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Expert Answers To Your Sweet 16 Questions
Chapter Two – Planning Ahead: Setting a Budget and Choosing a Theme
It should go without saying: The more time that you leave for yourself to plan the party, the easier it will be on you and the Sweet 16 Girl as the big day approaches.
I’d recommend that as early as a year and a half before the girl’s 16th birthday, you begin to consider your budget and options. I’d advise against making any purchases or putting down any deposits at this time, because a lot can change in a year and a half. But you’ll stand a better chance of making the best decisions if you’re not feeling pressured by the calendar.
Set a Budget:
The cost of a Sweet 16 party can vary from approximately $200 to well into six ﬁgure sums, as we’ve seen courtesy of MTV’S My Super Sweet 16. If ﬁnances aren’t a problem and you have an unlimited budget for your party, then congratulations! Call your party planner and get busy.
But if you are attempting to hold down the expenses of your party, by all means, do so. Do not feel ashamed or apologetic. Come up with a realistic affordable sum, and once you arrive at that number, do everything that you can to stick to it.
Planning in advance can help you to save money. If you have time to shop around, you’ll ﬁnd the best venue, DJ, and gown at the most affordable prices.
If, while shopping, your Sweet 16 Girl becomes entranced with a party item that is way out of your price range, put the brakes on immediately. Do not buy on impulse. Give yourself a moment to breathe, and if you can, go home and sleep on it. Will this pricey item really make any difference in your daughter’s happiness or the happiness of your guests? (Because when it’s all said and done, the goal of the Sweet 16 Party is for the Sweet 16 Girl, her family, and her guests to enjoy themselves.) A week after the party, when it begins to fade into memory, will anyone remember or care about whether or not you had this expensive item at the party? Teenagers can sometimes be lured into believing that possessing material things can be a matter of life and death, but the adult holding the purse strings is responsible for doing a careful evaluation of the cost versus the beneﬁt of the item.
Weigh your options. I’ve seen teenagers at $75 per plate dinners who were bored stiff and uncomfortable with the formality. I’ve seen shabby VFW Halls transformed into gorgeous fantasies when the right decorator was enlisted. A family should feel under no obligation to go into debt over this event. No matter what your budget is, be assured that you can put together a beautiful party.
The family must feel absolutely no pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Almost every Sweet 16 Girl will spend a good deal of her High School years “on the circuit”, attending one Sweet 16 after another. There is a tendency, in some quarters, to want to outdo the previous party, or at least to maintain the same standard. Some parents may even believe that their daughter will be embarrassed if they don’t overspend for the party. I can’t even count the number of times when I heard a parent’s voice drop to say, “I didn’t want to have such-and-such at the party and I really couldn’t afford it, but Mary had it and Sue had it, so my daughter had to have it.”
No, your daughter didn’t have to have it. The Sweet 16 rituals all focus around the fact that the Sweet 16 girl is stepping into womanhood. The sooner that a woman understands how to manage a budget, the better off she’ll be. The sooner that a woman learns how to stretch a dollar as far as it will go, the more creativity she’ll be able to develop. A Sweet 16 girl who is being given a lavish party with a hundred guests is liable to forget about that bank-breaking purchase that she wailed over a few months earlier.
The family must also remember that if the girl cries and sulks over having to pick and choose what she can have as the budget dictates, it’s possible that she’s not even focused on the expensive item, but instead is troubled about any one of the high school circumstances that I’ve outlined in Chapter 1. With womanhood comes pressure, and it is not the parents’ job to make the pressures go away. Rather, it’s the parents’ job to teach the child how to make the best decisions when under pressure.
Consider everything that goes in to the party:
Choosing the date:
Will there be any events that may wind up conﬂicting with the party date you’ve chosen? Consider events within your extended family, within the girl’s life, and within the city or town where you live. Take a moment to check the calendar for school holidays and events, religious observances, out of town games, dance competitions, SAT prep classes and exams, etc. If you plan to host guests from out of town, consider any possible snags that could hold up their travel plans. If your Sweet 16 Girl has a summer birthday, consider whether or not her friends will be away at summer camp or on family vacations on your party date. You may want to consider moving the event to June or September. If your Sweet 16 Girl’s birthday falls near the Christmas season, when almost everyone is overbooked, you might want to consider having her party in January, when things tend to be quieter and people are looking for things to do to liven up a dark winter night.
Choosing the venue:
What is your budget?
How long is your tentative guest list?
How big a place do you need?
Is your party going to be formal, semi-formal or casual?
Will this be a house party?
Are you familiar with the catering hall or restaurant you’re considering?
