How to plan a party regardless of budget

how to plan a party
how to plan a party

Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 4.55.32 PM

Ok friends. I love parties. I love to plan parties. And I have a LOT of thoughts, opinions and philosophies about doing a party. People pay me to do them, I do them for fun, and I do them as part of my brand. So what I’m saying is, trust me, I’m a doctor. A party doctor?

HAHA no but really. In college I’d throw all these theme parties too! I also started a series of slow dance parties with my room mates that were hysterical, we only played slow songs. People slow danced in couples for hours. (You can only imagine the sexual tension…) I planned the prom when I was junior class president in high school, and I’ve thrown more baby and bridal showers than you can possibly FATHOM. I lurve to party.

Anyway I thought I’d try to put most of my opinions about throwing them in one place, one MOTHER OF A POST. There’s a video that goes with this. But I also have tried to highlight a few things from each of the 10 steps that I cover in writing using examples from events that I have planned.

This guide is for a party you do on ANY budget. I’ve planned parties that cost what you’d pay for a bicycle and parties that cost what you’d pay for a car. Parties ALWAYS ALWAYS cost more than you think. With that said, these tips have nothing to do with budget and everything to do with having a fun, successful party. And be sure to see tip #9 for a specific money-saving technique I use!

So! Let’s do it!


(regardless of the budget!)
1. What’s the most important thing to you?

The answer to this question will TOTALLY depend on the party. When I threw one of my best friend’s, Heather’s, baby shower the most important thing was that Heather feel special and loved. When I thew Rad’s Banana Bash, the most important thing was the theme. That might sound awful, but a first birthday is mostly for the adults and the most important activity is that they watch the baby eat cake. So a fun theme was paramount to me. For Gigi’s Puppet Party the #1 thing was that the kids have fun. That’s why I picked the puppets as a theme. See where I’m going with this? When I do a professional party I work with the brand to ask them what THEIR #1 goal is. Sometimes it’s branding sometimes it’s messaging, sometimes it’s just helping people have fun, like we did for Freshly Picked’s Lumber Jack Jam.

I think one reason a party might not feel successful is because it tries to be about too many things. If you want people to have a good time, focus on that, and then let other things fall into place. If you want to make a gorgeous party for a photo-shoot, don’t for one second think it’s going to be ALL about having a good time. Let’s call a spade a spade. I don’t usually do staged parties (a party for the sake of a blog post), in fact I’ve only done one. You can see it here. I’m not speaking out against them! I’m just saying the parties you see go ROUND AND ROUND AND ROUND on Pinterest, well they most likely were not a real party. Or they were a $10,000 party. Hahaha. You guys, I

how to plan a party
2. Who will you invite? / How many people will be there?

This is the second question I ask because it determines SO many other details! It speaks to your budget, your venue, the type of activities you’ll want! It’s super important and needs to be addressed right up front.

3. Where will you have the party?

Notice how I think about this BEFORE I get set on a theme. I think it’s easier to work with your surroundings than to work against them.

how to plan a party

4. What time of day do you want the party? Or what food will you serve?

This mostly speaks to the type of food you will have! AGAIN! See how I choose this BEFORE theme! I think it can affect the theme! However, if theme was your #1 thing you cared about, you could center the time, place and number of people around it.

If you pick non-meal times like 2pm or 4pm or after 8pm, it’s pretty clear you won’t be serving a meal. Regardless, I like to always tell people what kind of food will be there. People want to know! If you’re close to a meal time, like 10am or 11am, I’d be specific about it as well.

5. NOW think about theme and or colors.

HUZZAH! The fun part! I wrote this post: How to Throw an Awesome Theme Party a while ago and I still use all the ideas I share in that article, but for now I just want to point out how lots of other factors affect this one. I do tend to get inspiration for the theme of a party first, I’m not saying I DON’T think about it at all until I get other details in place, but I do like to take into account time of day, number of people, and what I want the party to be about (food, fun, or friends…) before I get too heavily into this!

When it comes to choosing a theme I like to pick something generic and flexible like a NOUN such as: pony, banana, puppet, flamingo, pineapple/typography, or a place like French Cafe.

Then for other events I’ve focused on a concept, like: Awesomeness, Be Brave, or Get Glam!

After I’ve decided on the theme, whether it’s a noun or message, I choose a visual style. So for Banana’s it was kind of Andy Warhol inspired with lots of black and white and the aqua to make it springtime. I could have easily done banana tropical, or banana monkey. But I wanted a pop-art look and spring tones.

As I get more intense or I guess professional about parties, I do find it helpful to make a mood board like I did here.

For the concept of “Awesomeness” I chose BRIGHT BRIGHT colors, crazy florals, and lots of mis-matched prints. I wanted it a bit trendy but loud. Wait, who does that sound like?

6. Make your invitation specific.

A successful party is one where people show up, have a good time, and your goals are met. If your goal is for people to dance, you need to tell them YOU ARE COMING TO DANCE. When people are mentally and emotionally prepared for your event, they’re going to have more fun! They’ll know if they need to eat before, if they need to leave the kids at home, or if they need to practice doing squats in their fancy pants to see if they’ll rip when they GET LOW.

