It's a relief to the pocketbook that most sweet 16 parties aren't remembered for their ornate decorations or their fancy spread of foods. To plan an economical Sweet 16 that's special for your birthday girl or boy and all the guests, too, fashion decorations out of inexpensive and homemade materials and organise music and activities to suit the partygoers' tastes.
While many 16-year-olds will balk at the prospect of highly organised activities, a well-planned and inexpensive scavenger hunt can still delight the most sophisticated teens. Depending on the group's maturity level, you can extend the hunt over a neighbourhood or even your town or city. For more mature crowds, send them hunting all over town; enlist the help of local merchants or "planted" helpers to provide clues to the scavenging teams. Tie the hunt's locations around a central theme, taking cues from the group's interests. If the guest-of-honour is a drama nut, have the guests make trips to the local costume shop or the community theatre. For the final clue, lead guests to a local pizza parlour or a park's picnic area for penny-wise refreshments and cake.
Whatever your budget, a dance party is a great way to involve teenagers' pop culture interests and set up an atmosphere that they'll find appealingly "grown-up." For a twist, feature a retro theme. The resurgence of clothing styles from the '80s and the continuing popularity of music from the '60s make them great eras to highlight at a dance party. Ask guests to arrive in appropriate costume, and award trinkets to the best-dressed dancers.
If your budget allows, hire a local band to provide the music. Attend concerts at local coffee shops to find informal acts who will play for a modest fee. If there's a group of musicians within the birthday teen's social circle, you could hire them; they'll appreciate a real gig and the crowd will enjoy listening to their peers play.
Alternately, you can throw a music-sharing dance party; have each guest bring a mixed CD or MP3 player with a selection of their favourite, most danceable songs. Cycle through the collection as the night goes on. As copyrights allow, you might even reproduce a selection from each of the contributions to give away as a party favour at the end of the night.
At 16, most partygoers will delight at the chance to attend a bash in the style of their favourite celebrities. To treat your guests like Hollywood starlets and heartthrobs, roll out a red carpet. Fashion it from whatever red fabric you find in the fabric store's bargain bin. Instead of having them sign a board for the birthday kid, let them leave impressions of their hands, whether with ink or plaster, each on their own star. For inexpensive Hollywood decor, ask your local movie theatres about their old movie posters; a small movie-house may give them away or sell them at a much lower price than retail shops.
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