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The Savvy Party Planner

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. If there is one thing I have learned about popular party venues is they 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 to 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 a month early to allow for shipping time and returns if anything is not what you’d expected.

7. Send out invitations. Evite wins hands-down for quick and easy party invites. Visit, select a theme, add in your guests’email addresses and send your invitations. 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 a 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.

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 setup and one hour afterward for cleanup. Then enjoy every memorable moment. Designate a party photographer, if your hands will be full, to document the day.

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

Roller Skating or Ice Skating Party

Spa Party

Slumber Party

Indoor Fun Centre Party

Outdoor Playground Party

Who can help?

Everyone needs to contribute. Don’t forget to factor in their strengths before, during and after the festivities.

Babysitters or neighbor teens make great party helpers. I pay our sitter to attend because I always need extra help, and I also want her to share in making memories.

Exchange party help with a friend. You help with their child’s party and then ask for the favor back for your child’s party.

Just ask! You never know when a guest’s parent might enjoy helping, and you might make a new friend this way. 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.

Reusable party favor holders:

Water bottles

Chinese food buckets



Beach buckets

Fabric or felt sacks


A Frisbee or outdoor toy

Books, comics or workbook


Brown paper bags

Small canvas totes


Push pops

Bottles or jars

Socks or gloves

Christina has planned some fun birthday parties over the years including a pony party, a bowling party and a roller skating party. But her all-time favorite was the sleepover spa party.



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