How to Throw a Sweet 16 Party on a Budget

There's no need to spend a fortune to give your birthday girl or boy a great Sweet 16 party.
There's no need to spend a fortune to give your birthday girl or boy a great Sweet 16 party.

So, your precious daughter (or son) is about to turn 16. Time for a party! You might be envisioning an inexpensive, relaxed shindig in your backyard for a few friends and close family. But if your teen is a fan of MTV's "My Super Sweet 16," he or she might have certain expectations for this affair -- expectations that might include custom-made gowns, rented-out nightclubs, exotic animals and carte blanche with your credit card. Oh, and 500 or so of his or her closest friends -- and bouncers at the door to keep out the riffraff.

But your name is not Daddy Warbucks, and your hopes for this party are just a little bit different. Instead of presenting your daughter with the tricked-out pink Escalade she thinks she so richly deserves, you'll probably be giving her the spare keys to the family minivan. And piped-in iPod tunes are good enough for you -- no need to hire a flavor-of-the-month pop star for musical entertainment. No, you are a sane and rational parent, and this 16th birthday party will be on a budget.

We applaud your good sense -- and wish you luck in dashing your child's champagne dreams. But since you have such a good head on your shoulders, we're thinking your son or daughter is probably pretty sensible, too. He or she will understand that you can't afford to ride a chauffeured stretch limo around town to personally deliver invitations to all 500 guests. E-mailing invitations to 20 guests will probably work just fine.

But just so there's no confusion or disappointment, you need to have an honest talk with your child at the very beginning of the planning process -- discuss exactly how much money you have to spend and how you expect to go about spending it. Be very specific about the kinds of things you will and will not pay for, and make sure your child is able to communicate his or her vision for the party.

No matter what your budget, you should be able to throw a great party without having to take out a second mortgage. And we're here to help. On the following pages are ideas on how to create a fun soirée, from the invitations and décor to the photography and finding the perfect dress.