Setting a Party Budget You Can Stick To

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This is part of the Party Primer Series. Answers to all of your party and event planning questions.

Parties can get expensive in a hurry, especially if you go in without a plan. By the time you’ve strolled through Target and the grocery store, you’ve spent three times as much as you should have – and you still have more to buy! Just as we saw last week with your timeline, setting a budget before the party planning starts will help you to stay on track and throw the party you’re dreaming of, without all the buyer’s remorse and spending guilt.

It’s important to go into the budget planning process with realistic expectations. The wonders that are the blogosphere and Pinterest often leave us overwhelmed with so many ideas and without any real sense of the expense that went into those “Pin-worthy” parties. I can promise you they weren’t cheap.

Now I am all for throwing fabulous events that are decorated to the nines with hundreds of coordinated details, but that doesn’t have to be every party you throw or even any of the parties that you throw. If I tried to pull out all the stops every time I invited friends over to dinner I’d not only be broke, but totally burnt out on party planning. Have a budget in place will help you stay focused and make the important decisions.

The best place to start when planning your budget is determining the amount that you are reasonably able to spend, this is your absolute maximum. That doesn’t mean you have to spend this much, it just sets an amount to build around. Now, determine a goal of what you would like to spend on the party. This should be lower than your maximum obviously, and shouldn’t leave you cringing.

Next, think about your vision for the event. Who’s there? Where are you? What kind of food and drinks are you having? What do the decorations look like?

Now comes the hard step – reconciling the vision with the reality. Maybe you’re planning Thomas the Tank Engine themed a first birthday party and would love to dress each child up in little conductor’s overalls. That is an adorable idea, and will be perfect if there are only going to be a few children at the party, but if you’re inviting the whole extended family, 30 pairs of child-sized overalls gets expensive in a hurry.  Maybe you decide that each child will get a hat instead, much more affordable.

You also have to consider your non-negotiables items. Mainly, this means the food. If you’re throwing a casual afternoon cookout, you’re going to be able to spend less than at a formal dinner. Unless you decide you want to grill filet and salmon for the cookout and serve carryout pizza at dinner. It’s all about your choices.

It’s also important to determine if there is anything in your vision you just can’t part with. So if you know you just have to have those rosette tablecloths for your daughters 8th birthday at $40 each, you’re probably going to have to refrain from inviting the entire soccer team. This is why it is always a good idea to plan your budget for an amount less than the absolute maximum you are able to spend, it allows for a splurge now and then.

To help you get started I’ve outlined the most common expenses for a party, and what you can expect to spend in each area and what percentage of your budget should go towards each item. I’ve also put together three budgets based on the same amount, to help you see how your choices impact the party.

% of Budget

#1 $300 Birthday Party for 10 guests

#2 $300 Birthday Party for 20 guests

#3 $300 Birthday Party for 40 guests

Food & Drink

























Slush Fund









Each party had a budget of $300, but the types of party and the choices of the hostess determined how the money was spent.

The first party was a dinner for a 30th birthday celebration, it was small and the focus was on the food and drinks. Everything else was kept to a minimum.

The second was a pretty typical child’s birthday party, complete with a $50/hour magician.

The third party was also a child’s birthday party, but since there were so many guests, many of the extras were trimmed.

These are all hard decisions, I know. What makes it harder still is that there is no right or wrong answer. Each party and each party hostess is unique. What is important to you may seem trivial to someone else, that doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it your opinion.

The most important thing to remember is that whether you throw a simple party or an extravagant one, the key is enjoying the time you spend creating memories with your guests, because that is truly priceless.


All Wrapped Up “Pinspiration”

The only thing better than finding the perfect gift for someone is finding the perfect way to wrap it up! Here are some quick and creative gift wrap ideas that will add some flair to the next gift you give.

All Wrapped Up Pinspiration1 Yarn Ribbons from Babble
2 Tissue Poms from Martha Stewart
3 Paint Chip Garland from d.Sharp Journal
4 Velvet Ribbon from Real Simple
5 Tower of Boxes from Martha Stewart
6 Fabric Flowers from Ada and Darcy

20 Jazz Standards for Your Dinner Party Playlist

Some of my favorite music to play during a party is a collection of the old jazz standards. You know the songs, almost everyone does. Made famous decades ago by legends like Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, these songs fit nicely into the background at almost any dinner party. One of my favorite things about this kind of music is that so many of the songs have been covered by new artists in the last few years, giving them a fun new spin. Michael Bublé  is probably the best know of these new artists, but there are a whole host of singers who have fun covers. There are even some singers better known in other genres who have done a cover or two. I find that these songs make the best conversation pieces. I’ve told many-a party guest “You won’t believe who is singing this right now” as a familiar song has played in the background.

These are just a few of my favorites.

April Jazz Playlist

How to Create A Party Timeline

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This is part of the Party Primer Series. Answers to all of your party and event planning questions.

There are no set rules when it comes to establishing a timeline for your party planning. I know, that’s not such great advice. In general, the larger and more complicated the event, the earlier you’re going to want to begin the planning process.

The most important factor when deciding your timeline is the type of party you’re having. This will help you determine your time frame  Some of these things will seem natural, you wouldn’t send out invitations before deciding on a location or theme. Other ideas will hopefully give you some insight into how to save yourself time and organize for a stress-free event.

