Excuse me for one moment while I get on my soap box for a minute...
I love the site Karaspartyideas.com. They have adorable parties that are fun to look at. I love throwing parties (big and little parties), I love themed parties, and I love fun party food and decorations!
HOWEVER...I have a slight issue with the standards that have been set for children's parties these days. In my opinion they are WAY too extravagant and WAY too expensive. They are kids, for heaven's sake!
It's a free country, people are certainly entitled to throw whatever kind of party they want for their kids. I'm just saying it's unnecessary to spend so much money for a kids party. It can be done so much cheaper!
Once again, let me repeat: I love throwing parties, I love themed parties, and I love fun food and party decorations. BUT...it does NOT have to be extravagant and does NOT have to be expensive to be fun, cute, and something to be proud of!
Ok, now that I'm off my soap box, here are a few fun/cheap/free ideas for throwing a party, using my son's birthday as an example:
- Pick a theme. I love themed parties. I think it makes it easier to decorate, makes for fun conversation, and is many times more memorable. Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE OPRAH. I finally fulfilled my dream and made it to her show in October and again in November. My theme for this party was: Hutch's Favorite Things (Hutch is my son's nickname).
- Make a logo. I am not very crafty, I am not very creative, and I am not very savvy with graphic design. However, I made my own "party logo" rather than buying one off of Etsy.com which saved a lot! I mimicked Oprah's Favorite Things logo and simply created my own using Gimp, the free version of Photo Shop. (See HERE) I used this "logo" for cupcake toppers, the invitations, etc.
- Make your own invitations. There is one exception to this: if you have a great deal on FREE prints or invitations from a site, certainly take advantage. Otherwise, print them yourself. Here's what I mean by this:
- There are many sites like tinyprints.com or even Costco, Snapfish, and Shutterfly where you can design and print cute invitations. Costco, for example, charges $14.99 for 50 6x7.5" greeting cards. That's about $0.30 ea. Snapfish charges $.29 or more + shipping. If you design your own invitation using Gimp or Photoshop, you can print it out just like a photo print for a fraction of the cost! At Costco 4x6 prints are only $0.13 each, and only $0.9 at Snapfish! 5x7 are more, but you can often find coupons or deals. ***At Costco you get 50 free prints when you buy any of their picture frames. (The coupon can be seen from the frame window typically.)
I designed this invitation using Gimp, and printed it at Costco:
I had free prints to use a few months back so I made a ton of these thank you cards, which I will be sending out after the party:
- Take advantage of the internet! I Googled "free digital scrapbooking paper" and downloaded a bunch of cute paper and embellishments for free for my invitations. I saved them to my external hardrive so it wouldn't take up all my computer memory. I used Youtube to learn how to use Gimp, I Googled "how to make cupcake toppers" and "how to make tissue paper pompoms" to learn how to do those things. All free, all easy!
- Print things yourself. You can order cupcake toppers, banners, signs, etc. from sites like etsy.com but they cost much more than if you were to print them yourself. Yes, ink is expensive. But remember, you can refill ink at Costco for $7-$8 for an entire cartridge! It will last you far beyond your party decorations, saving you tons. ***This month Costco has a $2 off ink refill coupon in their coupon book. If you didn't get one in the mail, simply ask the membership desk for one!
I printed my own food labels,
- Get crafty and make things yourself. This one was hard for me, because (once again), I'm not crafty nor creative. So if I can do it, you can do it! After Googling how to do things, I got to work. Start as many projects as far in advance as possible. Trust me. Here are a few things I made myself:
Tissue paper pompoms:
A triangle banner:
I only spent a few dollars on fabric and used general colors so I will be able to reuse it again and again.
Here's a closeup. I simply cut triangles, and sewed yarn across the top. No other sewing required!
A cupcake stand:
So cheap, and so easy! I bought some Gorilla Glue,
Bought two colorful ceramic plates from the Dollar Store, bought a candle stick from a thrift shop, and simply glued them together! It's super sturdy, I'll be able to keep this forever.
- Use what you have around the house. I had a ton of DumDum suckers leftover from Halloween. I thought about throwing them out, but decided to make a sucker centerpiece instead! I bought a foam square from the Dollar Store, covered it in tissue I already had, and stuck DumDums in. Guess what? I have no more DumDums left. Ta-da!
Some of the food was from around the house: animal crackers, jumbo marshmallows, party nuts, gumballs, etc.
I used more of my cheap/free prints and printed 1 picture of him from each month of his first year. I simply taped them to scrapbook paper I had already, and had them going up the stairs. It was a fun thing for people to look at as they entered the party.
I created the pictures myself in Gimp.
- Make your own food, and keep it cheap. People like food, regardless of what it is. You want to know a secret? No one will remember the food you serve at a party, trust me. Keep it good, but no need to go crazy and expensive! Here's what we did:
Since the theme was "Hutch's Favorite Things", I kept the food true to theme. His favorite food by far is pasta of any kind, so we had a pasta bar. It could feed an army and is very inexpensive...the perfect party food! People went back for seconds and thirds.
We had Fettucini and Rotini pastas. I got them from Wal Mart, $0.75 each box. I cooked 3 boxes of each but had tons leftover, even with 44 people.
Side note...don't you love my warming platters?? Last year's Christmas gift, from Costco. I use them all the time! Check out my new gift this year, a triple crockpot warmer (see the next group of pics).
We made our own Marinara and white sauces. Marinara is great because you can make it a day or two in advance, and it freezes so you can keep all the extra after the party is over. The white sauce is easy because you just whisk together cream, butter, and cornstarch to taste on the stove until it's thick, then add parmesan cheese to taste. I also added garlic powder and ground pepper to taste.
