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How to Plan a Birthday Party in 5 Easy Steps

Updated on January 12, 2017
Faye Rutledge profile image

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

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!

Don't Worry, Be Happy! Here Are a Few Tips I Wrote

Relax, planning a party is not that difficult. Avoid needless stress by following the tips you will find on this page. I have planned many birthday parties over the years for my children and grandchildren. Our family loves to get together and celebrate someone's birthday. Most of our parties usually include family members and a few friends. Some are large, some are small, but always lots of fun!

My Best Advice: Plan Ahead and Make Lists

You will never regret planning ahead. I have put together a few easy steps that I use when planning a party. Some of these steps include more that one objective, but they're related, so I have included them in one step.

I'm a believer in lists, and always make out several during the process. A list keep 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!

Let's Have a Party!

When & Where is Your Party?
When & Where is Your Party?

5 Easy Steps

1. When & Where

2. Party Theme

3. Guest List & Invitations

4. Menu & Birthday Cake

5. Decorations & Activities

Step 1. When & Where

Decide the date, time, and place.

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 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 certainly makes 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. Our family rotates between houses and sometimes we have the birthday parties for the kids at local places. Examples of activities we've chosen for parties are: Putt-Putt Golf, Ice Skating, Roller Skating, Bowling, Horseback Riding, Tubing at 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.

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.

Real Simple Celebrations: You Might Like This Book

Real Simple: Celebrations
Real Simple: Celebrations

This book might be the answer to your prayers. It is chock full of ideas for making your celebrations easier. Written by the editors of Real Simple Magazine, you can count on their suggestions to be worth reading and using. There is a chapter with party ideas for each holiday and occasion. It includes suggestions for invitations, games, food, and more. You'll also love the handy check-lists.


The Key is to Plan Ahead!

The most important thing to remember is to plan ahead! You will have less stress if you start planning your party at least one month in advance.

Choose a Party Theme
Choose a Party Theme

Step 2. The Party Theme

You can have a theme, or not.

If this 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 40 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.

Invite Your Guest
Invite Your Guest

Step 3. The Guest List

Now it's time for the invitations.

Now that you know the date, time, place, and theme, it's time to make a guest list and purchase your invitations. You may have already made up a list when deciding the time and place. Below are a couple of pointers.

  • How to invite your guest: These days, we can use text messages or email to invite guest, but I still love the old fashioned paper invitations! That little card can also be stuck on the fridge as a reminder. Everyone is so busy these days, they tend to forget things. In any case, invite guest at least 2 weeks in advance. Don't forget to add an RSVP if you need to know a head count beforehand.
  • Tell guest the theme: I always tell the guest what the theme is, and 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.)


Send out your invitations at least 2 weeks in advance!

Plan Your Menu
Plan Your Menu

Step 4. The Menu

Below are a few pointers about choosing your party 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 hor d'oeuvres. 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 and give it some thought, you'll do fine.

Don't Forget the Birthday Cake!

The Birthday Cake
The Birthday Cake

Be Sure and Order Early

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.

Don't forget the candles! And, take a picture of the cake before you cut it. :)

Decorate Your Party Room
Decorate Your Party Room

Step 5. Decorations & Activities

The Decorations:

Decorating is a personal preference. Some people might want to go all out, and some keep it simple. I think the type of party, the age, and the desires of the birthday person are the deciding factors. 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. There also have been times that 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 Star Wars 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, etc.
  2. Birthday banner
  3. Party theme toys or collectibles that you already have.
  4. Posters
  5. The birthday cake.

The 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.

  • 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 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 get togethers. We've had lots of fun and laughs playing this game! It includes different themes from which to choose, like Halloween, Christmas, Birthday.

Photo Shoot

Plan a Fun Activity like this Photo Shoot.
Plan a Fun Activity like this Photo Shoot.

Plan Age Appropriate Activities

These funny glasses will make a fun photo shoot 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 2 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!

Lists Will Keep You Focused

I always make 2 Lists:

1. Things I need to do

2. Things I need to buy

A list helps me stay focused and keeps my thoughts organized. I'm less likely to forget something!

A Little Extra Help

Below is a short video 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

More Helpful Tips

The video below is a little longer and gives 10 tips for planning a party. I had to share this one with you as she has some excellent ideas and suggestions that I believe will be helpful to you. Please take time to watch, you'll be glad you did.

Video: How To Plan a Party Regardless of Budget


To summarize, I've given you 5 steps for planning your party. The main focus being to start early and make lists. This leads to so much less stress when the party date arrives. Have a fun party.

© 2009 Faye Rutledge


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    • Roy Ringland profile image

      Roy 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Some Great Ideas :)

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 4 years ago

      Very helpful ideas for planning a party.

    • Ahdilarum profile image

      Ahdilarum 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      dellgirl 5 years ago

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

    • avgsuperheroine profile image

      avgsuperheroine 5 years ago

      great ideas for party planning, really helpful!

    • profile image

      planningaparty 6 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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!

    • SoyCandleLover profile image

      BW Duerr 7 years ago from Henrietta, New York

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

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 7 years ago

      Great ideas for beginning party planning!

    • Ecolicious LM profile image

      Penny Pincher G 7 years ago

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

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 7 years ago from Australia

      You have some lovely creative ideas here. Well done.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      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 profile image

      Cheryl Paton 7 years ago from West Virginia

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

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      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.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

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

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 7 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Thanks for the very helpful tips for planning parties!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      wonderful helpful lens!

    • lakern26 lm profile image

      lakern26 lm 7 years ago

      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!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

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

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