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Birthday parties – even for the youngest guests of honor – can quickly become productions that overwhelm parents, kids and budgets. But parents are getting back to basics with homegrown fun. Even so, that doesn’t mean the events are any less spectacular to little guests.

Maria Scotto started her party planning business, Picture Perfect Days (, because she loves planning for her own children, Matteo, 6, and Gabriel, 3.

“I organize parties for kids at home or places that aren’t party-related,” she said.

Scotto’s background in business taught her that organization is key.

“I used to be on the go and invited to a lot of merchandising events,” she said. “I fell in love with how everything worked.”

Originally from Malta, Scotto and her family lived around the world before settling in the Upstate. “When I came here, I started doing play dates,” she said.

For birthday parties, Scotto starts with a theme, which she said can be anything the birthday boy or girl loves. She coordinates invitations, cake and activities to that theme.

For do-it-yourself planners, Scotto advises keeping the number of guests manageable.

“It’s really fun to have a party at your house,” she said. “You don’t even have to have a messy house. If you have a garden, it’s easily done. We are very lucky in South Carolina. We usually have sun. The most important thing in a party is preparation. If you had good preparation, you have a great time. If not, it’s chaos.”

Marissa McFarland has two sons, ages 7 and 2. She said planning their parties brings her a great amount of joy.

“My friends joke that I had the wrong career,” she said. “I love to party plan. I know they appreciate it and love it and I love doing it.”

McFarland’s secret weapon for birthdays is Pinterest. “Pinterest has been my second bible,” she said. “It gives me a lot of ideas and then I go from there. I’m all about semi-homemade. Do what you can but don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

She loves to go all out with decorations and she focuses on what her children want, even if it’s something out of the ordinary like her older child’s wish for a Hawaiian luau canvas painting party.

“I love to do it,” she said. “It brings me so much joy to see how delighted they are.”

Carolina Ocampo said planning original parties is fun for her and her children, ages 10 and 4.

“Now that my daughter is older and she can make decisions about what she likes, I take her decisions into account and have her participate,” she said.

One key element Ocampo always incorporates is an inexpensive backdrop to go behind the cake. It can be simple, but it makes a big impact in photos.

“I’ve used a shower curtain, even wrapping paper,” she said. “It comes out really well in the pictures. I try to be very resourceful. I try to use what I have in the house so it comes in under budget.”

Ocampo also sometimes buys a premade, iced cake and then finishes the decorating at home. “Get on Pinterest and YouTube and can see all these tutorials,” she said.

For party favors, she prefers to give something edible or useful.

“Those little toys usually end up in the trash or the donation pile,” she said. “I try to do things that they are going to use at their house or at school.”

No matter what the theme, the focus on creating memories is the real treasure.

“The best thing to do is to keep in mind the interest of the kids,” Ocampo said. “It’s for them to enjoy. It’s not for us. Sometimes parents get so into these huge parties and they are so expensive. That’s more for us, not the kids.”

Scotto said she also tries to teach her children that birthday parties mark moments in time.

“That’s what I am trying to instill in my children – we have a party not to get presents, but to have friends celebrate with you,” she said.

Still need help? 

Find birthday party planning resources in Upstate Parent's annual birthday guide. Simply click on the link below:

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