Planning a Summer Party

After a long winter or possibly a super rainy spring cooped up indoors, summer parties are on everyone’s radar. Catching up with your favorite people while enjoying the warm evening air is one of the best ways to create lasting memories. Maybe you want to host your own party, but the expense of doing so is giving you hesitation.

We are here to help. After years of throwing parties ranging from children’s birthdays to graduations to wedding receptions, we are confident we can help you host an unforgettable get-together while not blowing your budget. Read on to learn how you can plan your summer party without breaking the bank.

Planning Your Summer Party

Whether you want to throw a small summer soiree or a large fete including everyone you know, you must begin with a plan. We strongly suggest making lists. In fact, we will provide you with our ultimate party checklist later in this article to help you out. Right now, let’s go over the basics to begin your party planning.

Who is Invited?

Your first list should consist of the names of those you wish to invite. This is where you will need to decide if you are inviting your nearest and dearest buddies or the entire crew at the office—including Stuart from accounting. Obviously, the fewer people invited, the cheaper your party can be. However, we will show you ways you can have a larger party without going broke.

Create a Facebook Event page for your party and invite friends that way or via e-mail. Not only is this a free way to invite and keep count of your party crew, but they can also post their thoughts and pictures about the party afterward.

This is also a good time to determine how much you can spend on your party. Set a budget and stick to it. Most of the remaining tips will include ways to keep costs down when planning your summer soiree.

Where Will the Party Be?

Sure, you can rent a venue to throw your party, but this will increase your costs exponentially. Additionally, you will might be required to purchase food and beverages from the venue’s preferred catering service. Not only will this reduce your food and drink options, but also your available cash flow.

It is summertime! Instead of a pricey venue, opt to host the party in your very own backyard. Chances are, you could work out a great deal with the owner. Seriously though, whether hosting an afternoon or evening party, your backyard can make a great gathering spot with some party decorations.

Pick a Party Theme

It is true that you do not need a theme to ensure a good party, but it does make the planning more fun. Your party theme can be based on the holiday you are celebrating like the Fourth of July or Labor Day. It could be based on the food you choose to serve like tacos, pizza or desserts. Some other theme ideas we like include:
  • 80s night
  • circus performers
  • luau
  • superheroes
  • villains

Party Food

You have a guest list, a party locale and a theme. Now, it is time to figure out what to serve your guests. Obviously, if you have based your theme on food, you already know what you will serve. If not, we have a list (surprise) of affordable dishes to serve your guests.

In order to keep your costs down and offer a variety of food, you should plan to prepare and/or cook the food yourself. Serving only appetizers, small snacks, or desserts instead of a full meal will also keep your costs low. In our list of ideas, we’ve included a variety of options.

Food Ideas you can Prepare at Home

Whether you possess top-notch culinary skills or not, the following foods are fairly fail-safe in keeping your guests happy. One of our favorite summertime staples with no cooking required is Chef John’s Gazpacho. Served cold in small portions, a tasty gazpacho is the perfect accompaniment to a summer cocktail.

You could even opt for something like a hot dog roasting party, letting guests roast their own over a campfire—if allowed in your neighborhood. Add some flair by offering a variety of hot dog toppings like chili, cheese, onions, sauerkraut and condiments. If children will be present, make something simple like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into cute shapes. Other low-cost food ideas include:
  • Vegetable or Fruit trays
  • Cold-cut sandwich or wrap platters
  • Set up a taco or fajita bar
  • Various dips like hummus, queso, salsa, cheese spread, or this Buffalo chicken dip

Party Drinks

Refreshing drinks are essential to any gathering. If you plan to serve adult beverages, keep it simple. You do not have to buy a variety of single-serve drinks. Instead, have one main drink like this three-ingredient rainbow sherbet punch. You can easily add a flavored rum or vodka to turn it into a cocktail. Allow your guests to BYOB if they prefer something else.

Remember to include some non-alcoholic drinks for those who abstain or will be driving. Iced tea and lemonade are quintessential summer refreshers that everyone loves and are inexpensive to make.

Party Supplies

If you are having a smaller gathering, you may find you already have most of the supplies you need. If the party is large, you may need to rent or borrow tables and chairs. Do not be afraid to ask your guests to bring their own chairs. We have thrown and attended multiple parties where this practice is becoming the norm. Check with friends and family members or even your office about borrowing tables for your party. Just make sure whomever you borrow from is invited.
Do not make the party store your first stop for stocking up on cheap party supplies if you are trying to save money. Instead, check out second-hand stores to see what leftover party supplies they may have on hand. Garage sales and clearance sections of places like Target and Pier-One are also great places to find deals on party essentials.

