How to plan an unforgettable birthday bash for kids or adults

Imagine this—a table set with all your favorite treats, a pile of gifts in the corner (is that Tiffany blue we see?), and the promise of a off-key tune sung just for you. Could it be your birthday is around the corner? Or how about this—belly laughs from all of your kids’ pals, a perfect cake with their favorite character of the moment, and is that a magician or clown we see? When special birthdays come around, whether you, your best friend, or your kid is blowing out the candles, you should mark the occasion with a birthday party to celebrate.

But with so much to consider (casual eats or a formal dinner? Prank candles or classic? Llama piñata or lawn games?), that’s easier said than done. Take a breath and read on to learn how to plan a birthday party for adults and kids, alike.

 

Planning an adult’s birthday party

Love it or hate it, when you grow up, your birthday still comes but once a year. You also celebrate some big moments, from 21st birthday parties, to 30th birthdays, to 40 and beyond, there’s always a reason to celebrate your birthday as an adult, even if you want to trade in the clown, the cake, and the party favors for a quiet evening with your besties. We got you, and we know exactly what you’ll need to pull off an elegant affair everyone will be talking about until the next fete rolls around.

 

1. Budget

To calculate your budget, consider how much you’re willing to spend, from hors d’oeuvres to entertainment options to party venues. A party at home could cost just as much as (if not more than) a party at a venue, so leave nothing unaccounted for. Once you determine your budget, many of the details will start to fall into place (such as, which type of bubbly should you serve?).

And—as this is a party by adults, for adults—don’t be afraid to ask for help from other guests if you want to stretch the budget just a tad.

 

left: A ‘60s-style invitation with wavy font and colorful flowers. Right: A person laces their rollerskates.
A Very Groovy Evening” by Paperless Post. 

 

2. Theme

Whether you’re hosting an intimate party with your inner circle or a big birthday bash with the whole family, a birthday party isn’t complete without a theme. Trust us, you’ll have so much more fun if you think this part through. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

 

– The concert experience: If the special birthday guest lives for music, celebrate their day with just that. Spring for tickets if their favorite group is touring or hire a cover band and have everyone dress accordingly. Or, break out the karaoke machine and unleash your inner pop star. 

 

– Game night: Whether you choose board games, video games, or actually breaking a sweat with their favorite sport or lawn game, building a birthday around competition is a surefire way to have a blast. Pair up experts with newbies to ensure everyone’s involved and teams are balanced.

 

– Silver screen birthday: Can the birthday guest of honor recite (with perfect diction) the Royale with Cheese scene from “Pulp Fiction”? Have they always dreamed of finding their own Danny and singing “Summer Lovin’” to a room full of Pink Ladies and T-Bird greasers? Or maybe they have a deep personal connection to the Wicked Witch of the West or the Cowardly Lion from “Wizard of Oz”. Bring their favorite movie to life at their birthday party! The movie’s soundtrack will provide the perfect soundscape, and you can even go that extra mile and book a venue that sets the scene, whether its a rooftop bar or a ‘50s-themed diner. Don’t forget to encourage guests to dress up! 

 

3. Venue

There are myriad birthday venues to choose from, with varying levels of flexibility to suit your needs. What matters most is the mood you’re going for. Home is more intimate, while hotels, bars, and restaurants are classic. If it’s summertime, a local park or public garden will set quite the backdrop. Or, if you want to set the party scene in a more memorable space, consider out-of-the-box party locales like: 

– Museum

– Aquarium

– Industrial warehouse or event space

– Sailboat or yacht

– Amusement or adventure park (go-carts and whirlyball, we’re looking at you)

 

An invitation with cocktails on a pink background.

Liquid Lunch” Flyer by Paperless Post.

 

4. Food & drink

Delicious eats and drinks are essential to any soirée. They can amplify your chosen theme and keep guests from getting hangry as they wait for the birthday cake (or, our preference, birthday croquembouche) to be cut. 

 

Bring in food trucks: Food trucks are a fun way to add variety to your festivities. Hire one truck specializing in the party’s theme or work with a few vendors to provide plenty of options for guests. We call dibs on the kitschy (but entirely necessary) Mister Softee truck.

