Learning how to plan a birthday party for kids is a skill that any parent can develop. With a little bit of time, a set budget, and a good structure, you’ll be able to win at the party planning game!
It is no secret that I truly enjoy party planning. I love all kinds of event planning: bridal showers, baby showers, and birthdays. You name it, I like to plan it! But don’t suggest for me to do event planning as a side job haha I attempted to help one bride plan her wedding and quickly realized I will never be doing that again. Yikes!
I know many mamas are not into the birthday party scene and I understand. But honestly, it’s not as hard as it may seem to be. It also doesn’t cost as much as one might think and doesn’t take as much time and energy as the final product may appear!
In my experience, I have mostly planned a birthday party for kids and have not hosted an adult birthday party yet but most of these tips and suggestions will still help in putting together all the party details for your adult birthday celebration too.
Here are my tips and tricks on how to plan a birthday party for kids – your go-to simple party planning checklist:
Originally published March 27, 2014
How to Plan a Birthday Party for Kids
After twelve years of planning kids’ birthday parties, I’ve come up with a system that works like a dream! Of course, different situations may require you to do things a little differently, so feel free to tweak these as necessary.
But with that said, these are my top thirteen tips that I highly recommend for successful party planning:
1. Establish a Budget
Party stuff is so cute and it’s super easy to get wrapped up in the party planning and end up spending more money than you thought possible. By having a budget, you can be mindful of your spending and create a cute event without breaking the bank.
I have a savings account with our bank just for holiday spending and birthday party throwing. I sat down and figured up how much we spend on our gift-giving throughout the year as well as on our birthday parties then divided it up into a monthly amount that we set aside each month so when those events come up it doesn’t hurt our budget.
We have $200 per party budgeted. I used to struggle to stay in that limit, but have found tricks to help cut costs.
Starting your planning EARLY is the BEST way to find the cutest things and be able to stay within your budget limits, it also ensures you have plenty of time to send invitations well in advance 🙂
2. Pick a Theme
Sure, the idea of having your child pick a theme is lovely. However, the reality of it can be much more difficult. I try to pick a theme based off things I know my children are enjoying at their given age, but also one that will be easier to plan. Broad themes are much easier to plan for than specifics, like certain characters.
When I did a Woody birthday party for my son it was MUCH tricker to do than the firetruck one we did that following year. I basically will think up some theme ideas myself and then help guide my children to pick that theme on their own 😉
When you are picking a theme you also want to have colors in mind. Again, simple colors are easier (red or pink rather than maroon or fuchsia)! It’s always good to have a very basic color mixed into your theme as well. I try to have every party incorporate white as all of my serving platters are white 🙂
3. Hunt Ideas
This is a time suck so be warned! Before Pinterest I would come up with ideas on my own for the parties. Now, I jump online and search away. I always create a Secret Pinterest Board for my party planning.
I don’t like guests to know what’s coming or to have expectations based on pins they may have seen 😉 I always search for themed food ideas, themed activities, themed favors, and themed party printable packs.
4. Find the Best Party Time for Your Family
My birthday parties are always in the late afternoon. Usually, start time is either 3:30 or 4:00. My kids nap from 1-3ish so that later time means they will be well-rested and in a good mood (especially important for the birthday girl or birthday boy…the birthday person being in a good mood is crucial!). It also is a convenient time for most of my family and friends who also have children that nap.
I have only ever thrown a day party and have not yet done one at night. A couple times we have had schedule conflicts and have needed to do a morning party and it works out fine too – I aim for around 10 or 10:30 for a morning party because most people will have already eaten breakfast and not yet be expecting lunch so it helps cut down on party food as well as my grocery list 😉
Another perk of having an afternoon party is it means I have ALL morning to get my house clean, prepare food, etc. Also having it at that time slot means guests don’t expect a full meal (more on that later) so it lowers my party costs on food!
5. Price Compare and Order Away
I do a LOT of my party shopping online. We live in a smaller town and don’t have a lot of options. It also makes it easy to price compare when you are sitting at home on the computer!
I usually pin all the things I want to order on my secret board and include the price for the items in the comments area of the pin so I can know by glancing how much the item costs.
- I highly recommend finding a party printable pack via Etsy to fit your theme. Usually, they include everything from invites to banners to cupcake toppers. It’s all coordinated and gives your party that professional look… without costing much at all! I buy a pack of white card stock paper and print everything on my home computer. It’s a breeze!
- When it comes to invites I like to include a photo of the birthday boy or girl on the invites for their parties. Printing at home isn’t best for that kind of quality so I always print from the UPS Store. They can do two 5×7 invites per piece of paper, request card stock quality, and they will cut them for you. Then you can buy 5×7 envelopes for cheap at Walmart and you are good to go!
