August 13, 2010

party planning 101

I started hosting birthday parties in our backyard when El Fuego was little mostly because of our shoestring budget. Don’t get me wrong, the ease of having a party off-sight in which one doesn’t have to set up or clean up (or worry about damage to surrounding possessions) is sometimes worth the cost. However, cost can be an issue. Three kids, three times a year adds up. Plus, I’ve tried throwing parties in different locations other than our backyard while trying to maintain my creativity and it wasn’t easy. We hosted shindigs at local farms and museums because frankly the bouncy house parties were sucking my creative juices dry. The ability to roll in without cleaning, jump around, takes pictures, sing Happy Birthday and roll out without cleaning was in many ways, awesome. Although, I would walk away from these party throwing establishments feeling like what we got was not worth what we paid. My solution was creative ingenuity and “Backyard Birthdays” (as I like to call it) was launched.

The two basic guidelines I like to follow are: 1) pick a theme in advance and 2) keep themes general. Patent pending. (No, just kidding) But, really, that’s it. Easy! Having a general theme in advance will keep the coinage you would have spent on that horrific place with noisy carnival games serving bad pizza in your wallet thus making you feel better about the entire experience. And really, if you give your child the gift of an experience rather than just another toy or technical device, you create memories that will last a life time. Memories are way more valuable than that toy or device which inevitably will get lost in the shuffle, broken by a little brother or given to charity and forgotten.

For us, birthday season begins with Petite Artiste’s in March, Miss Divine’s in June and ending with El Fuego in August so a good solid five months of party fever around these parts. If I am being truthful, however, birthday (party planning) season is year round for me. I love getting caught up in the process of planning. It’s like a project. Parties give me something to look forward to; something to keep my mind active. Having a party well thought-out is also a part of my money saving plan. I have the themes of the parties’ picked out way in advance. Sometimes I have next year’s theme picked out before we celebrate this year’s party. It’s sort of a sickness. But here’s why: If I have a theme floating around in my brain and I happen to be walking past the clearance aisle, say after a holiday or season change, and I spy something perfect for a party in June (and it’s on the cheap) then I feel good buying in advance, thus being frugal.

Keeping themes general has huge benefits in bread saving as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with character themed soirees. If your child has been hot and heavy over that one princess for months and there is nothing else she can think about, watching the movie a million times and dressing up in that one light blue ball gown over and over again, then by all means, have a princess party. Buy all those character plates and cups and table coverings and goody bags. Order that castle cake. Hire that gal dressed up to look like the actual princess. Live it up! It will no doubt make your child’s day. However, if cash flow is low, then there is nothing wrong with creating an illusion of all that on little dough. Trust me, you can! And, the beauty is, if you are raising an empathic, happy child (and I know you are), all those character paper products just won’t matter much.

Okay. You’ve got the theme and it’s general. Now what? Browse the Internet, look through magazines, find inspiration…it’s out there in hoards. Get creative! And, I’ll let you in on a little secret; a secret that found me by happy accident. Spread the word….let people know the theme of your party and friends, family members, store clerks in the craft store, even your children will automatically start brainstorming ideas or offering up items that might help in the festivities. Use the resources around you. It’s amazing what will find you and help make your bash magical.

This brings me to the best tip of all: Magic. Young children are not short on imaginations and if you feed into that, they are instantly transported into a world of festive fun. Balloons help too. (wink, wink) If you create an environment under the sea with shades of blues and seashells, make headbands into mermaid crowns, and announce your skin is a little itchy because some salty sea water is needed, it is amazing how fast a group of little girls will jump right in and pretend right along with you. And that, my friends, is the very best part. All you have to do is set the stage and it is truly amazing to watch the fun ensue.

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