“You know, you’re putting all of us other moms to shame.”
“This is so awesome, you should go into business.”
“Why make it such a big deal? You know your kids don’t care and they won’t remember it.”
All things I heard eons ago when I first started going bigger on birthday parties for my kids. Yes, it took creativity, time, effort and money. All things that I wanted to sacrifice, scrimp and save for, to make my kids’ birthday parties memorable, for them, their friends, our families, and yes, for me as well.
So, why do I do it? There are two situations in my life that friends of mine experienced tragedy with their children that reinforced my need to give my kids the best I could for their birthdays. The first I remember was when I was pregnant with my son. A coworker of mine had just had her baby boy and he was her world. She would share daily stories of her son and I couldn’t wait for mine to be born. Then one day the unthinkable happened. Her little boy passed away from SIDS. That was unbearable. Then, many years later, another friend of mine had a funeral for her kindergarten aged son who had suffered as a toddler with an incurable cancer and ended up passing away. It was completely heartbreaking and as strong as my friend appeared, it completely broke her and it was unbearable seeing her through this pain. I knew that I had to make every birthday as special as I possibly could.
Each year I start planning my kids’ parties a few months ahead of time, thinking up themes and scouring Pinterest and other party planning sites for inspiration. There is so much out there, it can be overwhelming, so let me give you some tips to help you to make it not only fun, but stress-free.
1. PICK YOUR THEME
Most people will tell you to start with your budget and yes, that is vital – it’s step #2, but your budget is static no matter the theme, so pick a theme and go from there. What is your child drawn to? What is interesting to them right now? Is it dinosaurs, a favorite Disney character, jungle animals, fairies and unicorns or something entirely different? It’s time to get your kid-thinking-cap on. And again, Pinterest is your best friend.
Let’s lean into this a bit more. If you are at a loss for best theme, think about your child’s favorite food and colors. Is their favorite drink lemonade? Then create a lemonade stand out of cardboard refrigerator boxes or unused pallets. Let the kids play and pretend they have a lemonade stand where they can play store.
Does your son or daughter have a favorite superhero? Play into that theme with food choices, games and costumes! Have each guest come dressed as their favorite superhero – easy peasy and you didn’t have to spend a dime! If it’s your child’s first birthday, or they haven’t developed a liking to anything in particular, you may want to play up the time of year their birthday occurs. Is it winter? Have a hot cocoa bar and snow cones and make snowflakes out of their hand prints dipped in white paint. Or maybe it’s during the summer – so bring out the fun plastic flamingos from the dollar store, create a fun fall harvest with pumpkin painting and carving for a fall theme. Anything can be a theme-really!
2. THE BUDGET
Ah the budget. Everyone has one, and it’s necessary to establish a budget so you don’t get carried away. There is no need to dip into a college fund or rack up debt in order to throw a memorable birthday party.
Write down a wish list and price things out. Then, start going through that list and seeing if you can borrow items from family and friends just for the party. What do you already have in your home that you can use that goes along with the theme? Or, when you have to purchase items, can you recycle them and use them again in your every day or for the next shindig that you host? Think about future use if you have to splurge.
For instance, for my daughter’s third birthday party I purchased mason jars with floral metal lids that I inserted fun paper straws in for the kids to drink their lemonade. I knew that though I had to purchase the mason jars now, that I could use them later for canning, day to day beverages or for another party.
Look through facebook’s marketplace or flea markets or other yard sales for unique and fun items that fit into the theme. You never know what you may come across. I love sites like Oriental Trading where you can purchase items at a discount for parties, or if I’m looking for something more unique I may look at Shop Sweet Lulu. Naturally, we can’t leave out Etsy, either. They are a wealth of one of a kind ideas, though the price points tend to be higher.
Most often, having a party at home is less expensive than having it at a different location, BUT there will be clean up involved for sure at home, whereas somewhere else like a bowling alley, skating rink or trampoline park, you don’t have to clean up after yourself.