- I bargain shop using several different party sites. I try to get everything I can from one site to minimize shipping costs… and always remember to check Amazon!
6. Buy More Than You Need
I LOVE Hobby Lobby. They have a 90-day return policy and they know me well up there 🙂 I make two trips to Hobby Lobby. One about a month or so out from the party.
During that trip, I buy everything I think I might need for my event. Plates, cups, card stock paper for the printables, ribbon, balloons, anything I can think of! I buy WAY more of it than I think I might need.
The worst thing to have happen, in my opinion, is being in the middle of a project and realizing I have to go out and buy more of something! It’s better to buy more than to not buy enough. I always keep all of my party stuff together, in the original shopping bags.
As I start to empty the bags I refill them with the items I don’t use for the party. I keep the receipt with the items and I make my second trip to Hobby Lobby after the party is over, to return it all. While the return process is an extra step I find it is so helpful in lowering my stress levels to know I can just overbuy and then return what I don’t use. It keeps my party checklist and planning checklist flowing smoother!
7. Keep It In The Kitchen
I store most of my party planning stuff in my laundry room which is just off my kitchen. We tend to gather at the kitchen table and I eat a lot faster than my kids (isn’t that true of all moms?) so once I finish my breakfast or lunch I will grab some party stuff and use that time to cut things out, hole punch items, put things on ribbon, etc.
Doing small things throughout the day is a breeze and makes the party day WAY less overwhelming!!!
8. Plan For Your Space
I always use my home as the venue for the parties I plan and host. I like to be in our home for entertaining and I think it’s easier to be able to set things up in advance rather than have to take it all to another location the day of.
I am mindful of my space when planning my event. I know I can only sit so many children around my kitchen table. I know exactly how many seats I have in the living room and how many additional chairs can be brought in.
- I’ve heard many rules about limiting the number of people invited to children’s parties. I’ve never followed them! We have a HUGE family and a good bit of friends all who have multiple children. I like to aim for “smaller” parties but even “smaller” for us still means close to 40 people. I do not actually invite kids from my children’s class at school, I stick to family and close family friends to help limit the number of people.
- I know our space may feel crowded so I try to spread everything out. I have the food in the dining room, the gift opening in the living room, the crafts in the kitchen. It helps make everything less crowded and to keep the flow of the party going!
- We also have a great backyard so I cross my fingers and hope for good weather so people can gather outside too!
9. Age Appropriate Activities
This is a tricky one as I have four children and they are at different developmental stages. Even when my oldest daughter turned two, a lot of the party guests were my oldest son’s age of four so I needed to be sure to provide party games and activities suitable for them as well as the toddlers that were there.
I try to keep the focus on the age group of the birthday child, but also to incorporate things other ages will enjoy! My ultimate compliment is when adults even enjoy things 😉
- The one staple activity I ALWAYS have is a color page. Many times party printable packs will include a color page to match your theme and that incorporates your child’s name and age. I print off several copies on regular printer paper and have buckets out with crayons so kids can color away. Every age enjoys a good color page!
- More often than not, we’ve had bath weather on our party days. For one year we had a legit tornado. In South Georgia! Due to our typically bad weather luck, I always try to limit the outdoor activities. And I make sure that they can be moved indoors (or in the garage) if needed!
- Crafts, crafts, crafts. Crafts are my FAVORITE activity for a party! All kids seem to enjoy them and it gives them an extra favor to take home and remember the party by. Plus you can always find crafts to fit any theme! Simple is better. Quick is important too! And I try to limit any adult being required for the craft to be completed (like no hot glue projects!).
- I personally don’t do big group activities. At least not yet. I like the party to flow on it’s own and not to have too rigid of a schedule on everyone. This allows the guest list to flow easier too without “needing” a certain amount of people to be there in order for an activity to work out. Having a big group activity requires having everyone in one space (which I try to limit due to crowdedness) and requires all the children to be paying attention. I’d rather the kids be able to have their own fun!
- I try to put out toys to fit the theme or to offer up play type things to keep kids busy if needed. We have a nice playground in our backyard and I always let families know that their kids are welcome to play outside, assuming weather is okay!
10. Simple Food
The #1 way I cut costs on my parties was to change up my food. I used to feel like I had to FEED people. Like legit food. And a lot of it.
I was more concerned about the adults enjoying themselves and having yummy things to eat than I was about the kids. I wanted to cut costs by inviting less people to the parties…but neither my husband or I really wanted to hurt any feelings (especially when most of the guests are family!) so we decided to change up the food we offer instead.
