The first birthday: 10 party planning tips for busy moms
I've probably been planning Aiden’s first birthday even before he was born! Yes, that is the type of person I am: type A, over achiever and an organized planning machine! Honestly, it was the same with my husband’s surprise 40th birthday party, our wedding, even for our home decorating ventures. I guess you could say that for pretty much anything, I will most likely have a Pinterest vision board and a written set of goals for what I want to achieve.
To top it all off, I have actually planned a ton of events (personally and professionally) and therefore, have learned what matters most in order to have an amazing party! One of the biggest lessons is to KISS (keep it super simple). We are all busy so it is important to keep in mind the things that are a must have versus nice to have, in order to throw an epic party.
Here are my 10 party planning tips for busy moms:
Choose a venue and have a back up option
When choosing a venue I encourage you to find something that is kid friendly but has a variety of fun experiences for all ages. For example, we chose the Annenburg Beach House in Santa Monica which has tents in the sand that you can reserve and rent in advance or play the lotto, show up early and use one of the "first come first serve" areas. In terms of activities for all ages, there is a playground, a splash pad, the beach, a pool, a restaurant (which serves cocktails) and much more.
I also recommend having a back up plan, especially for outdoor locations. But it is also a good idea in case you are having a bad week with your little oned (extra fussy, teething off the charts, etc.) and need a familiar place that won't throw him/her too much. As a back up, we were considering having the party at our condo. Luckily, we live in SOCAL, so weather is something we rarely have to worry about and Aiden was in great spirits!
Have the event around typical nap schedule
This tip is not just for the children but the mamas / parents too! Nothing is worse than getting an invite to a birthday party in the middle of your child’s nap time. Although you won’t be able to accommodate everyone, talk to a few moms that you really want to attend the party and make sure you can find the sweet spot.
We had our party between 10:30 a.m. – 12:30. p.m. and it really worked well for our group. However, keep in mind that your child’s nap schedule is the most important. He/she is the star of the event and you want to try to have the best mood possible.
Create and send the invite at least 4 weeks in advance
Let’s face it, life gets pretty crazy when you have kids. Personally, our schedule is booked at least 4 weeks in advance, especially for the weekends. Therefore, it is considerate to give people enough notice to plan for the party and work around other things that might be going on.
In addition, keep in mind the time of the year you will have the party and what is typically going on. For example, Aiden’s birthday is towards the end of summer (according to the school year calendar) so hopefully right before the crazy school schedule begins and most people are back from holidays (vacation). We chose a Sunday morning because it is a day where most people are free and able to find time to relax.
Again, you can ask your closest friends that you want to be there, if a particular day is better for them. But don’t go crazy trying to accommodate everyone. Go with what works for your family first and foremost.
I used the Facebook event feature for Aiden's invitations. What I like about the feature is that you can send to people who aren't on Facebook by using their email or even their phone number.
Plan for drop outs and changes to RSVP
A good rule of thumb is to expect at least 20-25% to decline and about 10% to cancel last minute. Don’t be upset if people cancel last minute! Life is hectic, things happen and your event will still be amazing.
In order to plan for last minute drop outs, be flexible with the amount of food and drinks you are serving. And just go with the flow.
Consider your wording on the invitation when it comes to RSVP. While there isn’t a ton of flexibility in the messaging you include involving returns of an RSVP, it is a good idea to explicitly spell out a response date and include a polite, but firm reminder, of why this deadline is fixed. For example, the space we are renting has limited capacity, so your RSVP is mandatory by [date].
Finally, who you invite also impacts the RSVP results. Be strategic about who you invite. Of course it is fun to send out an invite to tons of people, but there is a reason for the saying "quality over quantity!" Choose carefully. Remember, at this age it is really about the parents anyways. Who do you want to spend a few hours with?
You may also want to include dress code if it doesn't seem obvious. We felt it was unnecessary for the beach.
