Party planning should be fun and easy, so get things done in 15 minutes or less.

The 15-Minute Party Planner's blog breaks down basic party-planning tasks into simple actions that take 15 minutes or less. We're not here to make you the next Martha, we're here to help you be crafty quickly!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Plan a party on the cheap: how to get the most from discount and dollar stores

If you're trying to save money these days (and frankly, who isn't?), consider shopping for your next party at a discount store like the Dollar Tree (a favorite of the 15-Minute Party Planner because the selection is good and everything really is only $1).

Luau-themed party supplies from
the Dollar Tree.
The Dollar Tree carries a regular stock of party merchandise including invitations, disposable table cloths, party favors, paper goods, flatware, and decorations. In addition to standard solid-color items, you can easily find themed decorations for birthday parties, luaus, graduation celebrations, bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers, and the like.

Furthermore, the Dollar Tree often has close-out party supplies from other brands, which savvy shoppers can pick up at drastically-reduced prices. For instance, we here at the 15-Minute Party Planner have frequently found Hallmark-brand decorations and paper goods at the Dollar Tree for the bargain price of $1 per pack, rather than the Hallmark price of $4.95 or more!

In addition to paper goods, invitations, and decorations, discount stores are a great source for party favors and goodie bags. You can also save money buy baking or purchasing a simple sheet cake, and then decorating it with branded toys (Mickey Mouse, Cookie Monster, etc.) purchased from the Dollar Tree or another discount shop, rather than paying for a premium themed cake at a bakery.

Tell about your favorite party-planning deals in the comments.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer's instant-party staples

Summer is full of surprise guests and impromptu parties. To ensure that you're ready for guests at a moment's notice, here are some summer staples to keep on hand.

For starters, consider getting a Rubbermaid bin to keep your summer party supplies in. During the summer, bring the bin out of storage for easy access in your kitchen or an easily-accessible closet. The rest of the year, you can store the bin in a closet, basement, or attic.

So, what belongs in that bin?

Cocktail umbrellas are ubiquitous in the summer, but they can make any beverage feel like a tropical escape.

Summer-themed napkins are another easy staple to keep on hand. They can be found for a dollar or two at shops like the Dollar Tree and the Christmas Tree Shops.

If you're going to entertain outdoors, consider keeping plastic cups on hand. Not only are they perfect for everything from punch to beer to ice cream floats, but you won't have to worry about them breaking if they get dropped or knocked over.

Reusable melamine "paper" plates are one of 15-Minute Party Planner's favorite summer party staples. These adorable plates look like disposable paper plates, but are reusable, dishwasher safe, and virtually unbreakable. You'll add an immediate touch of whimsy with these plates or their checkered counterparts.

You can also keep a number of summertime items in your pantry and fridge. Grab a few of these on your next shopping trip, and you'll be ready for spontaneous summer entertaining.

Summery drink mixers like instant lemonade, Margaritas, and Daiquiris are perfect for warm weather entertaining. Mixers, along with light, refreshing wines and beers will ensure that you're stocked for easy entertaining.

Ice. You can, of course, add ice to any drink to make it cold, but you can also use ice to stock coolers for outdoor entertaining or to mix up slushy frozen drinks.

In-season fruit. Summer is the perfect time to find fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and the like. Serve them to guests as finger food, in fresh smoothies, as an upgrade to margaritas, or in fruit salad. (Bonus if you pick up fresh fruit from a local farmer's market!)

Summer is the perfect time for snacking, so any number of crackers, chips, or vegetables served alongside salsa or dip will work with unexpected company. When you see your favorite brands on sale, pick up an extra box of crackers to stock your pantry without much effort.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dinner party etiquette from the 15-Minute Party Planner

Gearing up for a fancy dinner party?  Make it easy on yourself by paying attention to these few simple rules of etiquette.