Now we go for all sweet parties. And I know as a party guest that may not be the most desirable thing. Especially when your kids leave with a sugar high haha! But, we had to cut costs somewhere, and having a sweets-only event makes it much more affordable. Not only is it cheaper but it is easier to fit the party theme, looks way cuter, and makes the party prep process a BREEZE. (And yes, we still do a birthday cake too! I will say though I actually do NOT do ice cream with my cake at parties. It’s messy, it melts, it requires purchasing spoons so it’s easy to just skip it!)
The parents may not love me for it but boy their kids sure do 😉 I am pretty hardcore about limiting my junk food for my own children so having their parties be a lot of “junky junk” (as they call it) makes it even more special!
11. Keep it Short
I am very mindful during my parties at the flow of the event. Typically everyone is gone within about 90 minutes. Yes, that is a SHORT party! But I know what it’s like with young kids and I know how boring kid parties can get and how many times you catch yourself glancing at the clock wishing it was over.
I know the adults have other things they want to be doing and that the kids only have a certain time limit before they get antsy too.
- As guests arrive I greet them at the door and let them know where the food is and to go ahead and eat! I also let them know about the crafts and activity options. By now all my typical guests know the routine 😉
- Once things get going I make sure to remind those who don’t have food to feel free to eat and I remind about the crafts and activities as well in case I missed someone as they came in.
- Pretty soon after the crafts seem to be getting finished up we announce that we will do cake. We do NOT “make everyone gather around” for the singing and such. If they want to, great! But it’s not a high-pressure thing and we make sure everyone knows it’s optional
- As soon as the cake is eaten, we open gifts. It’s my least favorite part of a party b/c I’m claustrophobic and it drives me nuts having a million kids crowd around me. Like the cake situation, I make sure everyone knows that they don’t have to watch the presents. Some people love that, some people don’t. I’m down for whatever and the birthday child doesn’t tend to notice who is even watching anyway 🙂
- After presents we have the birthday child thank everyone and then I head to the door to start saying goodbyes, thanking guests myself, and making sure they took home all their crafts/treats/favors etc. I like being the greeter because it allows me to make sure I visit with everyone!
12. HAVE FUN
I put a lot of work into my children’s parties, but when the event comes… I don’t stress over it! I like to have everything ready to go in plenty of time prior to the party starting so I can unwind a bit and not have any stress.
During the party, I am mindful to greet and visit with guests, but I am mainly focused on the birthday boy or girl. I want to make sure they are having fun. The party is about THEM more than anyone else!
I have a super amazing husband and he is also a people pleaser who is great at working a room. So usually during parties, he tends to do more of the guest entertaining while I do more of the birthday child caregiving 🙂
It’s a good balance that works for us and I feel that enjoying the party is like my reward for all the hard work leading up to it! You deserve to have fun too!!! It may be your child’s special day… but you are the one who made it happen (both by giving birth to them and by hosting such an awesome event in their honor!). 🙂
13. Store It All
My husband jokes that I’m a pack rat but by keeping the party items I purchase in solid, basic colors I’m able to store things for later. Even if you don’t have space you can still have one big storage tub that you toss party supplies in. Stick it in the attic and drag it down when the next event is coming up!
I have lots of mason jars, colored pails, extra party favors, etc all in storage. It helps to save money for future events by utilizing things you already have!
How to Plan a Birthday Party for Kids: Final Thoughts
So there you have it, my thirteen tips on how to plan a birthday party for kids! For more inspiration, here are the birthday parties I have hosted so far for my kids!
- Football Birthday Party
- Finding Nemo Party
- Donald Duck Party
- Hawaiian Christmas Party
- Mickey & Minnie Mouse Party
Looking for even more party planning inspiration? Be sure to check out my Pinterest boards for ideas and you can also see over 35 of the best kids party ideas here! Happy Planning 🙂
I love this!! Very helpful – for sure! And conveniently timed since I made you text me for about an hour the other night about firetrucks vs. dump trucks and if they were pool party appropriate – haha. Only true friends.
Love all the tips, especially the one buying more than you need. It always come handy and also comes as a problem if not dealt with properly. The time and effort saved when you prepare rather than cram if you are short with supplies, food, or other essentials. Checking the return policy is also a big plus tip for me. More often underrated yet very helpful. Thanks for sharing these tips, Emily!
If I were to host a birthday party, I would make sure to invest in balloons since these will help beautify the space. Anyhow, I also agree with you that there must be a realistic budget for it. Thank you for sharing that it will be a great idea to have a fun theme.