday Party Timeline – Three Weeks in Advance
Pick a Theme:
If your kids are old enough, let them pick their birthday party theme. I usually chat with my older son way in advance about his party theme since he is pretty indecisive. Last year he jumped from Star Wars to Super Heroes before finally settling on Pokémon, which I knew nothing about!
Setting on the theme helps with invitations if you are planning to incorporate your theme into your invitations. Of course, you don’t need to settle on a theme before sending out invitations. There are plenty of adorable invitations that won’t clash with your birthday party theme.
Invite Your Guests:
Plan to invite your guests at least three weeks in advance. You don’t want to invite them too early that they forget about your birthday party, but you don’t want to invite them too late that they already have plans – especially if your kids are in elementary school. Elementary school age kids tend to have extracurricular activities such as sports or dance or swimming lessons on Saturdays.
The type of invitation depends on your audience. For my kids’ first and second birthdays, the majority of our guests were family and close friends so we used printed invitations. Once they got to preschool and elementary school, we started doing online invitations (evite and paperless post) since we only had email addresses for class parents.
I usually start my online birthday party shopping three weeks before the party. That way, if I can’t get everything I need online, I have plenty of time to get to a party store for the remaining supplies. My favorite online party supply sources are Oriental Trading, Birthday Express and Amazon.
While I try to get a lot of birthday party items online, there are some items I prefer to buy at the dollar store or Target. Here are my budget-friendly birthday party picks:
- Lunch plates, cups and utensils: I buy solid color paper plates in a color that complements my theme. For example, for the construction theme party, I bought yellow plates. I bought red and white plates for the Pokémon party and red and blue plates for the Sesame Street party. However, I usually buy the cake plates in the theme design. I purchase utensils from the dollar store as well. If I need cups (which is rare since we usually do juice boxes and bottled water), I get them at the dollar store as well.
- Some table covers: Since my venue is usually a local park, I have four tables to cover. I buy one birthday party theme table cloth for the gift table and cover the remaining tables in solid colors that coordinate with my theme. For our Pokémon birthday party, I used black duct tape to make my own theme table cloths. I folded a white and red table cloth in half and attached them with the black tape to make them look like a Poke-ball.
- Favor bags: If possible, I buy favors online since I can usually buy larger quantities online cheaper than in a store. However, I don’t use the theme bags since they are never big enough to hold favors and piñata candy. I buy solid color bags and decorate them to go with the theme. For the train party, I used a railroad crossing design. For the Sesame Street party, I used the character eyes. I try to find a simple way to incorporate the theme to dress up my bags.
Birthday Party Timeline – Week Before the Party
The week before the birthday party is the time to wrap up the final details. I usually get the gift bags filled two nights before and have my stuff packed in bags by use so that it is easy to set up.
For example, I have all of the tableware in one bag and all of the serving utensils in another bag. I learned from past experiences that if I don’t keep things together, I’ll have a tough time finding them when I’m rushing and have guests nearby. It also makes it easier for my husband or mom to help set up since there have been times where I was in an autoimmune flare and couldn’t carry or decorate.
The last week is when you handle the last-minute details:
- Secure food and beverages: I highly recommend ordering pre-made food (pizza, sandwiches, etc.) for your kids’ birthday party. The first two years we made all of the food ourselves and it was exhausting and didn’t save much money. We still joke about the kabobs we made for our son’s first birthday party, which had 50 guests. We made three kabobs per person, which means my husband and I skewered 150 kabobs in one night. We have not made kabobs since – it has been almost 8 years!
- Order or decide on a cake: I am not much of a baker so I usually order a cake for my birthday parties. The only time I didn’t was last year for the Pokémon birthday party. Instead I made half of the cupcakes as red velvet with white cream cheese frosting and half as vanilla with red frosting.
- Buy all the remaining odds and ends: Do you have enough favor bags for all of the kids in attendance? If you are doing a piñata, did you buy the piñata and candy to fill it? Do you have a candle/candles? What are you missing?
- If you rented a venue, confirm details with your venue: For example, in my city, if you are renting a bounce house for a birthday party, the rental company needs to provide proof of insurance before the city releases a permit to you. Don’t scramble the day before the birthday party because you assumed your vendor handled their details.
I hope these birthday party planning tips are useful to you. I have handled a lot of events and the most important key to success is organization. The more organized you are, the less stressful the birthday party will be for you and your family.