Have you dined or attended a party there before? Is the food and the service
good? What guarantee do we have that the place will be clean and beautiful
on the night of your party?
I’d advocate choosing a hall with which you’re familiar. The fewer surprises that you have while planning your party, the better.
Will you be adding to the decor?
Will the decor and the menu have a theme?
What ideas do you have about appetizers, main courses, side dishes and desserts?
Will you be serving alcohol?
Please think very seriously about this. The Sweet 16 girl knows her guests and she will know if they’ll behave themselves properly and abstain from alcohol if it’s served to the adults at the party. If there’s any doubt that the young guests will observe rules about teenage drinking, consider eliminating alcohol from the party completely. If that seems too drastic, you can offer a cash bar, or give your bartender a very stern warning about who can be served and who can’t.
Is the dance ﬂoor large enough to accommodate all your guests?
Are you considering hiring a DJ? What will this cost? Is there room for him to set up?
Will there be buffet? Is there room to set it up?
Will you be given a discount if you book way in advance?
Avoid putting down deposits for venues that have just opened, recently changed management, or are located adjacent to any huge capital improvement project that’s liable to be noisy, dusty and drag on for years. These are all possible danger signs that the hall may not be able to stay in business long enough to host your party.
Will you guests be able to park their cars? Will there be valet parking available?
Will you be having elderly or disabled guests? Will the venue accommodate them?
Will you be indoors or outdoors?
An evening’s cruise on a yacht can provide an idyllic setting . . . . that is if it doesn’t rain. If you choose to have your party outdoors, take a moment to consider what will happen if fate hands you a thunderstorm that night.
Make phone calls to get prices on local venues, caterers and entertainers. Raise some of these questions. Collect brochures and make notes from the information that you gather, and keep the notes organized in a ﬁle. If you are bookmarking web pages, create a separate folder just for Sweet 16 Information. When you make phone calls, ask for the name of the person giving you the information and make a note of it, so that you can speak to the same person when you call back.
Hiring a DJ or any kind of entertainment:
A talented DJ can make a party come to life. Before you hire one, be sure that you’ve seen him work and that you’re comfortable with his style. He should be well organized, prepared to set up and break down in an efﬁcient fashion, and willing to take direction from you.
He should have a varied catalogue of dance music and he should be prepared to play something other than the top hits of the day. Your elderly guests will be thrilled to hear a couple of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett songs, and your middle aged guests might like to hear a few hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
He should be charismatic without being overbearing. You want to be sure that he is entertaining your guests without getting “in their faces”. Be sure that he can control the volume on his music. Avoid seating your elderly guests anywhere near the DJ speakers, for they may ﬁnd this annoying, if not painful.
Hired dancers can make a very big difference when it comes to getting your guests on their feet and on to the dance ﬂoor. If your budget allows, I’d consider this a good investment.
See to what extent the DJ can help you in preparing a video screen should you want to show a video of the Sweet 16 Girl’s childhood memories. Many of them are outﬁtted with this equipment. Check prices in advance.
Yes, you can have a party without hiring a DJ. If your hall has a sound system, then you can provide the music. If it doesn’t, perhaps you have a friend or family member who is a musician or an audiophile who can help you to set up a sound system in the hall. Is there a charismatic family member or guest who can play the part of the host and make the announcements for the party? Do whatever you can to have a microphone available to you, because it will be nearly impossible for a room full of guests to hear you without it. Again, I’d advise you to think ahead. Take a few hours to consider how a DJ may choose the music he plays, what type of announcements he might make, or how he’d supervise games for the guests. It’s really not all that difﬁcult, and it’s likely something that a friend or family member can handle. If you think that your guests would like to do the standard party dances, like the Electric Slide or the Limbo, be sure that you have the music available. Plan the four hours, just like a DJ would. With a little forethought, you can put together a good series of sets.
Formal Dinner or Buffet?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with offering a buffet at a Sweet 16. Just make sure that your guests leave their tables to serve themselves in an orderly fashion. You want to avoid having one hundred guests standing in a long line all at once. You might like to have your MC or DJ announce, “Tables 2 and 8, please join us at the buffet!” or something like that.
You can call printers in your area and arrange an appointment to view their catalogs. Many printers will offer you samples, and it’s a good idea to hold on to these so that you can compare them and make a good decision about which one you’ll choose.
Alternately, you can search for Invitations on line. I’d highly recommend that you view our catalog at Sweet 16 Invitations. We’ve been happily serving Sweet 16 Girls and their families since 2000.
If you’re considering making your own Invitations, be sure that you’re experienced in laying out artwork and printing on your home computer. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks, and you don’t want to invite a situation where you’re going through one expensive printer cartridge after the next in the hopes of trying to get a good quality print. On this count, I’ve heard too many sad stories from customers who tried to do it on their own and wound up wasting money, only to end up at a professional printer after all.