We had meatballs, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese as toppings at the end. I bought the ready made bags of meatballs from Costco. The meatballs were my more expensive items at $15 each, and I bought two bags. However, I only used one and had a ton leftover! Freeze your leftovers and use them for another time.
They are super delicious and super easy, a great party food. I just threw them in a crock pot, no sauce or anything, until they were heated through.
The rest of the food was simple, cheap, and easy as well. We had bagged salad and rolls from Costco (not pictured), as well as some of Hutch's favorite goodies:
Hutch loves Jello, so we decided to make Jello Jigglers to keep it easier to eat. We tried doing polka dots which was a great idea in theory! We did this so we wouldn't waste any of the Jello, and so they'd be perfect circles.
We poured the Jello into cupcake tins, let them cool, then cut them out with knives. Next time I will simply let the cupcake tin sit in warm water for 20 seconds or so then turn the tin upside down so they just slide out, rather than cut them out. They didn't come out smoothly with a knife. Oh well.
We made our own cupcakes (normal sized and mini ones), rather than buying a large cake. I price-matched the cake mixes at $0.79 each, and we only made two boxes, I believe. Even with 44 people we had tons leftover.
I was going to do a huge cheese platter since Hutch loves cheese. But my mom helped me do the math to realize the cheese and crackers alone would have been $45+, so I scratched that and did a yummy vegetable tray instead! Hutch loves celery and olives, so he was just as happy...so was I. :)
- As with food, it's the same with parting gifts: keep them cute and cheap. I made a big batch of my MIL's famous caramel popcorn, put them in cute cellophane bags, and left them in cute bowls on a table by the front door for everyone to take one when they go (didn't take a pic! Boo).
For the kids they got to pick one of Hutch's favorite things to keep for themselves. Most were little Dollar Store trinkets like bubbles, books, balls, and candy. I forgot to take a picture beforehand, so here is all that was left after the party (the basket was FULL at one point).
The books were my best deal. They were on clearance at Joanne Fabrics, only $0.20 each! I bought the whole stack and only two were left after the party; they were a big hit.
By the way...like the Oprah tissue paper? It's authentic :)
- Return things. I always kept receipts for things and returned little things here and there: I found goodie bags and plates cheaper so I returned the ones I bought originally. I bought too many packages of cupcake wrapper things, so I returned some. As you are out running other errands simply return things! The few dollars here and there really ad up.
- Make a budget and stick with it! I decided to pull my budget out in cash. That way I could literally see how much I had left. If I got low, I simply returned a few things and got more cash. STICK with your budget, it's far too easy to go over!
- Stay organized and ask for RSVP's. It is not cheesy or rude to follow up with people for RSVP's. It's important to know how much food to budget for! I put a deadline on my invite. A few days after the deadline I emailed the remaining people to ask if they could come. All in all, I had only a few people who never RSVP'd and it gave me a much better idea of the amount of food I needed to have. Stay organized!!! Keep a notebook or folder with you at all times. Hold on to all receipts, lists, ads, coupons, and make multiple to-do lists: 1 week prior to the party, the day before, the day of, and after the party. Keep detailed lists of the gifts people give you so you can write good, meaningful thank you notes for gifts and for help with the party.
- Accept help and ask for help. My good friend asked if I needed help making Hutch's little cake, and I said yes. She offered to do it for me, and look at how adorable it turned out!!! It was the highlight of the party. And guess what? I didn't have to worry about making it myself!
If any family members offered to bring food, I gladly accepted. If they are willing to help, accept it! This also goes for cleaning up after the party. If people are asking what they can do to help, give them a job. Many hands make light work, people! :)
- Borrow things. I borrowed this awesome water jug from our friends so I didn't have to go buy one. How cool is this, by the way?? I love it. Eventually I may need to get this. I'll ask for it for Christmas or something :)
- Buy inexpensive gifts. Our gift to Hutch was a HUGE haul from the D.I (a local thrift store). Remember THIS post? and THIS one? I'm a big fan. It was amazing, I got two HUGE boxes of stuff for around $20! It was way more than he could ever need so we're keeping 1/2 of it boxed in the garage for his next birthday or Christmas. He'll never know the difference, right??
- Be slow to throw things out. Did you know you can save and reuse pompoms? I didn't know that until this party. I thought to myself, "these are sure cute, too bad I have to throw them out..." NOT! Just flatten them out, store in a sturdy shopping or gift bag, and save them for the next party. Easy enough, and saves you money in the long run!
Just find the center and flatten them,
Stack them up, put them upright in a sturdy bag, and there you go!
Just floof them up for the next party!
- Same with food. We have tons of Marinara sauce leftover. Rather than throwing it out freeze it! If you have leftover food and you're sick of eating the same thing, get creative and use it in different recipes. We had tons of cupcakes leftover so we gave them to friends and to the kids we teach in Sunday School. The gumballs we had at the party were leftover from a baby shower I helped throw months before. They are still good and I didn't want to just throw them out. Reuse, reuse, reuse!
- Same with decorations. I took all the signs I printed and put them in my "scrap paper" file for Hutch to draw on, for me to scribble notes on, use as a table protector when painting, etc. Reuse, reuse, reuse! We saved all the tissue paper and gift bags from his gifts and will re-gift them. If they aren't in the best of shape I use them for delivering food to people or just as a little shopping bag to carry with me in the car when running errands. We even saved the clip weights that came with the balloons I bought and now use them as chip bag clips! There are millions of uses for things, just get creative!
We kept the festivities fun and easy: food, watch Hutch eat cake, opened presents, kept it short and sweet.
WHEW! That was a long one.
I had a blast throwing this fun/cheap/free party, and I learned a lot. I hope some of my tips helped you too! Feel free to comment or email me at email@example.com if you have any specific questions about anything I did for the party. Good luck on your next party, and...
Happy savings - and partying - to you!