For starters, setting the table according to the diagram below.  (Just click the image to see the full-size diagram.)  Then, remember to "work your way in" with the utensils.  Start with the outermost forks and spoons for the first courses and work your way in to the utensils closest to your dinner plate as the meal progresses.

Need an easy way to remember which bread plate and drinking glass goes with which place setting?  Just stick your index fingers up while making circles with your other fingers (see right).  Your left hand—which looks like a "b"—matches up with the bread plate; bread plates are kept to the left of the dinner plate.  Your right hand—which looks like a "d"—should remind you that your drinking glass is kept to the right of your dinner plate.

Make your guests feel comfortable.  This is obvious, of course, but how do you do it?  By anticipating guests' needs.  In addition to the date, time, and location of your party, make note of the dress code so that guests know the expectations up front.  And while you don't have to create individual dishes for each guest,consider asking if anyone has any dietary restrictions or allergies; then, make sure you serve something everyone can eat.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Simple graduation party planning

Summer is the time for graduation parties. How do you plan a graduation party 15-Minute Party Planner style? By making it simple. Follow these steps and your party will be guaranteed an A+.

Great parties have great guest lists. Consider the right mix of people for your party. Your graduate will want to celebrate with everyone, but should you celebrate with everyone at the same time? Consider hosting back-to-back parties – a morning celebration for family and an afternoon bash for high school or college buddies – if you think your graduate would like the opportunity to mingle with family in one way and friends in another.  Two parties on one day is an easy way to save time, since you only have to set up once.

Make the sending of invitations easy by enlisting your graduate’s help. If you’re using fancy invitations from your child’s college, ask the guest of honor to help address them and pop them in the mail. If you’re going to e-mail invitations, choose a website that offers free invites and enlist your graduate and hitting “send”.

Since summer calls for laid-back styles like barbecue and sandwiches, keep the menu simple and call a caterer or pick up pre-made foods from a local grocery store. Even small grocery stores offer platters of cold cuts, tubs of macaroni salad, precut fruit, and desserts, saving you kitchen prep-time.

Keep drinks simple too; consider purchasing single-serve cans or bottles to prevent having to have cups on hand.  Be sure to offer plenty of water to fend off the heat, and provide plenty of ice.  If you're hosting a party for older grads, save your sanity by offering just one or two kinds of alcoholic drinks, or by asking people to bring their own.  Of course, if you're hosting a party for high schoolers, stay safe and skip the alcohol completely. 

Make decorating inexpensive and easy by raiding your local dollar store for graduation decorations. Display diplomas, degrees, yearbooks, and school paraphernalia for a personal touch that requires no prep work.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Games for going away parties

Now that graduation season is upon us, it may be time to host a going away party or two.  Recent grads may be heading off to new locations to begin jobs, continue their schooling, or go exploring.  Read on for some games that will fit in with a Bon Voyage theme.

Packing game
Arrange a pile of clothes, toiletries and other traveling items (camera, small umbrella, etc.) on the ground. Make sure you have a few of everything available. Then, set up two suitcases and have people race to put together the best suitcase in a short amount of time. You can even put out a bunch of seasonal or regional items (bathing suit, mittens, French language dictionary, guidebooks, etc.) and have different “destinations” each time. For instance, the first pair might pack for a trip to the Bahamas, the second pair might pack for a week of backpacking through Europe, the third pair could pack for a ski vacation in the mountains, etc.

Pin the flag on your destination
Who needs a donkey when you have a map?  Hang a map on the wall that depicts your guest of honor's destination.  Then, print out small versions of the state or country's flag.  Affix a circle of tape to the back of each flag, and have blindfolded participants try to stick the flag on the right spot on the map.  To make it harder, spin participants around once or twice before they try to place their flags. 

Alternatively, you can print out something thematic – mini Big Ben cutouts for a trip to London, a college logo or mascot for a trip to a new university – and pin that on the map instead. 

