By Cammie Jones


When it comes to planning your child’s birthday party, a fun experience can quickly turn stressful. Birthday parties have changed over the years— throwing out a grocery store sheet cake with ice cream and paper party hats has morphed into elaborate bakery-themed cakes, hired entertainment and detailed goodie bags. So, how can you keep the party special without breaking the bank? Is there a way to manage the invitation list without hurting anyone’s feelings? There is no perfect way to do this, but there are some reasonable guidelines to keep all of the above in check.

Invitation List

A rule of thumb, especially for younger children, is to invite one guest per year of your child’s age plus one. A four-year-old’s party, therefore, would include 5 people other than the birthday child. As your child gets older, it is important to decide if he/she would like to invite the entire class or just keep it to a few key friends.

Once a child starts school, things can become tricky. It is best to distribute invitations away from school unless the whole class is invited. If you invite less than half the class, that is fine. However, if you invite half or more, you should include the entire class, or feelings will get hurt,” according to the website

One idea is to do something at school that includes the entire class. Bring a few dozen doughnuts in the morning or send cupcakes with your child for snack time. Then, if you still want to have a party, you can invite your child’s closest friends. 

As children get into their preteen and teen years, parties can become smaller. This is a great age to begin having a friend or two over to spend the night, go to dinner or a movie or do something that works with smaller groups. However, now you run the risk of social media posts getting out. With FOMA (fear of missing out) central to a teen’s confidence level, it is a good idea to stress social media etiquette with your child. Talk to your child about how Instagram posts or Snapchats can hurt other classmates. A good idea is to encourage a “no posting” policy to avoid someone feeling left out. If you allow guests to post a photo, make sure you have not left any invitee out who may be negatively affected.

Though parents would prefer to include every friend or classmate, there are many times when it is not logical to invite everyone. Make time to talk to your child, especially if they are on the receiving end of not being invited, and explain that sometimes feelings are hurt and it is not fair.  Life lessons and disappointments are part of life. Use them as teachable experiences.


Including everyone on the invitation list can result in a party that can get expensive. To keep money in check, set a budget before you begin planning. I feel a smaller party allows parents to splurge a little more. Maybe order a special cake from a local bakery or get themed goodie bags that each guest can take home. A larger party calls for the basics. Cake, ice-cream and a game or two will work and the children will be just as happy. Throw on some party music and let the kids dance. Plan an outdoor party in the backyard with a soccer ball or football, divide into teams and challenge each other to a fun competition. Or set up a table and let kids do art projects.

As for invitations, online ones work great. There are plenty of free downloadable birthday party invitations (Evite, Paperless Post). Collect email addresses, pick a template and send out invitations. Instant communication has its benefits!

One way to help the budget is to go in with a friend who may have a birthday around the same time of year. If they have similar friend groups, the families can split the cost of a nicer space or have a “destination” birthday party. And if there is concern about guests feeling obligated to bring two gifts, opt for the “no gifts, please” on the invitation.


Children’s attention spans get longer as they get older. Tip: the younger the child, the shorter the party. Be mindful of nap times as well as meal times. If the soiree is near lunch or dinner, you may choose to provide pizza and waters to avoid any “hangry” meltdowns. If not, a simple snack of goldfish in addition to cake and ice cream will do.

Enjoy this time of planning your child’s special day and don’t get caught up in the details of trying to make everyone happy. Getting another adult helper or your child to assist with the party is a sure way to have a party that all will enjoy. Take a lot of pictures and don’t forget the candles!

This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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