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7 things you need to know about throwing a milestone birthday party

Milestone birthdays are a special occasion and mark a shift to the next stage of your life.
Milestone birthdays are what you make them.

Celebrating another trip around the sun should always be a memorable occasion. But as the years pass, people tend to treat their birthday like any other day. When it comes to milestone birthdays, though, there's no excuse not to dream a little bigger and be surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones.

Milestone birthdays are what you make them. There's no right or wrong way to celebrate, and no celebration is too small. Milestone birthdays typically include when you turn 1, 15 or 16, 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, and so on. They also vary by culture. Countries like Mexico celebrate when someone turns 3 years old—it's called "presentación de tres años" or "presentation of three years." Turning 15 in many Latin American countries is also an important year marked with a "quinceañera." The first, 10th, 60th, 70th, and 80th birthdays are special in China. Turning 60, in particular, is considered a milestone. At that point, the celebrant has completed the full 60-year cycle based on Chinese astrology (comprised of 12 signs, each with five natural elements) and embarking on a new one.

Wherever you may find yourself, and however you choose to celebrate, one thing's for sure—milestone birthdays are a special occasion and mark a shift to the next stage of your life. According to a 2022 YouGov poll that surveyed 1,000 Americans asking them how they felt about their birthdays and how they spent them, half of the respondents spent time with their family almost every year. Four in 10 had a special meal. One out of 5 threw a party or get-together. And 1 in 10 celebrated with a trip.

Milestone birthdays can come with pressure and planning (and money), but it doesn't have to be a hassle. Giggster compiled seven pointers for throwing the most memorable birthday celebration, using tips and tricks from around the web.

Friends gathered around a birthday cake with lit candles.

Set an intention

Before sending out invites, set an intention for your special day. According to the YouGov poll, nearly every year, 54% of people spend their birthdays thanking God for being alive, and 38% spend their day reflecting on life. When asked how they usually feel on their birthday, 48% said they feel happy, while 24% said they feel excited. Those feelings can influence and translate into your big celebration.

If you're turning 21, you'll likely be reflecting on stepping into adulthood. If you're facing your 30th birthday, you may be mourning the loss of your roaring 20s behind, but looking forward to a new decade. Let those feelings guide the type of celebration you plan.

Once you set your intention, you can let that influence your theme. If you're leaving behind a tumultuous 20s, perhaps celebrating your 30th will be a more lowkey celebration to welcome a new era. Movies can provide a little inspiration. For example, turning 30 can mean celebrating it a la "13 Going on 30," or a 40th birthday party can look like a blast from the past and partying as if it were the '80s all over again.

Ultimately, your intention and theme will be your north star, helping you put some guardrails in place.

Friends drinking Champagne on a boat.

Make a budget and cross off the big items first

It all begins with a budget. Amanda Hudes, a creative event and wedding planner, shared with AARP that once you figure out how much you're comfortable with spending—you should start with the big-ticket items and work your way down to the smaller lower-priority items.

If you're thinking of organizing something more intimate with a close group of friends (think 6-12 people), perhaps you'll have more money to spend on things like food, travel, or party favors. But if you're looking to throw a lavish party that calls for booking a venue—then it would be wise to spend less on more to accommodate the bigger guest list.

Ultimately, remember how much you want to spend on invitations, food (including a cake or dessert), party favors, a DJ, or outsourcing any extra help if you're considering throwing a big soiree.

A man blowing out the candles on his 80th birthday cake with a child next to him.

Get a feel for your VIP guests

Everyone leads busy lives, whether they're parents, work, or have other personal engagements—it will be nearly impossible to choose a date and location that will work for everyone. To simplify that process, identify the guests that matter the most to you and use their input to help shape your event specifics.

This smaller list of guests can help in two ways. First, it will help set the dates. Narrow your birthday celebration to two or three dates that work for you. Then, before sending out your invitation, send important guests date options to choose from, and based on your responses, figure out an ideal date. Second, if you're stuck for ideas, perhaps floating two or three preliminary celebration ideas with these VIP guests can help you narrow your choices.

A woman holding a sealed card from the mail.

Get personal, creative, and detailed with the invitation

You've got your date and location. Now it's time to send invitations. Send them out as soon as you know what you're going to do, when you're going to do it, and who you will do it with. Don't sleep on sending out those invitations—remember, it's a joyous occasion, and you want to give your guests plenty of time to plan.

Send out any type of invite you prefer, whether an e-invite or a physical one sent in the mail. Be as detailed as possible in your invitation. If you're traveling to a different city, state, or country for your milestone birthday, remind guests to buy their flight, pack their passports, and ensure they have the necessary identification and paperwork.

If you plan to be outdoors at the beach or the woods, remind your guests of the proper dress code or additional items to pack. For example, do they need to pack sunscreen? Do they need to pack extra shoes or a change of clothes? If you're going camping, will they need to provide their own tent or sleeping bag? Get your FAQs down pat. And most importantly, make sure you highlight the date and time in big, bold letters!

A table of buffet food with a party in the background.

Buy it or (even better) DIY it: food, music, and decor

If you're throwing a party, it's time to figure out what type of food you'll serve, what music you'll play, and what vibe you'll go for when it comes to decor. Often, a DIY approach can add that personal touch that makes celebrations memorable.

When it comes to food, if you're throwing a party with dozens of people—you may get the most bang for your buck for a caterer who can whip up tacos for a couple of hours, or you could order finger foods like sandwiches, sliders, mini wraps and so on to keep the atmosphere casual.

According to Roaming Hunger, the caterer you hire will depend on the type of event you're throwing. For small events (10-40 people), drop-off catering may cost an average of $12-20 per person; buffet-style catering will cost you $25-50 per person on average; food struck catering or mobile catering will be about $20-40 per person; and private chefs or custom catering will be on the pricier end at about $120 or more per person.

For those with guests who are more skilled in the kitchen, consider a potluck and ask your guests to bring an entree, side, or dessert. Even better, their dish can have a theme based on the party, or it can be something that reminds them of you. These dishes could then double as conversation starters.

Hiring a DJ might be your best bet if you book a venue or throw a backyard shindig, but it may also use a significant portion of your budget. According to The Knot, the average cost of a DJ starts at $1,500. If you're trying to save money, investing in a loud party speaker, whether purchasing one online or renting it out, might be a good option.

The decor is where you can get creative. Buy flowers in bulk, for example, and make your floral arrangements, or hit up a thrift store and scour for unique vases or glasses to use at your birthday celebration. If you want to make even more memories, invite your guests to help you create birthday decorations, such as photo booth backdrops or balloon arches.

A hand holding up a disposable Kodak camera.

Appoint your personal paparazzi

Save yourself money on a professional photographer (which can cost an average of $100 to $250 per hour, according to Fash) or a videographer (which could cost $75 to $350 per hour or $700 to $2,000+ per day)—and let your friends capture the best, unguarded moments of the day.

Provide Polaroid cameras, extra packs of film, or disposable cameras people can use to snap photos throughout the celebration. Or, set up a shared folder where everyone can drop in their cellphone photos at the end of the party. Be sure to let your guests know ahead of time where to upload their pictures or contribute their snapped shots. Looking through their photos at the end of the party will surely give you a new perspective on your big day for years to come.

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.