Guest-of-honor Trivia
Create a page of questions about the guest of honor and have people answer the questions. Questions can be about the person's likes and dislikes, memorable moments with party guests, or anything else you can think of.  Consider throwing in a few questions about the honored guest's destination or trying Newlywed Game-style questions about the guest's travel, packing, or tourist preferences.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Simple momentos you can create at a going away party

When you're throwing a party for a friend who is leaving town, it's nice to give your friend something to remember you by. These momentos allow your party guests to participate in the gift giving and require little prep work. The end result, however, is a trio of gifts your friend will treasure.

Scrapbook of memories

Scrapbooks are a wonderful way to preserve memories.  To create a going away scrapbook, first, purchase a decorative binder that will hold 8.5 x 11 paper.  (Choosing a traditional paper size, rather than a scrapbook paper size will make it easier for guests to contribute to the scrapbook.)  Then, ask guests to prepare their scrapbook pages before the party.  Encourage the craft-impaired to write letters if they don't feel comfortable decorating a page.

In addition, you may want to provide paper, stickers, photos, etc. at the party so that people can continue to add to the scrapbook throughout the evening.  Once people finish their pages, slip them into plastic sleeve protectors and clip the whole lot in the binder.  Instant scrapbook!

Ideas for pocket photo albums

If you want to make it easy for your soon-to-be-leaving friend to keep in touch, create a practical keepsake.  Ask each guest to bring a 4x6 photograph of himself or a picture that shows both the guest and the guest of honor.  On the back of the photo, each person should print his or her contact information.  Include everything from snail mail addresses to Skype user names.  Then, stick the photos in a pocket-sized photo album.  The album will serve as both souvenir and address book. 

Need another photo album idea?  To remind your guest of honor that she is well-loved, collect cards that let her know why she'll be missed.  Give each party guest an index card, and instruct her to write "[Name], I’ll miss you because…" on them, followed by the reasons the guest of honor will be missed.  Once completed, put the cards in a small photo album.

Collecting messages and signatures
Once a favorite of elementary school children with tee shirts and sharpies, the idea of personalized gear has crossed over into the realm of weddings and other celebrations.  Instead of a tee shirt, consider having guests sign a photo mat (then frame the mat with a photograph from the party), write their contact information in an address book, or compose messages inside a gift book or greeting card.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baby shower entertainment: the Famous Name Game

If you're getting ready to host a baby shower, try playing the Famous Name Game. It's a great game to play if the mother-to-be has already picked out a name for the baby.

How do you play? As the party's host, create a list of famous people with the same first name as the baby. Then, describe those people and let people guess who you're describing.  If you'd like, you can give a prize to the person who gets the most right, or give prizes to the first person to answer each question.
Since the Social Security Administration recently released its list of the most popular baby names of 2010, we'll use some popular names for our examples.

Sample Famous Name Game clues:

  1. Business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge.  (Jacob Marley)
  2. Popular werewolf of the Twilight series.  (Jacob Black)
  3. Actor of October Sky and Brokeback Mountain fame.  (Jacob "Jake" Gyllenhaal)
  1. Woman who established a Boston art museum from which 13 works were infamously stolen in the 1990s (Isabella Stewart Gardener)
  2. Protagonist of the Twilight series (Isabella "Bella" Swan)
  3. Third wife of Juan Perón, whose second wife was immortalized in the musical Evita (Isabella Perón)
  1. Title of a famous Edith Wharton novel (Ethan Frome)
  2. American actor of Dead Poet's Society and Training Day fame (Ethan Hawke)
  3. North American furniture chain (Ethan Allen)
  1. American actress staring in pop television drama One Tree Hill (Sophia Bush)
  2. Prolific Italian actress with more than 50 years worth of films (Sophia Loren)
  3. Police officer character on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Sofia Curtis)
If the mom-to-be hasn't chosen a baby name yet, consider playing the Famous Name Game using the baby's last name instead.

For more unique baby shower games, read 3 easy baby shower games that require little or no prep work.