Easy Party Planning Checklist with Step by Step Instructions for an Instagram-worthy Party

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6 Weeks Before

Six weeks before your party (or at the earliest if you don’t have that much time), make the foundational decisions that will help you make choices later.

1. Decide on the guest list.

how to create the perfect guest list for your party

Check availability of favored guests.

Decide on your guest list and contact your most important guests to see the dates they’re available for a party. (You or the guest of honor don’t want to be disappointed if best friends aren’t able to come to the party.)

How will the people on your guest list interact?

It’s the interaction between guests that makes or breaks a party: take another look at your guest list. Do these people get along? Is it going to be a blast – or are they going to be reluctant to participate because they don’t know each other or – even worse – don’t mesh as a group?

Is there someone on the guest list that just doesn’t like another guest? If you invite both people, will there be a Team A versus Team B situation at the party? Or a battle royale?

Is there one introvert mixed in with extroverts that will be a wallflower? Is there one single person and all the rest couples? This makes for an awkward and sometimes painful situation for that person. Maybe invite them to a different event or a one-on-one mini-party.

Think about reciprocal invites, too.

Were you or the guest of honor invited to a party and need to reciprocate an invite? There can be hurt feelings if hosts of recent parties get left off the guest list.

Need help with your guest list? 

See How To Create The Perfect Party Guest List

2.Set your party budget.

how to set a party budget

Set a budget you know you can afford.

Life is short; we want every party to be the ultimate party but sometimes that means more creativity than cash. Be realistic. Set a budget that you know you can afford without the crying-cringing credit card invoice the month after your soirée.

Our finances fluctuate from year to year. If you’re short on cash right now, that’s okay. Work around it with freebies and clearance sales, by hosting the party in your own home, and maybe inviting fewer people this time.

What is it about a party that makes it most memorable for you?

Being realistic about where you want to spend your budget takes the pressure off. What is more important to you and your guests: the food, the entertainment or the ambiance?

What is it about parties that is the most fun, the most memorable for you (or the guest of honor):
– the venue
– the decorations
– the food
– the entertainment
– the interaction with other guests

This  is where you devote the most of your budget.

Inspiration for saving money.

There are lots of ways to save money on your party without anyone noticing.

  • have an appetizer party instead of a sit-down meal
  • have a food bar where the buffet table is gorgeous as party decorations and food
  • ask everyone to bring their best goodie tray and share the cooking
  • have a costume party – they’re exciting for everyone but guests are responsible for the cost of the costume & you need less decorations
Need help setting a party budget?

See How to Set a Party Budget with FREE budget printables.

Decide on a party theme.

How to Decide on a Party Theme

Is the amazing party theme you’re excited about really going to be awesome?

Before you go ahead with your fantastic theme, think for one more moment. Is it going to be a blast or are the participants going to whine and complain about the party theme you’ve chosen? What excites you might not work so well when you bring a group together.

If you want to have a karoake party and invite people who hate to sing, the party will end early. Or they’ll all stand around talking so loudly you can’t hear the one singing. It’s happened. Many a time.

The goal is to choose the party theme for your group of guests.

There are so many themes out there.  Pick one that you know your guests and you will thoroughly enjoy. Your excitement in planning the party around a party theme you can’t wait for will pump up the anticipation for everyone.

Need some inspiration? 

See Ultimate List of Party Theme Ideas for ideas.

Can’t decide? 

See How to Decide on a Party Theme with a list of questions to help you narrow down the choices.

Arrange the entertainment.

How to choose Party entertainment

What type of entertainment do you think your guests will enjoy?

Again, so many choices. And you probably want to plan the entertainment to match your party theme. Dancing, board games, karaoke, watching a movie, cultural games, thinking games, video games, action games – the list goes on.

You need to book now if you’re going big on entertainment.

  • musical group or DJ for a dance
  • hold your party at the movie theater, restaurant or other venue
  • want an outdoor theater in your backyard
  • have a professional bartender for an adult party 
  • rent a karaoke machine

Plan the party schedule while arranging/planning the entertainment because they go hand-in-hand.

DJ playing music for the main event at an adult party with dancing

Don’t count on sterling conversation among guests to be your only activity.

You want this to be a party they talk about on social media, tell their friends and family about, and maybe even remember for years to come. That doesn’t happen by accident. However, accidents are usually remembered forever. . .

A great adult party will have planned activities. (Plus: activities look better in the photos and videos shared on social media that show how great your party was!)

Plan adult party activities by the party theme & guest’s interests.

Plan your activities by the party theme and interests of your guests. The rule of thumb is to plan more activities than you think you’ll need in case things move along faster than you anticipate or something is rejected outright by the group. (Yes, it happens. I was at an adult Christmas party where one woman declared, “We don’t do games.” All the hostess’ plans went out the window – as well as my opportunity to win some great prizes.)