However, if you do decide to have the party away from home, where will you have it? Is your child into art? Perhaps you have a local art studio that holds birthday parties and will custom a program for your child’s age and interest. Does your child like being active – then have it at that trampoline park! Or maybe some sleuthing and puzzles will do well and you decide to have their party at an Escape Room.
3. DECOR & FOOD
This is the fun part. You’ve picked your theme, set your budget and now it’s time to get creative! You can make the simplest things out-of-this-world fun.
For starters, I would look around your house for items you can use for the party to jazz it up, but not spend a dime. For instance, if you have a child who’s birthday party is around winter holidays and you want to throw her/him a Frozen birthday party, then cut snowflakes out of printer paper, or maybe you have snowflake ornaments you can place around or hang from the ceiling and light fixtures?
One year, for my daughter’s Curious George birthday party, I took terracotta pots that I already had at home, purchased fake grass from the craft store, went to the dollar store and bought foam floral balls and thin dowel rods and placed them in the pots. Then, I took colorful boas that I also purchased at the craft store, wrapped and pined the boas around the foam floral balls and voila! Whimsical artistic tress that I placed in the center of her food table. I later put the boas in as part of her dress up box and it only cost me a few dollars.
Another year that my son was into Ben 10, I took silly straws that we had, asked my sister if I could borrow her sci-ency flasks and glass-ware (whatever they are called) and filled them with water and food coloring. I attached some silly straws together and made a ‘mad science lab’ out of them as decor and built the food table around it to go with the theme.
Food can be extremely easy. One year my son was really into Mario Cart so I put together mushrooms made out of marshmallows and various colored chocolate waffers. I also halved bananas and dotted two eyes on the banana peel with melted chocolate. I bought an inexpensive mold and made chocolate mustaches on red and white swirl straws for them to eat and be silly with. And of course – pizza, except I made that at home as well instead of buying the pizza. I used his lego Mario Cart figures into the decor and splurged on the cake.
Almost anything can fit into your theme, just be creative! Does your child want to have a puppy dog themed party? Have hot dogs-naturally! But serve them in (new and washed and clean) dog bowls or a doggie bag. You could also purchase stuffed puppy dogs from Oriental Trading and have an ‘adopt a puppy’ drive or game. Even think of ‘in lieu of gifts’ guests can bring items that can be donated to the local animal shelter. After the party collect the items and take your child to the animal shelter where he/she is in charge of donating the items for the animals.
4. Games & Crafts
OK, so one year I cheated a bit on getting all decked out on games. I allowed my son to have a video game themed party. Not the most clever, but one of the coolest parties he says he ever had. Near where we live there is a traveling gaming truck that pulls right up to your house or wherever your party is and guests can flock into the truck and select several video games to play. It’s awesome. The kids had a fantastic time and the adults were able to go in and out of the truck to watch them play, or to go back into the house to chat and get some peace and quiet.
Another year, my daughter who was into gymnastics, wanted a gymnastics party, so I called upon yet another traveling program. It’s a tumbling/gymnastics bus converted from an old school bus. It was perfect for her age, zip line in the bus, tumbling blocks, beach ball volley ball and other fun things that was completely run by the traveling tumbling company. Inside they filled up on food and sweets, but outside they expressed all that energy.
The year that my daughter had her Frozen party we took rolls of toilet paper and had a snow monster contest. We split the guests up into small groups and they had to pick a one friend in that group that they had to whip up into the toilet paper as fast and creative as they could because ‘Queen Elsa’ was turning everything into a snow monster.
Having a pirate and fairy party? There are tons of Pirate and Fairy Party game ideas out there. Or perhaps there are certain super heroes (think a webbed target and lots of silly string) or Star Wars themes that you are looking for?
Once everything is all set up and the party is in full swing, relax and have fun! Don’t forget to take photos or have someone else snap some photos on their phone and upload them for you. The pure joy you see on your child’s face is priceless and worth all the work you put into their party. Document it all and make small photo memory books for them from Shutterfly or another online photo store.
Chat with other parents and adults present and have the best day ever. Don’t stress, don’t worry, party like a kid and you will have the time of your life. Happy partying!