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How to Plan a Birthday Party

Faye has lots of experience planning all types of parties for her children and grandchildren. She worked as a cake decorator for 24 years.

Planning a Birthday Party

If you're all stressed out about planning a birthday party, relax, it's not that difficult. Avoid needless worry by following the advice and easy steps in this article. I have planned many birthday parties over the years for my children and grandchildren and have lots of experience. Our family loves to get together and celebrate a birthday!

8 Easy Steps

1. When & Where

2. Party Theme

3. Guest List

4. Invitations

5. Menu

6. Birthday Cake

7. Decorations

8. Activities

It's a Birthday Party!

It's a Birthday Party!

My Best Advice: Plan Ahead and Make Lists

I will start off with the two most important tips for planning a stress-free party.

  1. Plan Ahead: You will never regret planning ahead. I have put together a few easy steps that I use when planning a party. Planning means just what it says. You're sure to cause stress if you are putting something together at the last minute, so take time to plan ahead.
  2. Make Lists: I'm a believer in lists, and always make out several during the process. A list keeps me focused and I don't forget things.

Speaking of forgetting, don't forget to take lots of pictures! Now, don't worry, just relax and read on!

1. When & Where

The date, time, and place are the first and most important things to decide. It is the starting point of your planning. You have to know when and where to invite your guest! And, you will need this information for your invitations. Try to start planning at least 1 month in advance.

  • Date: This is always the hardest part of the planning for me. It's so hard to get everyone available on the same day and time. You will need to get together with the others involved and make sure the date agrees with everyone. Some work early or late, some are off on certain days. See what I mean? It's especially hard now that I have a grandchild who is working and going to college, and has limited time. We also have to consider if the boyfriends and girlfriends are available. Sometimes someone just gets left out, but we try to decide when everyone can be there, even if the date is before or after the birthday. Email and text messages make planning easier, too.
  • Time: When deciding the time, consider what food you want to serve. Do you want your party to be at a certain mealtime or an afternoon party with just cake and ice cream? Again, you'll need to consider when everyone is available.
  • Place: Part of the first step is also deciding where to have your party. Our family rotates between houses and sometimes we have the birthday parties for the kids at local businesses. Examples of activities we've chosen for parties are: Putt-Putt Golf, Ice Skating, Roller Skating, Bowling, Horseback Riding, Tubing at the Snow-Plex, and Swimming at the pool. We've also had a couple of Tea Parties at local tea rooms for the girls. Most of the time, however, we have our parties at someone's home.
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Hint: While you're doing this, go ahead and make a tentative guest list to use in Step 3 while you're at it.

Now that you've decided on the date, time, and place, you are ready to decide on the theme.

We chose a guitar and music note theme party for my grandson.

We chose a guitar and music note theme party for my grandson.

2. Party Theme

The reason I suggest deciding the theme early on is it could be a key factor in choosing your invitations. Also, you will want to tell your guest what the theme will be.

If this is a birthday celebration is for a child, they've probably already let you know what they want for their theme. If not, you can discuss it with other family members and come to a decision. Depending on the age of the honoree, you may not even have a theme. My son is 43 years old now, and he still wants a themed cake for his birthday!

These days there are decorations, tableware, and favors available for almost anything you can think of, and for any age. Have fun with this, or stay low key.

3. Guest List

The guest list is an important step because it will give you an idea of how many people might be coming to your party and you can plan the food amounts accordingly. And, of course, you'll need a list for sending invitations so you don't forget anyone.

Invite Your Guest

Invite Your Guest

4. Invitations

Now that you know the date, time, place, theme and guest list . . . it's time to get your invitations ready. Below are a couple of tips.

