Planning a memorable birthday event can be the highlight of your child’s year, if you maximize the fun and minimize the stress. The best way to increase the magic and decrease the madness is to use a handy checklist so you can start early and get ready gradually. Or if you want to plan your party in one fell swoop a few weeks ahead, this checklist will help you do that, too.

I have been planning and hosting birthday parties for over a decade, and these steps will get you from vision to fruition. Follow these timing tips, and you’ll be able to keep a smile on your face from the day you start planning until the moment the final guest is picked up or dropped off.

10. Choose a Theme. Always have a theme. Having a focus will help you plan and execute your party without a hitch. Several months before your party date, brainstorm themes with your guest of honor. See below for theme suggestions.

9. Make Reservations. Popular party venues often fill up early. Once you have your theme and know you will need a location away from home, get your reservations nailed down tight two-three months in advance.

8. Find Supplies Online. Shop local when you can to support your local economy, but for those hard-to-locate items, don’t burn up time and gas searching for what you can easily find online. Generally speaking, one-stop party stores are not as prevalent as they used to be and you’ll likely be delighted by the variety you can find online. Just make sure to place your orders at least month early to allow for shipping time and returns if anything is not what you’d expected.

7. Send Out Invitations. Digital invites win hands-down for quick and easy party invites. Opt for a site like, then select a theme, add in your guests’ email addresses and send your invitations or send a cute photo in a group text with the party details. Two weeks notice is usually just the right amount of time. But if it’s a busy time of year, add another week or two.

6. Order The Cake. Cakes and cupcakes can get expensive when you make them from scratch. Besides, the kids will probably like the local big-box or grocery store sheet cakes just as much as homemade. Order one week ahead for pickup on party day for the freshest results.

5. Tackle Your Local Shopping List. Despite ordering ahead online, you probably still have few items you need to pick up locally. Be sure to pick them up at least a week ahead in case you can’t find something and need to order it online after all.

4. Recruit Helpers. Why try to do everything yourself when you can have so much more fun at your party with plenty of helping hands standing by? See below for suggestions.

3. Curry Favors. Favors don’t have to be expensive or intricate. For a home party, go simple, fun and inexpensive. Be as eco-friendly as possible by offering favors in a reusable container. If hosting a party elsewhere, consider letting the party be favor enough or simply offering a small treat to guests on the way out like a lollipop or a candy necklace.

2. Set Up A Day Ahead. If you are ordering any large food deliveries like pizza, place your order a day ahead. Don’t forget to check online for any discounts or coupons. Then go ahead and tackle as much prep work as you can. Decorations? Food preparation? Party favors? Activity prep? Everything will go smoother on party day if you take care of as much as you can the day before.

1. Party Down! Get a good night’s sleep. Allow at least two hours prior for set up and one hour afterwards for clean up. Then enjoy every memorable moment. If your hands will be full, designate a party photographer to document the day.

Double Duty Party Favor Holders

These containers can be used during the party and sent home as favors!

  • Water Bottles
  • Chinese Food Buckets
  • Flower Pots
  • Bandanas
  • Beach Buckets
  • Hats
  • A Frisbee or Outdoor Toy
  • Books, Comics or Workbook
  • Tins
  • Small Canvas Totes
  • Baskets
  • Bottles or Jars
  • Socks or Gloves

Who Can Help?

  • Both parents need to contribute. Factor in both parents’ strengths and passion areas before, during and after the festivities.
  • Babysitters or neighbor teens make great helpers. I pay our sitter to attend because I need extra help, and I want her to share in making memories.
  • Exchange party help with a friend. You help with her child’s party and then she helps with your child’s party.
  • Just ask! You never know when a guest’s parent might enjoy helping. Once you have the final attendance list, use to inquire if anyone is available to pitch in.
  • Some people make better “special guests” than helpers. Siblings of yours or the guest of honor may fall into this category, as may elderly grandparents or visiting relatives. For peace of mind during the party, only invite those you know in advance will be gracious helpers.

Low-stress, High-fun Party Themes

  • Make-Something Party
  • Animal Interaction Party
  • Bounce or Jump Party
  • Pool Party
  • Movie Party
  • Tea Party
  • Pony Party
  • Bowling Party
  • Garden Party
  • Slumber Party
  • Roller Skating or Ice Skating Party
  • Spa Party
  • Indoor Fun Center
  • Outdoor Playground Party

-Christina Katz

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