Expectations for sweet 16 birthday parties have gotten wild in recent years! It can be a lot of pressure for any parent to plan an affordable and eye-catching event for the enjoyment of the birthday girl, her guests, and any number of social media observers. But there’s no need to stress. We’re here and we prepared for you a list of Sweet 16 Birthday Party Ideas to help you organize it all without sacrificing your budget–providing all the tips, activities, and themes that are sure to be a hit!
Sweet 16 Birthday Party Ideas: Money-saving Tips
Movies, TV shows, and outrageous viral videos can often leave the impression that a sweet 16 just isn’t complete without a DJ, destination venue, custom dress, catering, and a professional photographer. Good news–that’s a total myth! Below is a list of budget-friendly ideas that are guaranteed to make for a memorable evening.
1. Discuss priorities early
There are so many variables in party planning that can seriously stretch a budget. Sit down with the birthday girl a month or so in advance and discuss how to make the budget and her priorities align. Does she want the venue and fancy dinner, or a larger group of guests? Prioritize 2-3 must-haves and cut back on the elements she’s ambivalent about.
2. Budget your time
Setting aside several weeks for planning and preparing is a great way to be cost-effective. Waiting until the last minute allows no time for bargain hunting, comparing prices between stores, or communicating with your guests. Depending on your birthday girl’s special day, too, guests may be more or less available. Reach out early to coordinate a time and day that works best for the birthday girl and her guests.
3. Homemade sweets
Going out to eat/catering for a party is often an enormous waste of precious birthday funds! For a much smaller cost, you could whip up some sweets and appetizers yourself using any number of recipes online. It might even be neat to make it part of the fun! Set out some ingredients and toppings and let the guests go wild with individual DIY pizzas.
4. Backyard as a venue
Speaking of things that eat into the budget, venues can be a large and unnecessary expense. With some DIY/thrift decorations and a little creativity, the backyard can be transformed to meet the highest of expectations! Be sure to keep an eye on weather forecasts and make a backup plan in case things go awry (high winds, rain, etc.)
5. Use Evite for invitations
Free online ecards like Evite allow hosts to send out invitations and save-the-dates without the hassle of physically mailing anything! Evite also employs some cool features that help planners keep track of responses. You’ll never again have to scramble for a lost piece of paper to get an accurate guest number.
6. Balloon decorations
Specialty companies charge an arm and a leg for custom balloon decorations. Avoid the cost and set aside some time to build one yourself! You could look up a tutorial or get creative designing one all on your own. Your birthday girl will love the personalized touch!
7. Composing a guest list
There’s a lot to take into consideration when it comes to making a guest list, this year most of all. First and foremost, stay up to date on local and state regulations. Many states and towns right now have imposed restrictions on the number of guests allowed. In order to plan a safe event for all, consider limiting the guest list as much as possible and avoiding crowded venues. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your guests about their comfort level and preferences, and be sure to practice kindness. Some guests may be too uncomfortable to attend an event during the pandemic, and that’s okay.
8. Design a photo backdrop
Embrace the fact that most, if not all, of your teen guests, will want to document the party for Instagram, Snapchat, or any number of other social media platforms. Make a fun environment for the selfie experts by designing a cool photo backdrop! It could be tied to the party theme if your party has one, or simply a cool and glittery affair. Use balloons, handmade decorations, crazy lighting, or streamers to deck out the wall for photos.
9. Avoid party supply stores
Party supply stores usually don’t have the best prices, and they’re certainly not the be-all and end-all of party decoration resources. Most stores, including dollar stores, will have an aisle or display filled with cheap and fun party supplies. Pinterest is also a great resource for cheap DIY decorations.
10. Guest book
Guest books are a great, inexpensive memento that your birthday girl can keep forever! In addition to signatures, you could even go the extra mile and throw in some photos of their special day. Set out polaroid cameras or ask guests to contribute pictures they’ve taken on their phones.
11. Inexpensive party favors
Don’t feel obligated to put together extravagant party favors for your guests! Some yummy candies, face masks, or affordable nail kits will make for the perfect goodie bag. The experience of the party itself is the best gift any guest could receive. Never feel pressured to set aside a bulk of party funds for party favors!
12. Put thought into the food situation
Have you ever been to a party and experienced the awkward eating and standing fiasco? Some foods just aren’t easy to eat without a place to set them down, and the awkwardness is compounded if you’re trying to juggle drinks too. If you plan on offering a full meal to guests, provide adequate seating and table space.
13. Avoid birthday dresses
Don’t fall into the trap of specialty dress stores! When planning on a budget, it’s safest to avoid them entirely. You’ll have much better luck at finding beautiful and affordable dresses at general clothing stores.
14. Forego a DJ for a personalized playlist
Who knows what tunes the birthday girl will love better than the birthday girl herself? Save the cost of booking a DJ for your party and ask the birthday girl to contribute songs and music genres to a playlist she and her friends can dance the night away to!