 

Consider a caterer: This route will take away all the pressure of wowing guests with your cooking skills (or lack thereof). Plus, catering allows you to add on showstoppers like a mobile wood-fire pizza oven, a prime-rib carving station, or even made-to-order paella. 

 

Don’t skip the bubbly: If you’re throwing a birthday party without a little bit of champagne or sparkling wine, you’re missing out! You can find a deliciously crisp vintage for any budget. Go big with a champagne tower or a caviar pairing. Plus, we have it on good authority that champagne is the perfect accompaniment to birthday cake.

 

Hire a bartender: If your budget can swing it, hiring a mixologist can really make the evening special. They’ll keep guests entertained while serving up creative custom cocktails. Of course, not everyone may want alcohol, so stock up on the three S’s: seltzer, soda, and shakes (for dessert!).


With Paperless Post, it’s easy to ask your guests about their dietary needs.

 

 

5. Party favors

If there’s one universal “rule” about party favors, it’s this: they should remind guests of the day. That means you’ll want to go above and beyond the goody bags of your youth and opt instead for something a little more unique, like a customized place setting (we like conversation starters like tarot cards or energy-charged crystals) or a small bouquet of dried flowers. You can also opt for a throwback—disposable cameras give guests the chance to go low-tech and capture candid moments. After you develop them, you can mail out your favorite shots to each guest (or opt for digital and send them a Paperless Post thank you card).

 

 

6. Invitations

Even if the entire guest list is confirmed to attend, sending out birthday invitations is a great way to keep things organzied and get everyone excited to celebrate. Paperless Post has you covered on that front—and here are some ideas for how to word them:

 

Birthday bubbles: Raise a glass with this fizzy card:

 

Mark is

thirty!

LEND HIM SOME

MORAL SUPPORT AS HE

TOASTS ANOTHER YEAR

SATURDAY, JUNE 14TH

AT 7:30PM

ARROWHEAD PUB

 

Count the candles: Throwing a surprise party? Use words like:

 

SHH… IT’S A SURPRISE!

WE’RE THROWING A SECRET BIRTHDAY BASH

FOR SUGAR KANE’S 33RD

SATURDAY, MARCH 29TH AT 7PM

SOCIETY SYNCOPATION

SUGAR ARRIVES AT 8!

 

Age is just a number: A perfect card for the young at heart, paired with wording like:

 

F*%#

FIFTY

PLEASE JOIN KAREN TO CELEBRATE

BEING YOUNG AF

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 AT 7PM

THE PEABODY HOTEL

 

How long should an adult’s birthday party last?

With the exception of late-night bars, most venues will want your birthday hat-wearing entourage out by a certain time. Host at home, however, and you can have everyone stay until the wee hours (or the next morning, you party animal).

At an active birthday, your guests will eventually run out of gas, so cordoning off some downtime would go over well. Plan for maybe an hour of play, then three to crack out the lawn chairs, fire up the barbecue, and chit-chat. Boom: a four-hour birthday.

 

An invitation for a child’s birthday party with colorful dinosaur footprints over a portrait photo.

Dino-Mite Birthday” Flyer by Paperless Post.

 

Planning a kid’s birthday party

Remember waking up on the first day of school as a kid? “Five more minutes” never sounded so good (to you, not your parents). Waking up on your birthday, though? Now that was exciting! Even if you had school, there was still a lot to look forward to—and the same should be true for your own kids (or the kid you’re celebrating). 

Here are a few ways you can make that happen:

 

1. Date and time

With school out and parents off from work, weekends are ideal for kids’ birthdays. The ideal and the real are two different things, though, so—as with adult parties—iron out a schedule more than a month before if possible.

Choosing a time should be a more straightforward matter. You know your kid’s bedtime… and you know you’ll be a little more lenient about it on their birthday.

 

2. Budget

Between gifts and hired performers, budgeting a kid’s birthday is an exacting business—but there are still ways to save. 

 

Home-cooked meals: You know your kid’s favorite dishes better than anyone, after all! Choose one of their favorite meals that’s easy to cook up for a crowd. That might be a massive pot of spaghetti or scores of hot dogs cooked on the grill with tons of topping options. If your kid’s favorite food is Lucky Charms cereal, you’ve really hit the jackpot. 