I also don’t like to ask too much of people. I know some people LOVE to do dress-up parties, but it depends on the group you’re inviting. If you’re inviting a bunch of bloggers to a sponsored event on a Tuesday night in their own town, it might be a lot to ask of them to all show up in “their best tropical formal wear.” They had to find a baby-sitter, get dressed, AND NOW LOOK FOR TROPICAL FORMAL WEAR? What does that even mean?! That’s a lot for a Tuesday night. I would instead say, “Something bright!” But that’s just how I like to party.

how to plan a party
7. What will people do when they walk in the door?

THIS IS SO FREAKING IMPORTANT. People will spend $30K on a party and not think this through. It baffles me. When you show up to a party you’re feeling all vulnerable and confused. Do you know anyone? What should you do now that you’re here? This is why people all stand in your kitchen and say, “What can I do to help?” And you say, “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY KITCHEN AND ENJOY THE PARTY!” Hahaha. But they’re just not sure what to do!

It doesn’t have to be complicated. The answer can be eat. The answer can be, “sign a guest book” why do you think the line for the guest book is always so long? Not because people actually ever want to sign it. They are just happy to have something to do!

It can be: have a cocktail, or make yourself a specialty soda. I often find it helpful, as the host, when people walk in the party to say, “Hello! Grab yourself a drink…or make yourself a plate!” I tell people what to do. If you’re not as bossy as me you could make a sign (though people don’t really read them…) If it’s a close-knit group of friends they’ll all just start talking, but there might be one or two people there who would appreciate a little direction.

Again, it doesn’t need to be some huge organized THING, or game, but giving people a little bit of direction when they walk in the door helps them feel at ease, welcome, and ready to boogie.

how to plan a party
8. What will they do when they’re at the party?

What will they do when they arrive leads nicely to, what will they do the rest of the time? Some people HATE baby shower games, some people plan 6 of them. I think it depends entirely on the group of people and the person you are throwing the party for! Games are great for a group of people who don’t know each other very well. I like to play games that aren’t too complicated or again, don’t ask the party-goer to do too much.

For example a cross word that you do all by yourself…how is that fun? Not super fun. I don’t want to sit and be quiet at a baby shower. Entertain me! Chat with me! Show me cute baby things! I also hate getting into teams. But that’s just me. Not much of a team player I guess. But I also like to offer an out. For example, you don’t HAVE to do the game, you can just watch the rest of us do it. Haha. It can still be fun. This also depends on the age of your crowd! A bridal shower for a bunch of 20-year-olds is going to be different than a bridal shower for a group of aunts, grandmas, and neighbors. Catchy my drift?

how to plan a party
I started writing all about parties for kids but I think it’s so in depth it warrants it’s own post. So I will work on that! But in the meantime I have this “How to Set Up a Kid’s Party Table” video!

9. PRO-TIP! Double-up!

This is my MAJOR money-saving tip! What can you double-up on?! Can you make the drink a decor item?! Or can you make your decor a favor? Can you make your food decoration or your wall backdrops also a photo op?

Paper also goes a long way. See how much paper I used in Rad’s party? BUT ALSO DO NOT BE FOOLED! That party was pretty expensive because I ordered rentals for the tables and chairs and linens. I tell you that because you might be bummed that your party doesn’t look like the Pintrest pictures you see. But just be not as bummed knowing they spent HUNDREDS of dollars more than you and that’s why the party looks that way. Parties cost a lot of money! And you can do them on the cheap but it’s going to take a lot of time, borrowing, and crafting. And that’s ok too! Just don’t think that there’s some magic formula for an inexpensive, beautiful, easy party. It doesn’t exist. Unless you live in a perfect white box mansion. And if that’s the case why are you worried about budget?! In fact let me plan that party for you…

At the Flamingo Fest, I had a “waste not want not!” attitude, and the 300 pink plastic flamingos that were used a decor were also the favor! There was an “adopt a flamingo foundation” sign and those babies went fast!

10. Do favors if they are AWESOME!

And that brings us to my 10th and final tip for planning a party on any budget: only do favors if they are AWESOME! Haha. Favors can take up a lot of time and money, and they are not totally necessary. Don’t feel obligated to have a favor unless it’s doubling up as something else. Whether that’s food, decor, or a prop, let your favor do double trouble. For a kid’s party the favor can be something you MAKE at the party. Or something you use to make the table cute. For a baby shower the favor can the floral arrangements you used around the event. But if the favor is just something you’re doing for the sake of HAVING a favor, spend your money and time elsewhere! THAT’S JUST MY OPINION!

AND THAT’S IT!!! I hope you found this helpful rather than overwhelming! HAHA but seriously, these are all just my opinions, this is how I do it! And I’d love to hear your questions or what YOU like to do when you throw a party!



