1) Don't plan too many activities.
Chances are you will be so busy setting up activities and rounding up kids that you won't get to them all. Something I didn't think about at JM's party was that he actually wanted time to just talk and play with his friends, and that is an activity all by itself.
2) Don't go overboard on party favors.
I spent a lot at the Dollar Tree on favors, and I didn't realize how quickly it adds up. I think the kids would have still be pleased with a little less.
3) Start prepping big projects at least a week in advance.
As you can see in the picture above, I made a punch out piñata (as pictured above.) I found the idea through Pinterest. Here's the link: http://www.madewithhappy.com/rainbow-punch-pinata/ Anyway, I made a few adjustments to mine. I used a fold-out foam science-project board, which made it harder to cut. I had to cut both sides with an X-Acto knife to actually make the holes. That left rough edges, so then I decided to cover the edges and the whole board with yellow duct tape. All of that took a long time. I did start in advance, but I finished the night before. I wish I would have had it done several nights before the party so I could've focused on other preparations the night before.
4) Freezing cake helps hold the shape.
I had never heard of this before, but a friend of mind told me that she had frozen her cake before she needed to cut it into the final shape she was making. Well, my cake wasn't an odd shape, but I did make brownies to put on top in the shape of Legos. I wish I would have frozen the brownies, because they would not cut into perfect rectangles. I made it work, but it could have been prettier.
5) Dominos and Little Caesar's have cheap pizzas.
If you're hosting a home party and you want cheap food, order pizzas from these places. We ordered to Dominos special. You could get 2 medium 2 toppings for $5.99 each. We ordered 6 pizzas for $38 total. I think this is a good deal as compared to going to a place like Chuck E. Cheese. I'm not knockin' Chuck E. Cheese, but I'm trying to be thrifty. On a related note, I considered hot dogs, but we had too many little kids and I didn't want the possibility of a choking hazard.
6) Use canned drinks, juice boxes, or juice pouches.
It was more trouble for us to fill a bunch of cups with ice and pour. I realize that sounds lazy, but hey, 1 less thing to do is 1 less thing to do. Next time, I'm getting an ice chest of cans and boxed drinks, and everyone can get their own drink.
7) Decorate the house and have the cake baked the night before.
I did have my cake and brownies done the night before, but I didn't have the party area all clean and decorated. That would have helped out a lot. As is was, I didn't have time to hang the streamers and wall decor. (I have 5 kids, so... yeah.)
8) Stuff the party favor bags the night before.
I thought it would be cool to have the kids pick the color or design of their party favors. Sounds nice, but as it turns out, it's just more chaos and wasted time.
9) Keep games simple.
Next time for us, I'm thinkin' potato sack races, bean bag toss, and of course, I will recycle the punch-out piñata just by refilling the tissue paper and the back part.
10) Check the weather beforehand.
This is really important for pool parties, fun jumps, and outdoor games. Have a back-up plan if the weather doesn't cooperate.
11) Find reusable party games.
I'm going to be able to reuse my punch out piñata, and a few other things.
12) Put labels for each child's name on the loot bags.
People were losing their bags and getting bags mixed up at our party, because I did not do this. Also, it would be good to have a place to put all the bags while the kids are doing other activities so they won't lose them.
13) Use individual snack bags of things like animal crackers and gummy fruit treats instead of candy.
I mainly did this because some parents are not keen on too many sugary treats. It's also less messy than candy. I found some Star Wars fruit gummy snack bags at the Dollar Tree and also some a box with an assortment of animal/graham cracker-type cookie bags.
14) When deciding who goes first in line for activities, order the line little kids to big kids, with the exception of the birthday child who goes first.
Expect chaos when lining kids up. Letting the littlest ones go first works well so no one gets run over, and they can have extra help on the activity if needed.
15) Search Pinterest for party ideas.
Yeah, I'm gonna plug Pinterest. They really have great ideas for anything party-related.
16) Simplify your guest list.
Wow, I really struggled with this one. There were lots of people we could have invited. In the end, we went with my child's closest friends and people we see most often. That meant leaving some people out. I would have loved to invite everyone, but that would have be an uncomfortable zoo, and no one would've had fun. Not to mention, the more guests there are, the more money you spend. I had to bite the bullet and edit down the list for my sanity and the sake of a comfortable party.
17) Dollar Tree icing is great for mixing decorating colors.
I mixed icing for 4 different color Legos for cake toppers. It was cheap and worked well.
18) Set a party time limit goal for the invitations.
Personally, I find long parties exhausting for everyone. I think 2 hours is a great goal to set. No worries if people stay a little longer. But, if you plan a 5-hour party, expect to be pretty worn-out and possibly stressed. You might want to even set the time for an hour or 90 minutes with baby/toddler parties.
19) Don't forget that kids are more easily entertained that adults are.
This is important, because the temptation to go overboard and the desire for perfection can really lead us astray. In the end, it's a kid party. It's YOUR kid's party. My kid really just wanted some special time to play with his friends. Don't try so much to people-please.
20) Expect a clean-up aftermath.
There's gonna be some mess. Keeping this in mind is definitely motivation for the whole less-is-more philosophy of party-throwing.