 

Volunteer entertainer: Is your kid a Wonder Woman fan? Or maybe they talk about “The Legend of Zelda” non-stop? If you’re planning a character-themed party, see if there’s a good sport amongst your family or friends (or friends of friends) who wouldn’t mind trading character time for unlimited cake. 

 

A party table with safari animal print motifs and blush pink balloons.

Discover unique party supplies to match your safari-themed bash and more at the Paperless Post Party Shop.

 

3. Theme

In a contest of imagination, kids will always come out on top. You can put up a good fight by making a theme they love to come to life, though. You could go off their favorite activities, stories, characters, and more, or you can go straight to the source and ask them what they’d prefer as a theme. They will be so delighted when you really pull it off. We have some ideas to get you started:

 

Get wild: Nothing beats visiting the zoo as a kid—except being a zookeeper for a day. Zoos across the country host parties where children can get up close and personal with everything from armadillos to zigzag salamanders. Some can even bring the safari to your backyard.

 

Scavenger hunt: In a GPS-dependent world, creating a thrilling scavenger hunt is challenging: conjuring clues, choosing a bounteous treasure, and keeping kids on task. Do it right, though, and you’re bound to engage them. Plus, if they love pirates, you can add a dress-up element.

 

– Backyard art: With an outdoor art birthday, you kill two birds with one stone: kids get to be messy, and you avoid having to clean the couch. Set up easels, paints, and crayons and let your young artists color to their hearts’ delight. Or, choose a fun craft to do together like tie dye or papier-mâché. 

 

4. Venue

A classic at-home or backyard birthday party never fails. But, if you want to add a little special something to the day, consider these sensational venues for your kid’s birthday: 

 

– The local laser tag spot

– Your favorite neighborhood park or playground 

– An IMAX theater

– A trampoline park

– A kid’s arcade

– A roller or ice rink

 

With Paperless Post invitations, you can collect a headcount of adults and children planning to attend.

 

5. Guest list

First things first: Is this party for family, friends, or both? Either way, contacting family should be easy enough. But calling a bunch of four-year-olds from your kid’s preschool? Different story. Once you’ve determined which friends are invited, you should be able to get parents’ numbers directly through the school.

You should also double-check with the school if there’s a strict party policy. Some schools state that, unless it’s girls-only or boys-only, every kid in the class has to be invited. Talk to your child’s teacher to make sure no rules are broken (and no feelings are hurt). 

 

left: A party table with princess-themed cupcakes and bite-sized sandwiches. Right: An invitation shows a colorful cupcake with a sparkler.

Cupcake Birthday” by Rifle Paper Co. for Paperless Post. Discover unique party supplies to match your princess-themed bash and more at the Paperless Post Party Shop.

 

6. Food

After double-checking every guest’s dietary restrictions, kids’ meals can be relatively easy. 

 

Fast-finger food: Your kid probably cheers when you pull into their favorite drive-through eatery, so a Happy Meal-style birthday spread is sure to be a hit, especially if you make it mini. Offer chicken nuggets, fries, sliders, and mini fruit cups and your birthday kid will definitely sing, “I’m lovin’ it!” No time to make it mini? Call your favorite fast-food spot and put in an order.

 

Taco buffet: As easy to eat as they are delicious, tacos are a surefire winner at kids’ parties. Be sure to provide plenty of low-spice salsa options, sour cream, and of course, extra guac.

 

Mac-and-cheese station: Offering an endless supply of mac-and-cheese will level up your kid’s party to legendary status. Include surprising toppings like Cheetos, pineapple chunks, ranch dressing, and bacon to help kids find their favorite mac-and-cheese combination. 

 

DIY party food: If your guest list is comprised of picky eaters, have them make their own food. Kids can have a great time making personal pizzas, mixing their own salads, or decorating their own cupcakes.

 

7. Party favors

If there’s one universal “rule” about kid party favors, it’s this: children should never leave a birthday without goodie bags. The question is—aside from candy—what to put in the bags?


Stickers are pretty fool-proof, as are temporary tattoos. If the piñata was a hit (pun intended), pack in some mini-piñatas. More unexpected gifts like surprise balls and coloring pages with mini packs of crayons should go over well, too.

