Of course we love the goody bag. But for your next fete, why not package your parting gifts in a more inventive way?
* Fill a sandwich baggie with jelly beans and tie it tightly. Place baggie, closure side down, in a paper cup cut in half, then glue a red pom-pom to the top.
* Paper or colored-plastic compact-disc envelopes make great holders for extra-large cookies or mini pen-and-pad sets.
* For an active sports party, hand out treat-filled personalized water bottles with a coach's whistle.
* Staple individually wrapped candies together to make a necklace and decorate with a name tag.
* Kids love crafts, so package fabrics and papers, kid-friendly scissors, markers, and a mini squeeze bottle of glue in a small pail as a take-home art kit.
The Internet is the best place for free party-planning advice. Here are sites we totally love.
For professional-looking invitations, go to einvite.com and search "print at home." Buy the design of your choice, and make sure it has the "Easy Invite" logo. Then, follow the instructions on easyinvite.com to lay out your perfectly aligned text.
Play free kids' radio on music.aol.com or download songs from freekidsmusic.com and create your own playlist.
Use free clip art for invitations and decorations from thekidzpage.com. Repeat the image on invitations, labels for cups, goody bags, cupcake flags, and a "Happy Birthday" banner.
Log on to kidscraftweekly.com for hundreds of affordable (and adorable) craft projects.
And don't miss our very own Birthday Party Planning Tool. It asks a series of questions and then generates a complete list of cool soup-to-nuts party ideas.
Follow our guidelines to guarantee a stress-free party.
* Make name tags for the party guests. School-age children can decorate their own as they arrive.
* Plan for more guests than you invited; some kids may bring a sibling. Have backup -- ask a few of your friends or relatives to help wrangle kids.
* Ask parents about kids' food allergies; it pays to be safe.
* Keep the guest list manageable. For younger children, the general rule is: Invite one more guest than the age of the birthday kid.
* Serve the sweets in the last half hour of the party. Have adult-friendly food on hand for parents and party helpers.
* Let parents stay if they want, but don't make it a requirement. Create a list of parents' cell phone numbers.
Every kid loves a pinata, but traditional ones are hard for young kids to break. Instead, make this fun string version. Only one string opens the floodgate, but every kid gets a little trinket at the end of her cord. You can purchase the conversion kit for $3 at celebrateexpress.com.
Save money -- and the planet -- by investing in reusable party goods. Here's a starter kit.
It's a birthday, not a wedding! Save, don't splurge, with these DIY ideas.
No need to rent a photo booth -- create your own studio with a homemade backdrop, digital camera, and a color printer. (You can easily upload images to bighugelabs.com to apply free, playful photo borders.)
Entertain yourself. Hiring an entertainer can rack up the bucks. Just take a trip to your local vintage store and put together a costume of your own. Parents make great magicians, clowns, fortune tellers, and superheroes.
Taking kids to a sporting event costs a ton. Hire your child's gym teacher to run an afternoon of fun drills instead.
Make a backyard bowling alley. Add a few drops of food coloring to ten clear plastic bottles of water. Stand them up on flat ground, use party streamers as lane margins, and score a strike for saving cash.
Create your own at-home movie theater. Give each child an admission ticket and invite the kids to visit the concession stand for popcorn, gummy candies, and juice.
Forget the amusement park. Take the party to the neighborhood park and give each child an admission armband. Serve amusement-park food and lemonade, and set up a "tattoo" booth and a face-painting station.
Start a tradition in your family with one of these cute ideas.
Create a unique birthday seat. Buy an inexpensive children's chair, and every year on your child's birthday, family members and friends can decorate it with notes, drawings, and stickers.
Using a thin cotton cord, string together 13 four-inch Styrofoam balls, one for each letter in "Happy Birthday." Using felt letters or paper cutouts, spell out the words and pin or glue to the spheres. You can style it to read vertically or horizontally.
Create a set of paint-your-own cake plates that you only use on birthdays. For each new family member, add a plate with his or her name and birthday. You can purchase plate-decorating kits or visit a paint-your-own-pottery store.