An adult party plan needs a pre-party ice breaker.

Guests who arrive first get the nibbles if the food is out! It’s also a good idea to encourage mingling right from the first moment with a fun open-ended event.

  • photo booth with party theme
  • games that can add people at any time & don’t have a set ending
  • munchies & cocktails or mocktails
  • guest book with best wishes
  • fill-in cards that go with the theme (such a gratitude card for thanksgiving or child rearing tips for a baby shower) that can be read later or given to the guest of honor

Plan mini-events with opportunities for conversation in between.

With entertainment there’s usually a big event, and a good-bye memorable event that bonds the guests so they go home feeling connected and happy.

Need help planning a big event and creating that good-bye memorable event? 

See How to Make a Party More Fun – includes tips on how to plan the party schedule to make sure everyone (both introverts and extroverts) have fun and leave happy & bonded

Arrange the party venue.

Free and Low Cost Party Venue Ideas

The party venue is dictated by how many guests you’ll have at the party.

  • a video game or American Idol karaoke party is best with just a couple of close friends
  • if you’re planning the ultimate party you may not have enough space in your rec room or backyard to contain it all so you’ll need to find another venue

Your budget will also be a consideration in venue.

Did you decide it was the most important thing for this party? How much can you spend? Research to see what venues you can afford.

Need ideas? 

See Free & Low Cost Venue Ideas.

Start looking for party favors, prizes for games & party decorations.

Adult party supplies like huge lollipops for prizes, party hats and blowers, a shiny red bowtie.

It is a good idea to purchase your party supplies as early as possible.

  • If buying online, it gives you time to purchase, receive and even return if necessary.
  • It allows extra time for you to change themes if you’re not satisfied with what’s available.
  • It also lets you spend time researching your options for the best or cheapest.

Plan the decorations that you will need.

  • outdoor decorations so guests know which house is hosting the party
  • for the walk-way to build anticipation
  • front door as a welcome
  • in the entrance way
  • the party table and chairs
  • food serving or buffet table
  • the party room – usually a feature wall reflecting the theme, balloons and/or flowers
  • get printables early so you can give yourself time to enjoy the process

4 Weeks Before

All the big decisions are done, and they help direct you with smaller details now.

Send invitations.

How To Create Party Invitations that Excite

Give guests a reasonable amount of notice.

By inviting guests reasonably early you allow time for their schedule to still be open and to shop for a gift or costume if necessary. 

Don’t you hate rushing to the store for that last minute present? Yeah. We do too. Not the way to pump up the anticipation for your party!

Don’t rely on a phone call or social media as your invitation.

People forget. They need something to put on their fridge or in their calendar – which also helps to build excitement every time they see it! Send it in writing so they can refer back to it, whether its an official written invitation, invitation card or by email that they can print or refer to later.

If you do text or use social media, ask for an RSVP response so you know for sure they can come to the party. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with everyone and build their anticipation, making the party fun before it even starts.

Need specifics on how to use social media with your party?

See How Use Social Media to Plan a Party for some pretty cool ideas.

Take your invitation to the next level with one that appeals to their senses & hints at the party theme.

Give them an amazing invitation that is a little gift – or at the very least an invitation card that appeals to their senses.

Gift invitations are the latest trend that’s blowing everyone’s socks off. Your guests will be thrilled & amazed before they even arrive at the party!

Want information & inspiration on Gift Invitations? 

See How to Create Party Invitations that Excite.

Plan the party food.

dinner party with wine glasses

Decide on the party menu & how you want it served.

Are you the hostess with the mostest who likes to cook and serve the food while the guests are there? Or is the ease in serving the food is a major factor for you so you can spend time with your guests?

Can the darling hubby or a dear friend oversee the BBQ? Do you have a volunteer who will help serve the food? Can you set up a beverage bar and buffet table so everyone can easily serve themselves?

Make your party unique by serving food that matches your adult party theme.

Make your party unique by having a menu that matches your party theme. 

And the pièce de résistance . . . the cake. Are you going to make it yourself? Will you order it? How big does it have to be? What will make it match the party theme?

Make a grocery list while you’re planning the menu to keep things easy.

Now would also be a good time to test any new recipes you want to try for the party so you can tweak or replace them if necessary.

Why not have a “dry run” party? Invite your closest friends over for a taste testing of the party food to get their opinions.

Create a couple signature drinks that go with the theme of the party.

See How to Create a Signature Drink in 3 Easy Steps.

Make a party supplies list.

Opened book on desk ready to create a party supplies list.

Now that your party is planned make an extensive list of everything you’ll need.