 

 

8. Invitations

Looking for kids’ birthday party invitation wording as fun as the party will be? Check these out:

 

Jurassic celebration: How do you improve upon dinosaurs with party hats? With words like:

 

Jem is

turning six

Sunday, February 3rd at 1pm

The Finch Residence

3 Amasa Drive, Maycomb

 

Fun in the sun: Nothing says summer birthday like the pool! Take a dip into this wording:

 

POOL

PARTY

MATILDA’S 6TH BIRTHDAY

SATURDAY MARCH 31ST

AT 2PM

MISS HONEY’S POOL

16 CHERRY LANE

*DON’T FORGET YOUR SUIT AND TOWEL!

 

A magical time: Cast a spell on your guests with this enchanting card and wording like:

 

CHARLES

is turning

EIGHT

and we have a spell

for the perfect

birthday party

Sunday, November 29th

at 3:30pm

128 Cleveland Avenue

Hartford

 

How long should a kid’s birthday party last?

If hosting your child’s birthday during the week, you might let them stay up an hour or two later to celebrate. But class is class, and bedtime is bedtime (unless, of course, it’s a sleepover party). Just give the “I’m not even tired” response a second. Their eyelids will flutter and the yawns will become contagious within minutes. 

Don’t forget to keep age in mind. Toddlers might be able to handle an hour or two of excitement before drooling their way into dreamland, but an eight- or nine-year-old might have plenty of energy to spare.

 

Party planning timeline

Whether you’re planning a Hulk-themed extravaganza for your nine-year-old or a Gatsby-inspired fling for your 90-year-old grandma, all parties have two things in common:

 

1. Everyone wants to feel included.

2. A little planning goes a long way.

 

In fact, creating a timeline (and actually abiding by it!) can make all the difference between a fantastic day or a flop. Follow this guide and you’ll be good. 

 

8 weeks before the party

Get the big stuff out of the way first, including:

– Choosing a party theme

– Setting a date

– Finalizing the numbers in your budget

– Starting your venue search, whether it’s Chuck E. Cheese or your friend’s rooftop)

– Working out a rough guest list

– Keeping an eye out for gift ideas

 

6 weeks before the party

As the day gets closer, the details of the party should start to come together. It’s time to leap into party-planning action by:

– Confirming your venue 

– Finalizing guest list and sending out invites (hint, Paperless Post makes this to-do list item so easy)

– Brainstorming activities, decor, and goodie bags

– Figuring out the menu and confirming a vendor—even if it’s just picking a pizza place

– Start booking other vendors such as performers, bounce house providers, etc

 

4 weeks before the party

A month-ish before a party is the perfect time to give yourself the gift of doing things ahead of time! Here’s what you can get done four weeks before the party: 

– Create a party itinerary

– Start picking up items for decor/goodie bags

– Grab non-decor party supplies like napkins, disposable silverware, etc

 

2 weeks before the party

You’re getting close. Now is a good time to get a few more items checked off your list like: 

– Seeing which friends and family you can recruit to help with some of your duties

– Buying and wrapping the present

– Confirming all the details with your vendors

 

1 week before the party

Spend your evenings or weekends completing a few party tasks like: 

– Crafting a rockin’ playlist

– Picking up non-perishable beverages for the party

– Confirming RSVPs

– Putting together goodie bags or party favors

 

1-2 days before

The days before the party are your best time to put everything together. Go ahead and:

– Set up decorations 

– Pick up or prep fresh food items like cake, appetizers, etc

– Tidy up (if the venue is your house)

 

The morning of the party

The day has finally arrived! Here’s what’s left to do:

– Make sure your phone or your camera is charged up and ready for memorable moments

– Set out party favors

– Put a sign out front of the venue so guests can find the festivities

– Grab a notebook and pen so you can keep track of gifts and their senders for thank-you notes

– Have an amazing time!

 

The best birthdays start with Paperless Post

Whether you’re planning a birthday party for grownups or young kids, the most important thing is that everyone shows up and has the best time ever. 

That’s where Paperless Post’s unique selection of adult birthday invitations and kid birthday invitations comes in. They’re customizable and come in hundreds of designs—you’re guaranteed to find the perfect one to fit your party’s vibe. They also make communicating with your guests easier than ever, thanks to our seamless messaging features and RSVP tracking. 

Send them out, bring your guests in, and make this birthday the best one yet.

 

Browse Birthdays

 

Hero image: Caviar Kaspia