Finally, decide whether you will use disposable or reusable items. Disposable items make clean-up much easier, but will generate quite a bit of waste. Reusable items can be stored and used for future parties so you do not have to shop for supplies for your next get-together. If you have a dishwasher, clean-up should not be an extensive endeavor.

Aside from tables and seating, some of the essential supplies needed for your party include:

  • Serving platters, bowls, ramekins
  • Dinnerware, silver/plastic ware
  • Table cloths
  • Cups or glasses
  • Dinner and beverage napkins
  • Beverage dispensers, punch bowl, pitchers
  • Ice scoop and bucket
  • Extra trash bags
  • Party favors-especially if children are present

Party Décor

Decorating for your party adds whimsy to your theme. Again, check out second-hand shops and clearance sections for discounted decorations prior to hitting the party store. Decorations can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it. We find simple clear string lights add a touch of elegance and ambiance to outdoor parties. Hang them along the perimeter of your fence or between trees and shrubbery. Just make sure they are high enough to not choke an innocent passer-by.

You can also use items you already have around your home to decorate. Think about all those half-used candles lying around. This is a good time to check out Pinterest for simple DIY ideas. Balloons, streamers, and tulle are also inexpensive items that add a festive feel to your event.

Setting up a simple photo backdrop by hanging a sheet, tulle, or shimmery streamers along with a box of props like oversized sunglasses, masks, hats and headbands will give your guests a fun —and inexpensive—way to create memories of your party.

A few other ideas for party decorations include:

Party Entertainment

Music is almost synonymous with party, so there must be some type of music. These days it is easier than ever to find a good line-up of music that most people will enjoy. If you have Amazon Alexa, you already have your music and speaker in the same device. Ask her to play an upbeat or low-key party mix. Otherwise, stream music from your own playlist on your phone to a Bluetooth speaker.

Party games are a great way to break the ice between guests who may not know one another. If you have the room, games like cornhole, bocce ball and horseshoes are some classic favorites that everyone can enjoy. Be sure to arrange a few games for kids at the party including things like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, a piñata, or a few bottles of bubbles.

A Week to Two Days Prior to the Party

A week before your party, you should have a final count for your guests. This will give you a good idea of how much food to purchase. You could also begin organizing like by putting silverware into their presentation containers, finishing any DIY decorations, and finalizing your shopping lists. If you will be borrowing tables or chairs, you can begin bringing these home.

It is okay to shop for non-perishable food items and meats that can be frozen up to a few weeks before the party. Save shopping for items like lunch meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and cheeses until a day or two before the party.

Day Before to Party Day

The day before the party is a good time to cut up fruits and vegetables used in trays or for toppings. If the weather allows, begin setting up tables, chairs and some of your heavier decorations in your backyard. Wait until the day of the party to put out anything the wind could carry away or destroy.
Enlist the help of close family or friends to help you set up and organize on the day of your party. Have them come early and assign jobs like setting up games, preparing food, and cleaning tables to individuals. This will save you time and energy prepping on the big day.

The Ultimate Summer Party Checklist

After many years of successful and sometime disastrous (to us) party throwing, this checklist has become our staple for making sure most parties come up on the successful side. You will notice that we have covered some of the items on this list already, but some are new. All items are the result of lessons we’ve learned mostly the hard way.

  • Pick a Date and Time
  • Set a Budget
  • Create the Guest List
  • Party Invitations
    • Create Facebook Event Page
    • Make Evites
    • Send Email or Text Invitations
  • Pick a Party Theme (if you want)
  • Decide What Food to Serve
    • Appetizers
    • Tapas
    • Sandwiches
    • Dips with Fruit and Vegetables
  • Decide upon a Main Beverage
    • Alcoholic or Non-alcoholic punch
    • Iced Tea
    • Lemonade
  • Amass Party Supplies (from home or second-hand stores and dollar stores)
  • Party Décor
  • Party Entertainment
    • Games for Adults and Kids
    • Music
    • Party Favors for all ages
  • Get a Final Guest Count
  • Shop for Supplies, Food, Drinks, and Games
  • Borrow Tables and Chairs (if needed)
  • Prepare Food and Drinks
  • Enlist Friends and Family to Help Set Up
  • Decorate and Put Food and Drinks Out
  • Have One Glass of Punch While Getting Ready
  • Party Time


Final Thoughts

Of course there is some stress in planning and throwing a party. Will everyone get along? Will your guests have fun? Our best piece of advice is to simply not stress about it. We have learned that as long as there is plenty of food and the drinks are flowing, the party usually takes care of itself.

The most important part is to get out and have fun with your guests. It is easy to get lost stressing over the tiny details while everyone else is having fun. Do not worry, someone will let you know when the chips or ice runs low, so just enjoy the moment with your favorite people, even Stuart from accounting.