I don’t know whether it’s good, bad or just plain scary that my wife and I have thrown almost 50 birthday parties over the years for our kids. While you want to create memories that can last a lifetime, you do not empty your bank account. As a Birthday Vet, I’ve seen everything from disasters, to great parties on a budget to some that were nicer than my wedding, no kidding.

Whatever you plan, though, the key to a great party is organization and planning. Here’s our checklist that can help make party planning easier:

  1. Set a Budget: This comes first. Decide what you can afford, and what’s appropriate for your child’s age. I always loved going to the fancy parties for a one-year-old, which the child will never remember. That’s something for the parents. Plan what’s comfortable for you, and please, don’t try to “keep up with the Joneses.” There will always be someone that does something ridiculously over the top, but you want to do what feels right for you. Trust me, if you’re focused on the good time, the kids won’t be counting what you’ve spent.
  2. How many kids are coming? Now that you’ve set a budget, you can determine that number of kids your child wants to invite. Often younger kids like to (or parents feel compelled to) invite a whole class. However, as kids get older, the number of guests usually decreases. (Turning 16 is something for another column.) The number of gusts should partially be determined by the nature of the party and your budget.
  3. Will the party be home or away?A party out usually entails going to a party place, like a Chuck E Cheese’s or an activity party place. The Pros:You don’t have a large number of kids in your home, and all you have to do is show up with your child. The Cons: The price. Personally, when my kids were younger, we always had the party at our home. We’d have a craft for the kids to make(and bring home) , cooking activities, sports and games for small prizes. If you do have a home party, employ relatives or a parent of your child’s friends, who often are happy to stay and help.
  4. What do you spend on a party favor?You don’t need to spend more than $5 per child. You’ve just entertained them, you don’t need to give them a major present, too. The obvious choices are toys and candy, the favorites of every child. You also don’t need to spend as much if they’re bringing home something they made, which is one reason the craft parties work well.
  5. How long should a party be? Obviously, the younger the kids, the shorter the party. For kids in the early grades, two hours is plenty of time. If you’re planning a party away from home, add an hour for travel and wrangling kids.
  6. Planning is key. No matter the age of the kid or the size of the party, planning is essential. With younger kids, you may want to have a precise timetable—moving them from one room to another can be a challenge. Defined start and end times are also important, as well as making sure that parents or caregivers know when to drop off and pick up kids.
  7. Get information in advance. Particularly these days many kids have dietary limitations. Be sure that you check any of these in advance, and do your best to accommodate those needs. This is especially necessary for kids who may be old enough to have sleepover parties.
  8. Expect the unexpected. Even with all your planning, things may not go exactly as you wish. A level of flexibility and an ability to roll with whatever happens will be a great asset.
  9. Get support. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Particularly with the youngest kids, having more than one adult around can be beneficial—and even a lifesaver. You might even trade off support duties with another child’s parents.
  10. Have fun. Oh, yeah, that. Seriously, though, you want to enjoy your children’s parties. Your kids will notice if it’s more of a labor for you. Of course, you’re still in charge, but some of those memories you’re trying to create belong to you as well. Make sure they’re the happy ones. Party!

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