Sweet 16 parties can get really expensive really quickly. (I don’t even need to mention a certain MTV show as an extreme example of that!) However, I’m a firm believer that if you choose the right guests, and you approach the whole party with the right spirit and a bit of creativity, you can have an amazing event without breaking the bank.
First, throw your party at home instead of renting a venue by clearing out a room and transforming it with some fun decor. Most teens will tell you they want a dance party, but this means a DJ, and anytime you add a DJ to your event, your costs will go up dramatically. Instead, see if there are any aspiring DJs at the school that you can hire at a lower rate, or perhaps find a slightly older cousin, brother, uncle, or other relative who can man the “sound booth.” If not, grab the stereo and have your friends come up with a really good iPod playlist -- you can ask for suggestions ahead of time on Facebook!
Given that it’s a “sweet” 16 party, a fun and colorful theme is a candyland or sweet shop theme. Get your friends in the mood with hand-delivered lollipops invitations! Design your invite info to fit inside of a circle, print it out on full-sheet labels, cut into circles and stick to 3-inch or larger swirly lollipops. (There are many places you can get them, like Candy Favorites or Fun Express [via Amazon] and I’ve also run across them in places like Walgreens and the Dollar Tree.)
For decor, think color! Choose a few hues that you really love (I’ve chosen pink and green for my examples), or a whole rainbow of colors -- it’s up to you! Create an eye-catching entryway with a colorful air-filled balloon arch. (Using air-filled balloons is way cheaper than helium, as the gas’s price keeps rising!) Deck the walls with giant homemade candies, or air-filled balloon “swags.”
For the centerpiece, you can make something that’s not only cute, but practical: a vase filled with chocolate “kiss” roses, or tissue paper flowers. Both are not only pretty, but edible, and can serve as take-home gifts when your guests depart at the end of the evening.
To keep costs down, don’t serve an entire meal, but instead make sure you’ve got lots of snacks and drinks. Water is essential (especially if there’s dancing!), as are soda and “to go” kinds of treats like chips, popcorn, mini slider burgers, quesadillas, and so on. Fill up pretty glass jars with lids with your favorite candies to create a “candy bar,” and let guests serve themselves by filling up Chinese food containers that you provide. The drinks station is the perfect place for chaperones to hang out; they can watch to make sure the party stays in control, but they also have a “job,” so they aren’t just hovering in the corner watching the party.
Games and activities
You’re 16 and you have your whole life ahead of you, so why not share some silly predictions of the future? As guests enter, have each one fill out the following cards and place them into corresponding containers. You should make about 10 for each category ahead of time.
- Profession (e.g., wedding singer, plumber, supermodel, etc.)
- Famous person or character (Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, etc.)
- Location (Niagra Falls, Giants’ Stadium, The White House, etc.)
- Number and item (14 kittens, 6 snowmen, 4 basketballs, etc.)
When it’s time to play, call up a few folks to hear their fortunes. Have someone who is really fun and engaging play the fortune teller. The fortune teller then reads out the fortunes in this manner, choosing the “filler” from the appropriate bowl of cards each time (the fortune teller may of course embellish as they see fit).
“Here is the fortune of [insert name of person called up]. The cards say that as soon as you graduate you will be working as a [pick a profession from bowl number 1 and read aloud]. You will soon be married to [pick name from bowl number 2 and read aloud], and the two of you will be living happily in [pick location from bowl number 3 and read aloud] with your [pick a number and item from bowl number 4 and read aloud]. So sayeth the cards, and so it shall be!”
Sweet “pop” truth or dare
Come up with a fun series of truth or dare questions. Cut them out, roll them up, and place them in 5-inch balloons. Have one color for “truth” and one for “dare.” Blow up the balloons and put them in a bag or box. When it’s time to play, set up a chair in the front of the room and have a brave soul come up. You can either have them declare “truth” or “dare.” At this point, they take a balloon and sit on it to make it pop. Once it pops, they retrieve the slip of paper and must do as it says. Failure to do the dare or truth will result in the person having to forfeit something from their person (their belt, their car keys, etc.) which will be returned only when the party host deems it time.
Musical chair pile up
Yes, it’s musical chairs... but in this version, as the chairs are removed, those without seats must claim seats on other people’s laps. This gets more and more crazed as there are less and less chairs.
This is a messy one! Choose three very brave guys and give them a shower or swim cap and a plastic rain poncho or bag. Place a tarp on the ground and have them lie down on their backs. Choose three girls to be the sundae makers. Have whipped cream, sprinkles, assorted candies, nuts, cherries, etc. (all the things you might have for a sundae) and have the girls create the best “sundae” they can on their partner’s face. Be sure to take lots of photos! Once the girls are done, the guys must carefully sit up and “eat” their own face. (You will want a chaperone to make sure this one doesn’t get too out of hand!)
Sweet 16 trivia
Come up with 16 things that the birthday kid did or was obsessed with, one for each year old they were. Write up the list, and then have folks try and figure out which age fits each item. Give a prize to the guest(s) who gets the most right. For example.
- Staying up all night (Answer: age 1)
- Justin Bieber (Answer: age 12)
- Horses (age 10)
- Puppies (age 6)
- Bugs (age 5)
- Interviewing people (age 13)
Set up a duct tape station for making wallets, purses, and other fun crafts (check out our site for lots of suggestions). This is another place where you can have a chaperone.
Karaoke or lip dub contest
If you’ve got a machine, or can rent one -- this is always fun! If you don’t have access to one, don’t dismay, you can hold a lip dub contest very easily. Just have folks choose their tunes and perform along with the stereo. If you have a lot of people who want to perform, cut the songs off after the first pass at the chorus. (This is another great station for a chaperone to run).
Grab some funny clothes, sunglasses, and props and set up a little photo zone. Fuji makes this great little camera that take instant mini photos that everyone loves. Make sure you get lots of film, because these are a huge hit!
And finally, a note on safety and chaperones. Given the age, it’s not a bad idea to “check” all bags, jackets, and belongings in a separate, adult-manned area. Guests should not be encouraged to take their bags into bathrooms and the like. Chaperones are important, so make sure you have them. This will probably be a bone of contention with most birthday kids, so give the chaperones real jobs that keep them out of the party fray... but close enough to intervene if necessary: jobs like photo station, drinks station, duct tape station, etc.
One thing about parties like this is you always want to leave your guests wanting more, so don’t prolong or overdo the party. 2 ½ to 3 hours is a good length. It’s much better to have folks leaving and saying they would have loved the party to go on for another hour, than have them bored and texting their friends!