When you’re throwing a birthday party in August and you need a lot of space but can’t do a pool party, you have to get creative. For my daughter’s first birthday, we decided to hold it at a park – because, hey, they’re cheap and big – but we had some restrictions.
It had to be cheap or free. We always try to keep our parties affordable, but this one in particular had to be low cost because we were also hosting some of the out-of-town guests, covering all of the food costs, and buying presents. Budget was our backseat driver. Isn’t it always?
It had to have a covered area. August in Texas: it’s hot, like triple-digit-Fahrenheit hot. While a pool party would have been great for keeping everyone cool, they were all booked and expensive. See previous note about being cheap or free. This meant that, at the very least, we had to have shade to keep the blazing sun at bay and buy us back a few degrees.
It had to have bathrooms. Our guests included both young and old, so asking people to get back in their car and drive to the closest convenience store to use the restroom was not going to work. Since some parks and playgrounds have their own restrooms, we decided to look for one that had them.
It had to be easily accessible. Again, because we had guests of all ages, we couldn’t ask people to hike for a mile to get to the party. It had to be close to parking, especially for those that have mobility issues. We didn’t have to worry about wheelchairs, but you should definitely keep accessibility in mind if you are planning a party with guests who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, etc.
We lucked out on all fronts when a close friend graciously offered to reserve her neighborhood’s park for our party. It was free and located within driving distance, and it had street parking, a covered pavilion with tables, public bathrooms, and a playground for the kids. SCORE.
Our biggest driving factors for this party were the hot weather and cost, so we kept the decorations simple, colorful, and affordable by creating tissue paper flowers. (See our tutorial coming soon!) Some of our guests wanted to help with the party, and we recruited them to help make the tissue paper flowers ahead of time. The advantage is that we then had flowers in a rainbow of colors, more than we could have done on our own. They were also easy to hang, and we didn’t have to worry about them melting or becoming hot in the heat like plastic decorations could.
The birthday banner and some signs were courtesy of the birthday girl’s aunt, which also helped keep the costs down. In addition we reused some of the painted coffee mugs / tea cups from another party (see Wonderland Bridal Shower), some colorful boxes that had been used as storage containers, folding fans for keeping the heat at bay, and inexpensive green plastic tablecloths.
TIP: Whether it is bought decorations or DIY decorations, don’t forget that your greatest resource is your family and friends. Not only might they have the perfect item you need, a lot of times they want to help, and this is the perfect way for them to do that without dipping into their own wallets. The caveat here is to never, never borrow an item that is irreplaceable. The possibility that something at a party could be damaged or broken is too high, and you don’t want an accident to ruin your party or leave a bad taste in your guest’s mouth. Politely decline anything you think is too valuable to lose.
Food & Drink
The location of the party always has an impact on the kind of food and drink you serve, and that certainly was the case here. We didn’t want to make things even hotter by offering cooked food, which meant we went with cold food like sandwiches for a picnic style lunch. We used (or borrowed) large ice chests and used one for drinks (water, juice boxes, and soda) and the other for refrigerated food items (lunchmeat, sliced cheese, and mayonnaise). The rest of the food – bread, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, chips, and birthday cake – was displayed on a table, along with paper plates, plastic utensils, and napkins. This helped make it a lunch buffet where everyone was able to serve themselves and make their own sandwiches.
TIP: Presentation can make simple food items seem more fun if you have the time and resources. At this party, we used large acrylic bowls to display the sides, with the exception of one silver bowl we use for special occasions. This helped make the food easy to see, easy to reach, and more stable than leaning an open bag of chips against another container. We also grouped the items together, such as green and red grapes; blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries; and watermelon and honeydew (we used a melon baller to cut the melon down into bite-sized pieces).
We knew we would have our hands full preparing and then getting all of the decorations, food, and presents to the park to set up on time, but what about the cake? We opted to order one from a nearby grocery store, which a family member picked up for us. It would have been cheaper to make the cake, true, but it seemed worth the extra cost to not have to worry about baking a cake with everything else going on. Sometimes you have to pick your battles!
Everyone enjoyed themselves despite the heat, although they did ask that we never plan another outside in August again. It was just too hot. Lesson learned! We would give this one a B- due to the heat, but everything else came out great. Happy birthday, sweet girl!