  1. I absolutely loved this post. Thank you so much!! I love celebrating my kids and I’m truly always so hard on myself about what kind of party I’m gonna throw for them. You’re so right…its important to be realistic and have fun! Anyway, when are you gonna throw one of your awesome parties in the NYC metro area?! I’d love to attend! You’re an inspiration as always!:)

  2. oh my gosh i love this. YOU ARE A PARTY DOCTOR!!! PhD, BABEEEE! i want to come to one of your parties so bad. i love how a party can evolve from a single word, or an idea – for instance, my son teddy’s 2nd birthday started from the fact that he wanted a “blue bear bear cake.” so i drew up the cake i wanted to make based on his wishes, then went to the craft store to choose some colours to make a banner. then i decided on pizza and ice cream for food (teddy’s faves) and then that got incorporated into the theme, too! i made a simple garland with a pizza, ice cream and blue bear … matching balloons… and that was pretty much it! ^__^ i try to keep it simple because i don’t want to disappoint MYSELF. hehe… i love the flamingos as favours idea! so smart, and then everyone has a sweet funny thing that reminds them of the party out on their lawn … i would totally put one of those in my garden! totally good point about crazy ass parties on pinterest being unattainable because 1. they’re fake and 2. they cost $10,000! Rad’s banana party made me smile so much and the banana station totally inspired teddy’s ice cream stand for his party – ie, kiddos LOVE the idea of commerce/goods exchange! however, another tip i would throw in – we ended up ditching the ice cream stand idea because by the time cake was cut and served, the kids were already going wild and it was nearing the end of the set end time – so i didn’t end up doing the activity! i guess my tip would be: “roll with the crowd” and if it seems like it’s too much to jam every activity you had planned, no sweat to not to everything… ok that was really long. SORRY!!!! I HEART THE ALISON SHOW!!! xo

  3. Nikki Smith

    I’m so excited to have stumbled upon your blog and your awesomeness. We are getting ready to throw my son’s third bday and it’s a digger/truck party. We LOVE parties and people and have sort of accidentally invited about 80. We want to get mounds of dirt, rocks, and sand and have the kids just play and dig and build. It’s just a two hr party w snacks and cake.

    Most helpful tips for me: finding #1 purpose, give something for people to do right when they walk in and the favor being awesome or skipping it. Love this, you, etc!!!

  4. Alsion, this seriously rocks! I don’t throw a lot of parties, especially ‘themed’ ones, but now I want to just because of this. 🙂 I haven’t even watched the video yet, but plan on it!
    Thanks for the awesomeness as always.

  5. Hi Alison,
    Your party video was awesome! I just threw a party for my daughter (1st) and it was garden tea party theme. I definitely find myself focusing on the theme and decoration more than the food! haha i avoid meal times completely for the meal!

    Thanks for your inspiration!

  6. I just found your blog, and I LOVE IT!!!! I especially love how you used the word “lurve”. After reading that one word, I was totally hooked. Oh, and also seeing all your amazing party ideas and throne of awesome. Thanks for a big burst of color into my day! You are AWESOME!!

    1. welcome!! thank you so much!! haha I love that word a lot. glad it comes across haha xo

  7. Kirk

    Great post. It’s a whole party philosophy! You are like a better dressed Andrew WK 😉


  8. I loved your video! I like hearing you talk about stuff because you get so into it. 🙂 It seems so simple to plan a party but when I acutally attend a well planned party I realize there is so much more to it! You had me thinking about all sorts of things I never considered. Like having something for people to do right when they walk in, genius. Taking away that awkwardness of, I am here, what do I do now… I am doing to impliment that on anything I do for sure. Your awesome Allison, more more!

  9. Thanks for the tips, #10 is especially useful, sometimes I do feel like I was given a favor just to be given one, whereas if it was something I made (grown ups love crafting at parties too!) or something that was a decor item that I could re-use, it would have been so much better!

  10. Liz Galvan

    I truly enjoy you as a person! You are so talented and such an inspiration! I have recently gotten more into your blog and love all of your ideas! And I can’t wait for your how to video about sugar cookies! May I ask, where did you get that amazing bird jumpsuit that you are wearing in this blog?! Thank you for for being so “Awesome!”

  11. trisha

    Thank you for this post! Just in the nick of time! Keep being awesome!

    ALSO — Where did you get that jumpsuit in the first pic? LOVE!

  12. Jumpsuit. Jumpsuit! JUMPSUIT!! Where did you get that amazing paper crane jumpsuit?!! I have never worn a jumpsuit in my life but I will make an exception for that one.

  13. melissa lee

    oh alison! you are great! thanks so much for the “tell them what to do” tip. i always feel the awkward start of parties but never know how to solve it 🙂 great great idea! keep doing what you are doing. you’re great!

  14. So very helpful and SUCH great tips! Currently planning a Minnie-Mouse themed birthday party for my daughter who will be a year old and I’ve been pulling out my hair! Thanks for putting this together for those of us who are overwhelmed!

    1. So glad you found it helpful! Thank you!

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