I have put together sample timelines for two types of parties that each require a different level of detail. I hope this gives you a good idea of all the things that need to be done as well as the approximate timing.

For large parties that will take place outside of your home, or involve a lot of rental items (like tents, tables and chairs) you’ll want to start planning at least 4-6 months in advance. If the location you’d like to us is a popular one, you may want to start even sooner. These events are usually milestone anniversaries or birthdays, showers, baptisms, communions, retirements, graduations, and family reunions. They have a large guest list and a lot of details, so allowing yourself a good window of time will save you from stress and headache as the event nears.

Timeline 1

For smaller parties, like birthdays and holidays, planning begins about two months ahead of time. Again, if its not being held in your home, you may need to book the location earlier than this, but you shouldn’t need to do too much else until about two months before the party.

Timeline 2

Casual events like brunches and dinner parties that focus more on good food and good company than a lot of little details, can be planned in just a few days (or a few hours in some cases) thought I usually like to give myself a week or two.

I didn’t put together a formal timeline for the casual party, because its something we’ll discuss later on, and its much simpler to put together an event like this than either of the other two.

Once you’ve figured out the time frame you’ll be working with, you’ll look at all the things that need to be done and determine the best times to do them. I know this sounds simple and almost silly, but you’d be surprised how few people actually write down what they need to do and keep track of their schedule. I think that lack of a timeline in the beginning is the biggest cause of stress and trouble as a party draws near. The most important thing when it comes to party planning is to enjoy yourself! Parties are fun, remember?

Be On Your Best Behavior

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The subject of manners and etiquette usually come up when discussing special occasions, but there are many people better suited than I to teach you the ins and outs of polite society. These are just a few.

If you’re someone who prides themselves on good manners, you should remember that touting them at the expense of others is the epitome of bad manners.

I saw this quote today and it reminded me of this fabulous (and more than likely fictitious) story about Queen Elizabeth II. As the story goes, the Queen was hosting a grand dinner and as the meal drew to a close, the guest of honor picked up his finer bowl and began to sip from it. Hiding what must have been her pure horror, the smiled and followed suit much to the shock of her guests, and began sipping from her finger bowl as well. The point here, whether this story is true or not, is that the most important thing to remember about being a gracious host is to always make your guests feel comfortable, even if it  sometimes means eschewing the “proper” way of doing something.

Party Primer – 4 Easy Steps to the Perfect Party Plan

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You may have seen the first post in the Party Primer Series, and if not, make sure to go check it out – Why Have a Dinner Party? This series is designed to help you become an expert entertainer and event host. Whether you’ve never thrown a party before and have no idea where to start or you’re a party planning veteran just looking for new tips and ideas, I hope this series helps you. If you have questions about the topics we discuss, or want to know about things I haven’t covered, leave a comment or e-mail me and I’ll send you the answer!

When I first began hosting events, I didn’t know where to start. I figured as long as you had friends and food you had a party. And while that is technically true, I’ve gone through quite a bit of trial and error and learned a lot since then. Still, I find myself surprised that after each event I am left with a few new ideas for my bag of tricks.

One of the most important things I’ve found is that laying a good foundation with a few key pieces of information will make the rest of the party planning process run smoothly and can really make or break an event. You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, right? So make sure you don’t start to plan a party before answering these key questions.

Why are you having a party?

This may be an obvious answer like a birthday party or bridal shower. Maybe you want to invite your friends to meet your new boyfriend or girlfriend, or maybe an old college friend has returned from backpacking abroad for a year. Or maybe you just want something to look forward to after a long workweek. “Just Because” is always a good reason for a party – in fact, there is no right answer to this question, its only important that you know why you’re having the party as you begin to answer the next questions.

What is your timeline?

Knowing how much time you have to plan the event will help determine just what you can do with the event. Sure its possible to plan a surprise birthday bash complete with 200 guests and an amazing live band on just a few days notice, but its much more realistic to have at least a month or two to pull off something like that. On the other hand, it’s entirely realistic to plan a fabulous dinner party in just a day or two and you probably don’t want to start bugging your friends about coming to your awesome Superbowl party when its only November.

What is your budget?

As with the timeline, your budget is going to determine where you’re able to take the party. Of course its going to be easier to plan a huge bash with a big budget, but you just may be surprised how far a small budget can stretch with the right plans. I’ve thrown many a dinner party on $50 (or less!) so don’t be scared off by this question. Whatever your budget is, I know we can make it work.

Who are you going to invite?

Sometimes this is influenced by your budget, and sometimes it’s the other way around. It won’t be hard to throw a party for 8 guests with $100, but it maybe a struggle (but not impossible!) to throw a party for 50. Sometimes this question is answered as soon as you know why you’re having the party. If you’re throwing a wedding shower, the bride will probably give you a list of who needs to be invited and it may or may not be negotiable. If the guest list is in your hands though, think about your budget and how many people you can include without sacrificing your ideas for the party and go from there. Always be prepared for a few unexpected guests too! The standard rule  to be prepared for about 10% over, just in case, but with smaller events you’re probably safe as long as you could accommodate 2-3 extra people.

I hope this information gives you a good starting place. If you haven’t hosted many parties, this may seem like a lot of information to consider. Don’t worry, we’ll talk a lot more about these questions in the next few installments of “Party Primer”. As always, leave a comment if you have any more specific questions about what I’ve covered here.