Believe it or not, there is one thing all teens have in common. Yes, ALL—no matter how old they are, what their interests may be, who their friends are, or what kind of student they are. Although now they try to hide it, the anticipation of it makes them giddy, just like when they were little. It’s a party celebrating them, and the day is no less special when they’re 15 than when they were 5. 

Every parent wants to make their teen’s celebration extra special. But we also know that trying to plan the best party ever can quickly turn into the most expensive birthday party ever. With a little creativity, ingenuity, and planning ahead, there’s no reason you can’t throw an amazing party for your teenager and his or her friends, honoring their special day and making it an occasion they’ll always remember. 

Hosting a teen party 101

Throwing a successful teenage party may seem impossible, but it really isn’t all that complicated. In some ways, teens are simple. Predictable, even. (Yes, really!) They want to be with their friends, and they want to have fun. They like to eat (a lot), and they like to listen to music. With these basic facts in mind, you’re almost on your way. A fun theme is your key to making magic memories for all your guests.

Popular themes for super-cool, low-budget teen parties

A Neon/Glow-in-the-Dark Party. Black lights make this party really exciting. Have your teen ask friends to wear black pants and a white t-shirt, and provide plenty of highlighters to sign each other’s shirts. Get neon or glow-in-the-dark face paint and glow necklaces and bracelets. Cut out stars from cardboard, and paint them with glow paint for your décor. You can even put glow sticks inside your balloons! Play techno music. 

A Toga Party. This Roman theme is always a charm. Invite guests to create their own togas and turn it into a contest, crowning the winners "Emperor" and "Empress" with head wreaths (cardboard cutout leaves adorned with gold paint and glitter). Keep your color scheme white and gold, and check out the craft store for lots of greenery, white tulle, and ivy garland, and you’ll have your venue looking like ancient Rome in no time. Serve Romanesque foods on platters, like nuts and olives, meats, cheeses, bread and dried/fresh fruits, and sparkling grape juice in goblets.  

Dress-Up Party. Who says dress up is only for Halloween? Your teen can adapt the costume party to any particular style he likes—vampires, characters from your favorite movie, etc. If it’s an '80s or disco theme, turn it into a karaoke party, too.

Celebrating the milestones

Let your teen know that it would be unrealistic for you to throw a big party for every milestone. Offer choices. A princess party to celebrate 13 or a Sweet 16? A chocolate party? An 18th birthday bash or a big graduation party?

When it is a milestone you’re celebrating, set up a table with all the makings for a scrapbook—colored pens, glitter, stamps, stencils, old magazines, any art supplies you find around the house, and ask each of your child’s friends to create a memory page. They’ll have as much fun as they when they were in art class back in elementary school. Have them share a favorite memory, a poem, a wish for the future, whatever their creative hearts desire. Leave a camera out for kids to take photos throughout the night that you can add in later. (Added bonus: This will end up being one of your teen’s most treasured gifts and keepsakes.)  

Taking advantage of the moment

It’s no secret the words "teens" and "budget" don’t really seem to flow together naturally. In fact, kids ages 13–18 generally want the most expensive things money can buy. 

When your teen sees you planning ahead and thinking outside the box to throw a fantastic party on a budget, that’s a pretty important life lesson you’re teaching. And in the end, showing our kids that having fun doesn’t have to equate with spending a lot of money might just be one of the best birthday gifts we can give them. ·

Freelance writer Julie Kemeklis, a language teacher from Princeton Junction, has three kids, ages 12, 9, and 4.