15. Drop the dinner
Keep it simple with snacks and desserts! Everyone will be satisfied with light refreshments and goodies. Want to save even more? Check out Pinterest and YouTube for ideas on the best party appetizer recipes! This is another great opportunity to make the experience interactive, too. Bake some delicious cupcakes and invite the guests to help decorate!
No party is complete without fun activities and games! From charity to Zoom games to painting, there are countless ways to entertain the birthday girl and eager guests.
Break out the s’mores and gather some firewood! Campfires are always a hit. The peaceful outdoors, crackling fire, and tasty treats make for a wonderful bonding experience. If guests want to spend the night, add to the experience by setting up some tents and sleeping underneath the stars.
17. Apple picking
Fall birthday? Stave off those back-to-school blues with a day of outdoor fun and fruitful adventure! Don’t forget to check online for the ideal time and day to visit the orchard. Many places that offer apple picking also have other activities your teen might love, like hayrides, corn mazes, and a petting zoo!
18. Arts and crafts
Arts and crafts are compatible with everything except the faint of heart and carpet! If you’re up to the challenge, move the arts and crafts table outside and set up space for your guests to flex their creativity. They could follow a YouTube painting tutorial, attempt portraits of one another, or make something completely unique.
19. Time capsule
Birthdays are all about future possibilities and opportunities! Collect some photos and mementos from the party and store them in a time capsule. On their 21st birthday, open it back up and see what’s inside! Your guests will love being a part of future celebrations and reflecting on an amazing party.
20. Outdoor movie
Wanna make an average movie experience ten times cooler? Take it outside! Set up a projector, speaker, or computer outside and enjoy a flick among friends. The fun new environment allows for more guests, more stargazing, and more s’ mores!
21. Spa day
There are few things in the world that a face mask and painted nails can’t solve. Buy a spa gift basket and set up a day of rest and relaxation for the guests.
22. Escape room
Escape rooms are a wonderful way to test your wits! The trendy concept has been popping up all over the place recently. Check out your local escape room website for potential changes during the pandemic. They may have shortened hours, be temporarily closed, or having certain guest limitations and protocols. Be sure to abide by their rules for a safer experience, or skip the stress altogether and set up a Zoom escape room! Enjoy the same mental challenges with none of the risks.
23. Ice skating
Does your town have an indoor or outdoor skating rink? Skating rinks are perfect birthday venues! Rent out some skates or bring your own and enjoy a magical experience on the ice.
24. Barbecue in the backyard
Fire up the grill and set up some backyard birthday decorations. This is a great idea for food lovers and those who love time with close friends and family free of distractions. You might set out some outdoor games, play Never Have I Ever or Truth or Dare, or simply talk and enjoy one another’s company.
25. Board games
Don’t let board games become a relic of the past! These timeless pleasures are a source of nostalgia and fun for everyone. Let the birthday teen choose the game and have a night of classic fun!
26. Take a painting class
Painting classes are engaging, interactive, and produce a memorable gift that each guest can take home with them afterward! Research some painting classes near you to find what’s most affordable and accommodating for your size party.
27. Ice breakers
Ice breakers aren’t just for budding relationships! They can test friendship knowledge, hype everyone, up for the party, and start the fun.
Don’t let the party end in the evening! Guests will love getting to spend extra hours partying, and parents can avoid the stress of coordinating pickups late at night. Be sure to communicate when the party will end in the morning, and have some breakfast foods available for your sleepy guests.
Sweet 16’s don’t have to be conventional! The best birthday parties are the ones that your birthday teen is sure to love. Many animal shelters are in desperate need of help, be it providing the animals with some exercise or cleaning their cages. Call around to see if an animal shelter near you could use a hand or a few for the day. A parent may need to be present or sign a form, as well.
One of the best ways to spice up a party? Give it a theme!
30. Themes with thrifty costuming potential
Themes don’t have to be elaborate, or expensive! Got a cowboy hat, flannel, and gingham tablecloth? You’ve got yourself a cowboy/cowgirl/farm theme! Be creative and find alternative uses for what you already have on hand.
31. Pink theme
Pink is one of the more popular shades for a reason! Try some pink balloons, pink lemonade, streamers, T-shirts, and tablecloths. This theme is easy, fun, and trendy.
Embrace the birthday season! Use the color palette that complements the season and plan refreshments accordingly. Lemonade for summer or spring, cider for fall, and hot cocoa for winter.
Who doesn’t love a masquerade ball? This is a great theme if you’d like to go the more traditional sweet 16 route with a ballroom venue and formal dress code. Your guests are sure to love donning masks and dancing the playfully mysterious night away.
Though it may seem impossible, the perfect affordable Sweet 16 is within reach! We hope these Sweet 16 Birthday Party Ideas will serve you well and add some fun to your party. Don’t forget to consult your teen throughout the process for a birthday experience they’re sure to love!
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