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Plan your next party

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

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If you're planning a shindig this party season, you know you have a lot to do before the big event. The more prep work you do in advance, the more you can relax and enjoy the party on the big day. Just follow this simple party preparation checklist and count down the days without stress.

Woman writing invitations

Four to five weeks before:

Make a checklist of people you want to invite.

Decide what kind of party you want to have: Big, small, theme, holiday, etc. Be sure the invitations you order, purchase or make reflect the theme, and be specific if you have any special instructions. For instance, if you are having an ugly Christmas sweater party, for example, make sure guests know that they are "required" to wear an over-the-top holiday-themed or seasonal sweater.

Send out invitations with the party details. Request that guests RSVP so you can get an approximate headcount for foods and beverages. (If you are having a small and/or casual event, you can save this step until three weeks before.)

Plan the menu.

Two to three weeks before:

Order food if you are having anything catered or made specifically for the party.

Create an agenda. Consider the amount of time your guests will be spending at your party, and determine how that time will be spent outside of eating, drinking and mingling.

Order special games or other equipment (e.g., karaoke machine).

One week before:

Buy foods and beverages. Wait until two or three days before to buy perishable items. Don't forget plastic/paper plates, cups, etc. if you are keeping things casual. Choose a variety of beverages and include some non-alcoholic drinks for those sober drivers.

Prepare goodie bags or favors, if you're using them (unless they include homemade goodies, which you should make just a few days before the event).

Call to confirm your catering or food order, if your plans include any.

1 to 2 days before:

Prepare whatever food you can. If you are serving homemade lasagna, for example, assemble it now so you can simply pop it into the oven before guests arrive.

Set the stage. Clean the house, rearrange furniture if needed, set up extra chairs and decorate accordingly.

Stock your iPod with dance tunes, holiday classics or Frank Sinatra songs, depending on the type of shindig you are throwing, and put together playlists.

The day of:

Pick up any food orders.

Cook/bake anything that you could not prepare ahead of time. Allow yourself enough time to finish up well before your guests start arriving. You don't want to be in the kitchen cooking at that time.

Set up buffet tables with food/beverage stations.

Give yourself at least 30 minutes before party time to freshen up, get dressed and get pumped for the big event.

Turn on the music.

Welcome your guests. Take their coats and bags, offer them drinks and foods, and have fun!

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