Find inspiration on pinterest
As previously mentioned, I love to create a mood board on Pinterest. I use this for pretty much everything to get inspiration (including meals, house decor, branding, etc.)! Take a look at the board I created for Aiden’s birthday. It was fun, easy and very helpful to have ideas for his party.
Just remember to not go over board. Narrow it down to a theme, a few ideas for food, decor and overall aesthetics. Less is more.
For Aiden's birthday we chose a balloon theme (he LOVES them) in all different colors. Unfortunately, on the beach we weren't allowed to have real balloons, but we did our best to fill that in with all the other decor. I also tried to think about little bites and drinks which were good for kids and adults.
Find ways to DIY
As much as possible I try to find easy “Do it yourself” ideas. Again Pinterest is great for this. I also asked our nanny and other moms for some thoughts. I didn't want to break the bank for this milestone but I also don't have a ton of time. This is where thoughtful planning comes in. I always ask myself a few questions, like
- "If I do this myself versus outsourcing is it worth my time or cheaper to hire?"
- "Can someone else do it better and/or faster than me?"
- "Is it something I can fit into my schedule?"
- "Will I enjoy doing it?"
All of these questions are important in making the ultimate decision for DIY. I believe you should be as relaxed as possible planning for the big event and having fun. Otherwise, find a cheap way of buying what you want!
For example, I created finger foods for the party. For me, it was easy to prep ahead, lower cost than buying and having delivered, and I love getting creative in the kitchen!
Stick to a budget
This is the biggest party fowl I see. Most people have ideas and start putting them in motion. However it is also the reason most people over spend when it comes to parties. I always create a budget and am very disciplined in hitting or even coming in below this target!
It is actually a lot easier with online stores like Amazon or even your neighborhood 99 cent store!
For me, I didn’t want to spend more than a couple hundred dollars so I got creative with where I sourced stuff, what I did myself and what I just left out all together!
Set up a play zone
Even though we chose a location with tons of activities, it was still important that in our tent we had a play zone. An area just for kids is helpful for both the adults and the children.
We placed a blanket on the sand and threw a bunch of toys on it. It was a great hang out for adults with little ones and the non parents had their own space in the tent to enjoy.
the best gifts are free
Honestly when I think about all the events I have been invited to, I am surprised my bank account isn't empty by now. Throughout life there are many events to celebrate and these moments often encourage us to spend money through gifting. So our decision was to ask for no gifts.
Why no gifts? It's not that I am against presents. Who doesn't love to unwrap something? The anticipation and the fun of seeing how well someone knows you is all great. But what happens when you get too much (our condo is very small) or not the right thing (our taste is unique) or too expensive (now you feel obligated to return the favor)?
If I reflect on my own experiences, the best gifts I have ever received are either FREE or DIY. For example, if a friend attends and I know she has to fit this into her crazy schedule, it is already good enough. Or if someone gives a home made goody, like a photo album filled with memories together. These are all priceless gifts which are thoughtful and from the heart.
That is why we chose to included no gifts necessary on the invitation. However, we also knew that some people may not be comfortable with this concept. Therefore, we included places we would appreciate a gift card if they felt compelled to buy something.
Why gift cards? So that we don't end up having a toy store in our home! But for real, we wanted to be able to purchase a balance of practical things (like diapers, clothes, or even milk) and toys!
Of course, this is a very personal decision, but I do think it is an important factor in the overall planning of the party and expectations placed on your guests.
Don't worry Aiden actually had a few toys to unwrap and he took it seriously!
I'll be honest, this is one tip I have to constantly remind myself. I am always so busy trying to plan and prepare that sometimes I can forget to just relax and have fun.
I have learned over the years that it is important not to over complicate things. And even with the best planning, things might now work out the way you want. So being in the moment and just going with the flow is a really important way to enjoy the party.
And remember it is the 1st birthday party! So it is really for the parents to celebrate a big milestone…getting through the first year without too many bruises! So have a glass of rosé or two and celebrate your successes!
I hope these tips were helpful for any upcoming party you are planning, whether it is the first birthday or third. What else would you add?