Plan Like a Pro:
Your Birthday Party Planning Timeline
Whether you're hosting a casual gathering at your home or a fun-filled day at the local indoor playground, planning the perfect party takes time. With this step-by-step timeline, your path to party day is simple, so you can relax knowing everything is in place.
2 Months Before the Party—Time to Plan!
Getting started about 8 weeks before party day will give you plenty of time to research and book vendors, have your choice of dates and times, and get off to a great start. At this point, there are several things to consider:
- Type of party: Are you going to host the party in your home? At the zoo? The bounce house play center? Once you have an idea of the type of party, you can start researching local venues, entertainers, and other party vendors to get an idea of price and availability. Party places and entertainers can book up quickly, especially during busy seasons (i.e. between Thanksgiving and Christmas and school vacation weeks), so if your event falls during one of these times you may need to book now.
- Budget: It's always a good idea to have an idea of how much you are planning to spend on the party. Cake and other food, decorations, entertainment, and activities should all be factored in.
- Number of guests: Whether you're inviting just family, a few friends, or your child's whole class, the number of guests will determine many other aspects of your birthday party. You don't need to nail down the guest list quite yet, but you should have a rough idea of how many guests you will invite.
- Date and time: This is a good time to start thinking about what day and time you want to have the party. Look at your schedule and come up with a few options. Every party has a few must-come guests (such as grandparents and best friends), so you may want to check with these people too to make sure they're free on your chosen date.
4-6 Weeks Out—Start Booking!
Unless you're choosing a very popular venue or booking during a busy season, 4-6 weeks before the party should be plenty of time to start booking online or call your vendors for the party. You'll want to make sure you have plans for a venue and birthday party entertainment (if you're hiring an entertainer, such as a clown, magician, or presenter). Some other things to think about include:
- Deposits: If you need to place a deposit, make sure you know what the refund and cancellation policies are. You don't want to lose your money if you have to reschedule or cancel the party due to bad weather or illness.
- A backup plan: What if it rains on your backyard party? Or the ice melts at the outdoor skating rink? Make sure you have a plan for the unexpected, whether that means rescheduling or moving the party.
- Invitations: If you're having personalized invitations made, make sure to order them at least 6 weeks before the party.
At this point, you should also be beginning to finalize your guest list, and choose a party theme. Involve your child in choosing a theme, and make sure to set a firm deadline for choosing so that you don't buy all the decorations only to have him change his mind!
2-4 Weeks Pre-Party—Planning the Details
By this point, you've already done the broad strokes of the party—the location, the entertainment, and the date. Now it's time to zero in on planning the event details.
- Food: You'll want to feed your guests, and it's time to decide on that menu. If you're ordering a cake or any catered foods, you should get the order in no later than 2 weeks ahead of the party. (Add more time for busy seasons, such as near holidays and popular wedding seasons.)
- Guests: Get your invitations out by mail, hand-delivery or email no later than 3-4 weeks before the party. This gives them plenty of time to plan to attend.
- Activities, games, and prizes: With your child's input, plan out some fun birthday party games and activities for the party. Bingo, pin-the-tail games, t-shirt decorating, or build-your-own sundae activities are always good choices. If you're playing games, make sure to have some prizes chosen for the winners!
- Party favors: If you're handing out party favors to the guests, now is the time to decide what will go in the goody bags.
If any of the supplies you need for the party theme can't be bought locally, make sure to order them 2-3 weeks before the party to allow for delivery.
1 Week to Go
With just one week left before the birthday party, it's time to start assembling your party supplies. If you haven't already, purchase candles, decorations, and paper goods for the party. Make a grocery list so you don't forget any important ingredients or supplies. This week is a good time to check in with any guests who haven't responded yet, and confirm with any vendors.
If you're playing a new game at the party, test it out about a week beforehand to make sure you and your children know all the rules. You should also figure out what order events will happen at the party. Prep any supplies for activities, and assemble your favor bags. The more you get done now, the less there will be to do right before the party!
1-2 Days Before
As party day approaches, it's time to start getting things ready. Go shopping for any groceries and other supplies you still need. If you're hosting the birthday party in your home or yard, clean up the party area, and make sure you have safe arrangements for any family pets.
Do as much of the food prep the day before the party as possible. This includes arranging delivery of take-out foods (such as pizza), washing and cutting vegetables, and baking the cake (if you're not buying one).
Some other tasks you should do before you forget are:
- Charge your camera and video camera batteries
- Locate a lighter or matches for the birthday candles
- Find your cake knife and server, ice cream scoop, and other infrequently used utensils
- Choose a party outfit and make sure it's clean, ironed and ready to go
On the day of the party, you need to finalize all the last minute details. Pick up any food or supplies that aren't being delivered, finish up any food prep, blow up balloons, decorate, and set the table. With so many details to attend to, enlist help if possible to help keep small children occupied.
Now that everything is all set, there's nothing left to do but enjoy the fantastic party you planned!
After all the excitement of the party, sit down with your child and help them write thank you notes to the guests. This is a great exercise in reading, writing, and gratitude. You should take some time to review your photos and video. You may want to have a photo book printed up, or add a page to your child's scrapbook to help the birthday memories live forever.