  • Invitation choices: Send your invitations so they will be received at least two weeks in advance. (No later than one week.) These days, we can use text messages or email to invite guest, but I still love the old fashioned paper invitations! The little card can be stuck on the fridge as a reminder. Or send a reminder text a couple of days before the party date. Everyone is so busy these days, they tend to forget things. Add an RSVP if you need to know a headcount beforehand.
  • Tell your guest the theme: I always tell the guest what the theme is, and sometimes suggest that they wear clothes that would be appropriate. For example, for a western theme, suggest that guest wear their western shirts. If you don't have a theme, you might suggest casual or dressy clothes. If the theme happens to be something the birthday child really loves, this gives the guest a good idea for a gift. (For example, a Barbie party would suggest giving a Barbie related gift.)
A table full of party food! Yum!

A table full of party food! Yum!

5. Menu

Below are a few pointers about choosing your party menu.

Tips for Choosing a Menu

  • Consider the time of day: The food is one of the most important planning steps and something you'll need to consider when deciding the time of your party (as mentioned above) . . . or vice versa. My best tip for any menu is to plan it well ahead, write it down, and make a grocery list of all ingredients you'll need. Shop early for anything you can get ahead of time. Prepare and freeze anything you can. Don't be afraid to ask for help from other family members. Our family always pitches in and everyone brings an assigned food. It really makes the day more fun.
  • Decide on the food: After you decide what type of food you want to serve, sit down and make a list of dishes or refreshments that fit. Choose your menu from that list. For example, if you're having a Baseball theme at lunchtime, you might want to serve hot dogs with all the trimmings, and popcorn, peanuts, and cracker jacks! For Western, you would need Chili, of course. If you time it for the afternoon, you could just serve potato chips, nuts, mints, ice cream, and birthday cake. In the evening, you might want to serve heavy hors d'oeuvre. You get the idea.

My favorite party menu includes ham biscuits, chicken salad on croissant rolls, cheese ball and crackers, veggie tray and/or fruit tray with dip. And, in our family, it isn't a birthday party unless you have party mints and peanuts to eat with your ice cream and cake, no matter what else you serve.

Relax, give it some thought, and you'll do fine.

The birthday cake is the most important thing!

The birthday cake is the most important thing!

6. Birthday Cake

You can't have a birthday party without a cake! If you're going to make the birthday cake yourself, get prepared ahead of time. You may need to pick up (or order) a topper or decorations for the cake.

If you're planning to order it from a local bakery or grocery store, be sure and order early. I worked in a bakery for 24 years, and I know that you can't always get what you want if you wait until the last minute. So, take heed, and get it done early.

Remember These Birthday Cake Tips:

  • Order Early
  • Don't forget the candles!
  • Take a picture of the cake before you cut it.
Decorate Your Party Room

Decorate Your Party Room

7. Party Decorations

Decorating is a personal preference. Some people might want to go all out, and others keep it simple. The type of party, the age, and the desires of the birthday person are the deciding factors.

Decorating Ideas for Your Party

I've never invested a lot of money on decorations, but tend to use the same birthday banner over and over. If the grand-kids want a theme, I generally get the napkins and dessert plates in that theme and then add a matching solid color for the larger plates. But, there have been times when I decorated to the max!

For those of you who love to decorate, there is a wide selection of decorations in almost any theme you can think of, and any budget. You can also use things you already own. For example, if your child loves Star Wars, and has a lot of those toys and figures, set them about in the room as decorations. Posters make great decorations also and can be used later in your child's room or in the den.

5 Things You Can Use for Decorations:

  1. Themed party plates, napkins, etc.
  2. Birthday banner
  3. Toys or collectibles
  4. Posters
  5. Birthday cake

8. Activities

These are also a personal choice of the birthday person and yourself. The age of the guest and the theme would dictate the type of games or activities included.

Tips for Fun Activities

  • If this is for a child, you will probably want a few simple games. For example: Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Hot Potato are classics that every kid loves.
  • If this is a Western theme, you should plan sack races and a game of horseshoes.
  • If this is for an adult, you might not want any activities. Of course, a Casino theme will certainly involve card games, so it will depend on your choices.

Recently, our family has started playing Charades, using an iPhone app, at almost all of our parties. We've had lots of fun and laughs playing this game! It includes different themes from which to choose, like Halloween, Christmas, and Birthday.

Plan a fun activity like this photoshoot.

