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Make a guest list
Unless you’re organizing a block party for the whole neighborhood, you’re gonna want to set your roster of guests in advance. This will ensure you avoid forgetting to invite anyone you want to be there and … the reverse scenario. Set your date and get out your invites (email is free) well in advance. You’re well on your way to party success, and you haven’t spent a dime yet!
Set up get-home-safe options for everyone
These can include the names and numbers of nearby cab companies, rideshare service options, or the almighty Designated Driver. Get it done ahead of time and you won’t have to worry about it on the night of.
Recruit a few friends to help
The friends who helped you move last time are exempt, but you can definitely find a few others to lighten your preparation load. Many hands make light work, and tasks like cleaning up your place, knocking off the shopping list, scoring decorations will be 10x more fun when you’re not doing them alone.
Visit a discount store for decorations/supplies
You know those places named after US currency that don’t actually require a lot of US currency to shop in? Hit up one of those for inexpensive party supplies such as coasters, streamers, balloons, even party favors and games. You’d be surprised at what you can find there.
Make a shopping list for drinks—and food
You’re not splurging here, but you do want to set up beverage options (including water and other non-alcoholic options) and, equally important, provide food. Because drinking on an empty stomach is never a fun time. So allocate for both food and drink. The grub doesn’t have to be fancy—you can find ready-made crudité spreads at most supermarkets; you can order up some wings; or you can put together some chips and dips. If you’re really strapped, organize a potluck and have each guest bring a different contribution.
Check with guests about any allergies
This may require you to ditch that mixed-nut display you were so fired up about, but it’s much better than the alternative.
Rearrange/remove/supplement your furniture to optimize your party space
Do not underestimate the power of ambience. You want to create both space and flow for this event. That could mean adding or subtracting furniture, or rearranging it, depending on what you’re working with. You’ll also want a central location for a spread of food and drink.
Add an extra wastebasket or two, and stock up your guest bathroom
Okay, you don’t have a “guest” bathroom—that was a joke. Stock your regular bathroom(s) with plenty of TP, hand soap, extra hand towels, and—can’t hurt—air freshener. Pop the extra wastebaskets around the party space to ease the cleanup process.
Notify your neighbors
It’s possible you live in a place where this is not necessary, but if you’re in an apartment building or the lots are snug in your neighborhood, or lots of cars will be parked in front of neighbors’ houses, you’ll be doing your neighbors—and yourself—a favor by letting them know in advance about your upcoming shindig.
Pick a theme
This won’t cost you a dime to dream up, and it doesn’t have to cost much to execute, either. The low-budget options are literally limitless. Some suggestions: a 90s theme/maritime/white party/ugly sweater party/football party (everyone wears their team’s jersey)/tie-dye party (or its offshoot, a graffiti party, where everyone wears a white T-shirt and guests take turns “tagging” them with markers), concert-T party (“21 Pilots, Blurryface Tour, Dallas? I was there too!”).
Develop a playlist that suits the occasion
Don’t just wing it when it comes to music for your party. Take some time and sequence the right collection of tunes to set the mood.
Create a DIY photo booth
Pick up a large picture frame—yes, just the frame—or create one out of poster board, and caption it with a placard touting the date and the occasion. Guests pose within the frame and have an instant memento of the occasion. You can get as creative as you want, or can afford, with additional props.
Don’t overdo it
This isn’t technically planning advice, but it’s a worthwhile party tip: don’t be that guy or gal, the one who has one too many at their own party. It’s not a good look.