Remember, it’s just an Invitation. You want it to be beautiful and to make a good impression , but this can be done without spending $20 per piece for fussy hand made and hand assembled papers. As much as it pains me to say it, most Invitations wind up either on the ﬂoor or in the trash. Only a few close friends and relatives will be pressing them into their scrapbooks.
Photos and Video:
After you’ve gone to all the trouble of selecting the perfect venue, dressing your Sweet 16 Girl to the hilt, and assembling all your guests, I believe it is absolutely crucial to have photos taken at this event, and video too if you can manage it. The quality of the photos and video will be dictated by your budget. But no matter what your budget, nearly everyone on earth owns some form of digital camera these days. Encourage your guests to take pictures and to forward their ﬁles to you.
If you are going to hire a photographer, make sure that he is capable of staying in the background of the party. Posing for photos should not be the central activity of the party. A good photographer will know how to capture the moment without intruding upon it.
Let the buyer beware when choosing a photographer! Review his portfolio! You may even want to consider hiring students from a good photography school, as they’re probably just as dedicated to their work, own just as much equipment and are probably willing to work for a fraction of the price.
But beware! A bargain may end up costing you in the long run. I’ve heard stories from more than one of my customers whose parties were dampened by ﬂaky photographers. Some don’t show up for the party at all, or some turn in a CD of horrendous photos. Just this week a customer sent me a CD of photos of a Sweet 16. She’d chosen the photographer’s “economy package” without realizing that the “economy” photographer had no understanding of lighting and that he was using a cheap auto focus camera without a tripod. So the family now has an album of photos of their guests with red eye, sickly pallor from glaring light, awkward poses, bad composition and blurred focus. Their guests could have taken better photos on their cell phones.
Very few teenage girls have to be instructed about how to shop, or cajoled into visiting a department store or a mall.
If your budget is an issue, visit the outlet stores ﬁrst. (My daughter needed a white ﬂoor length gown to be part of her best friend’s Sweet 16 “court”. She found a stunning designer dress at an outlet store for $25.) Watch out for sales in your neighborhood. A great time to look is right after prom season, when many designer party dress price tags will be slashed.
Make sure that the Sweet 16 girl LOVES the dress. If she doesn’t love it in the store, and if she ﬁnds fault with any detail of it, chances are good that the fault will become magniﬁed rather than diminished as she prepares for her party. Do not buy anything that she’s not head over heel in love with.
Make sure that the dress ﬁts today and will ﬁt at this party. To this end, I’d recommended that you do not buy a gown more than four months in advance of the party.
If your Sweet 16 Girl is having a “court” and the budget is tight, I’d suggest that the court girls each buy a dress in the same color, rather than insisting that they cough up $250+ to get measured for a custom “bridesmaid” dress that will coordinate with the Sweet 16 Girl’s gown.
Choosing a Theme
There is no limit to the variety of themes that can be chosen for a party. Even after 8 years of designing Sweet 16 Invitations, I still receive calls from customers requesting yet another theme that never would have occurred to me on my own.
A theme will help set the mood for your party. Once the theme is chosen, it can be reﬂected in the venue’s decor, in the Invitations, in the favors, and sometimes even in the menu or the girl’s dress.
The Sweet 16 Girl can choose a theme based upon something she loves (the ballet, Paris, Broadway, rock guitars, Harry Potter) or something to match the mood of the season (glittering snowﬂakes for a December affair, a beach party in August, or even a Winter-in-July theme to change things up.) If you run a Google search on “Party Themes” you will ﬁnd many long lists with suggestions of motifs for parties.
Some girls like to choose a color scheme for their attire, as well as for their guests. They may request that the guests do not wear any colors that are in the color scheme, or the Sweet 16 girl’s party dress. Other girls like black and white attire exclusively. Another asked her guests to come dressed as their favorite ﬁlm characters. We even had one Sweet 16 girl who requested to have all her gifts wrapped in pink paper. While the color scheme may create a festive decor, I don’t ﬁnd it necessary to be absolutely consistent throughout every detail of the party. For instance, there’s no reason for the girl’s dress color to match the color of the Invitation, since your guests probably won’t be seeing both at the same time.
It’s not mandatory to have a theme or a color scheme, but no matter what your budget or level of formality, a theme can give your party and its decor just a little extra pizzaz.
Next Chapter 3: The Guest List and The Invitations
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We also offer other Sweet 16 Invitation Packages including personalized invitation, coordinated response card and envelopes. We will personalize and address all envelopes.
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