Plan a fun activity like this photoshoot.

Plan Age-Appropriate Activities

These funny glasses will make a fun photoshoot activity for any age!

The birthday boy (Cleverly Disguised as an Adult) in this picture is my son-in-law, surrounded by all of his girls: wife, daughter, mother, sister, and two nieces.

You can also purchase a photo stand-in at a reasonable price. If it's a large party, you might consider renting a photo booth to have at your party. Your guest will love it!

A Little Extra Help

Below are two videos that gives some quick tips on planning your party. Some ideas are the same as you've read here, but everyone has their own personal thoughts and this video is well worth sharing with you.

Video: How To Plan a Party Like an Expert

Video: How To Plan a Party Regardless of Budget


To summarize, I've given you 8 easy steps for planning your party, including time & place, theme, guest list, invitations, menu, birthday cake, decorations, and activities. The most important advice being: start early and make lists. All of this together will help you to experience much less stress when the party date arrives. Best wishes for a fun party.

© 2009 Faye Rutledge


Roy from Northern Ireland on August 08, 2014:

Some Great Ideas :)

anne mohanraj on November 29, 2012:

Very helpful ideas for planning a party.

Ahdilarum on September 01, 2012:

Useful tips for how to arrange a party and will be a handy to the needy..

dellgirl on January 17, 2012:

Thanks for sharing these wonderful party ideas and tips, they're really going to come in handy soon.

avgsuperheroine on June 11, 2011:

great ideas for party planning, really helpful!

planningaparty on February 07, 2011:

You've got lots a great party theme ideas here on this len. I'd be sharing this via Posterous and my network of blogs. Keep up the good work.Thanks

Faye Rutledge (author) from Concord VA on November 30, 2010:

@anonymous: Thanks for that great party planning idea, Chris!

anonymous on November 30, 2010:

I find that keeping in mind that working backwards will help setting out the timeline for planning a party. Try to think of all you need to do in reverse!

BWDuerr from Henrietta, New York on March 25, 2010:

Great ideas and tips for creating a memorable party, especially for the beginner. Well done! :D

blessedmomto7 on March 24, 2010:

Great ideas for beginning party planning!

Canela Ajena from Houston on March 24, 2010:

I love the pics, especially the one with sunglasses. Well done. Blessed.

Jeanette from Australia on March 18, 2010:

You have some lovely creative ideas here. Well done.

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on March 17, 2010:

Great tips here. With my daughters birthday less than three weeks away, we are already behind on your main tip - no party date yet.

CherylsArt on March 17, 2010:

What a great and informative lens! Love your party presentation.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on March 17, 2010:

This is such a wonderful lens! It makes me want to have a party! Excellent suggestions and I love all of the pictures too. Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on March 17, 2010:

This is absolutely wonderful! Makes me want to have a party! Awesome!Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on March 17, 2010:

Thanks for the very helpful tips for planning parties!

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on March 17, 2010:

wonderful helpful lens!

lakern26 lm on March 17, 2010:

You are so right about planning ahead! Every year I resolve to start planning a bit earlier and most of the time I don't quite make it for one reason or another. You've given some great advice here. I especially love the party game ideas ... I'd almost forgotten about Pin the Tail on the Donkey. What a great game!

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on March 17, 2010:

I remember all those parties when my daughter was going up. Nice work.

Faye Rutledge (author) from Concord VA on April 27, 2009:

[in reply to Senora_M] You might also like this article:1st Birthday Party TipsThanks for visiting and the 5*s!

Senora M on April 27, 2009:

Got to plan a birthday party for a one year old in September!! 5*s on the lens!! FREE Samples and Freebies

ElizabethJeanAl on March 05, 2009:

I survived my share of kid's parties. It gets easier with practice.Nice lensLizzy

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on March 05, 2009:

Welcome to Squidoo! Looking forward to reading the rest of your lenses.

Linda Hoxie from Idaho on March 05, 2009:

Hello, Looks like a great start for your party lens! Welcome to Squidoo! Linda

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