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A Stress-Free Birthday Countdown

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:

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 page 27 for party theme ideas.)

9. Make reservations. If there is one thing I have learned about popular party venues, it’s that 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. 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. Make sure to place your order(s) at least a month early to allow for shipping time and returns if anything is not what you 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. If it’s a busy time of year, add another week or two.

6. Order the cake. For the freshest results, order the birthday cake or cupcakes one week ahead for pickup on party day.

Tackle your local shopping list. Despite ordering birthday supplies and décor ahead of time 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 the sidebar 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 setup and one hour afterward for cleanup. Then enjoy every memorable moment. If your hands will be full during the birthday party, designate a photographer to document the day.

Who can help?

If possible, both parents need to contribute. Don’t forget to factor in your partner’s strengths before, during, and after the festivities.

Babysitters or neighbor teens make great party helpers. I pay the family 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 your friend’s 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
  • Flower pots
  • Bandanas
  • Beach buckets
  • Fabric or felt sacks
  • Hats
  • A Frisbee or outdoor toy
  • Books, comics, or workbook
  • Tins
  • Brown paper bags
  • Small canvas totes
  • Baskets
  • 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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