  • sports equipment or game requirements
  • arts & crafts supplies
  • music
  • tables & enough chairs
  • serving dishes
  • serving utensils
  • plates, cups, tableware
  • table cloth and/or napkins
  • balloons, centerpieces, flowers
  • take-home bags & loot

Line up your assistants.

Take the pressure off by asking family members, friends or even guests to be helpers.

At an adult party, having others help with the food, music or volunteer to be the first to dance or play a game can make things run smoother. Anyone who helps with the cleanup afterward is worth their weight in gold!

Order the cake, balloons & floral arrangements.

If you’re getting a specialty cake at the bakery or grocery store, order it well in advance to avoid disappointment. Order your balloons, flowers or other party decorations if getting them locally.

2 Weeks Before

Follow up RSVPs

Contact anyone you haven’t heard from to confirm your guest list. Two weeks feels less stressful to agree to attend if they’ve forgotten about it.

Purchase alcoholic beverages for an adult party.

If you need help to estimate how much beverage alcohol you require, use Evite’s Party Drink Calculator.

1 Week Before

Get printables & decorations ready.

If using printables for your party decorations or cupcake toppers, take them to the printers or print them off at home now to make sure you have enough ink and paper.

Start putting your printables together – take your time and have fun!

Clean up the yard for an outdoor party.

Clean up the backyard and add any plants that you’ll require.

Arrange for professionals to do the work if you’re using their services.

Make ahead any food that can be frozen.

If you have planned your menu with recipes that can be made in installments, make anything that can be frozen and kept until you need it now.

Confirm food made by others & your assistant’s help.

If having a potluck or if family and friends are contributing to the party food, contact them to confirm that they are still able to do so and make sure you both understand who is providing the serving utensils, and other requirements such as an electrical socket for a crockpot.

Confirm your helpers at the party and tell them exactly what you expect of them.

2 Days Before

Go Grocery Shopping

Prepare Party Favor Bags

Mow the Lawn for an Outdoor Party

Make the First Aid Kit Accessible – if you already have one, check the supplies and put it where it will be handy in the case of an emergency.

The Day Before the Party

Remind assistants – contact your helpers to jog their memory and make sure they are available, know what is expected of them and when they are to show up.

Make or pick up the birthday cake – also make sure you have candles & something to use to light them.

Prepare food for menu – make as much on the menu as possible now, or at least do the prep work in advance such as chopping vegetables, marinating meat, making sauces, etc.

Refrigerate beverages and chill wines & beer.

Buy ice. Plan on 1 pound per guest.

Clean and tidy rooms that will be used

Prepare bathroom & coat room – put a sign on the coat room and bathroom door so guests don’t have to ask. Put out hand towels, soap and extra bathroom tissue.

Prepare name tags for guests if they don’t know each other.

Prepare stations for food, beverages and craft/play areas for kids’ party. Make sure you have clean serving dishes and utensils for everything you have planned to serve. Get crock pots ready to keep food hot.

Day of the Party

Pick up balloons & flowers.

You can delegate this task if the person knows what the arrangements should look like.

If you pick the items up early enough, you leave time for mistakes to be fixed. It’s always a good idea to call them and confirm the items are ready before you leave the house.

Organize the party areas & decorate.

If you’re having the party at your house, arrange the furniture and set up the dining table, activity stations and gift table. Put up decorations.

If going to a different venue for the party, arrange everything you’ll need for each area in different tote bags or storage boxes so you know if you have everything you’ll need and make it easier to delegate jobs to your assistants. (I’ve even made a rough drawing of the activity station with labels to put in the box so assistants know exactly what needs to be done with as little direction as possible in the chaos.)

Prepare the party food.

Set up the buffet or display table with your cupcakes, beverages, snacks, party favors and decorations.

Set cake on display table early enough that it will be room temperature when eating it.

Give directions to anyone who will be doing food preparation during the party.

Prepare the bar.

Make sure wine & beer are chilled.

Prepare the bar area:

  • decorations
  • straws
  • glasses
  • garnishes

Get things ready to make a list of gifts.

Have a pen and paper ready to write down gifts & giver when opened, and give instructions to your assistant if delegating this task.

2 to 3 Days After the Party

Write thank you notes.

Send thank you cards to guests for their gifts and mention something wonderful that happened with them at the party.

Thank assistants specifically for what they did & offer lots of praise so they’ll be willing to do it again next party! (Even if you gave them a thank you gift at the end of the party, it never hurts to thank them profusely once again.)

I know it looks overwhelming as you scan down the page, but as you cross off each item you’ll get more excited about your party and feel confident that everything is going as planned.

FREE Party Planning Checklist

Download this article (without photos, and in black & white to make it easy to print at home). It includes all the questions to help you plan and links to articles with ideas, too.

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Easy Party Planning Checklist with Step by Step Instructions for an Instagram-worthy Party