{ExpatLife}: How to throw a fabulous party while overseas without overspending

We love throwing parties. We are always looking for excuses to have our friends come over and have a good time. We’ve found, however, that things that seemed much more simple at home can become a bit complicated overseas. We don’t have a party supply store, a Target or a dollar store available so we have to sometimes plan a bit more thoroughly to avoid overspending on party supplies and party planning.

Here are some tips that I have to repeat to myself every time I plan a party.

  1. Be Flexible. Don’t set your heart on a specific theme or character. You might not be able to find all the supplies you need. To avoid frustration consider different themes or characters, do a scavenger hunt and go for the theme you found the most supplies for.
  2. Be willing to go window-shopping, a lot. From my experience in Jakarta, Bangkok and Frankfurt, the prices for similar things can vary so much from store to store. If you have time, do some research and visit all the stores you can. Go to the local markets, like Chinatown, or the ITC malls and look for good deals. Go for the one with the best pricing
  3. Go local. This is a very important one.
    1. Go local when planning a menu. If cake mix is too costly, make your cake from scratch. Take advantage of the local produce and make fabulous berry martinis if you are in Europe or lychee and rambutan daiquiris if in Asia. If canned pumpkin is not available for your pumpkin pie, consider using fresh pumpkin, yum! You don’t have to have goat cheese at every party, especially if you end up paying too much for something that’s been on the shelf too long and you are not sure about their handling processes. Find recipes that emphasize the flavors of your hometown and in the meantime get to know the food culture more.
    2. Go local when picking a theme. You can probably find a great theme for a kids’ party within the local customs and culture. If in Asia throw an Elephant Themed party, if you are in Germany, why not a Grimm Brother’s Birthday Party? Ask your guests to wear hay hats or leiden hosen, go crazy and have fun!
    3. Go local when buying supplies. If you find that wood toys and ornaments are popular and affordable buy them for your party. Plastic is not the only material goodies are made of. If you know you can get things sewn for a good price, by all means get personalized fabric goody bags.
    4. When in Rome… You know where I’m getting. If in your new home it’s not accustomed to give candy to kids as favors, don’t feel obliged to do so, give them milk boxes and cookies instead, or whatever the local customs are, especially if you are inviting the locals. You don’t want them to throw away all the precious sugary goodies you brought all the way from back home.  However, when in Rome, don’t do like the locals and feel compelled to throw a 5,000 USD party for a three-year old like the Indonesians do. It’s incredible, they go all out, they rent hotel ballrooms and rent everything including ponies, carrousel rides, all kinds of food stands, etc. Trust me, we won’t be doing that. I would rather spend the money taking the kids on a trip.
  4. Be Creative (Crafty if necessary) Do what you can with what you have at home. Find new uses for old things you even considered donating. Maybe you can use those old pillows and do a pajama party with a pillow-fight rink and all.  If buying a pre-made birthday banner is costing you three or four times as much as in your home country, make a birthday banner yourself. There are many ideas online. I’m not a sewer even though I wish I were. I rely on Photoshop, my printer and my scrapbooking paper for many things.
  5. Keep your Traditions. Being overseas doesn’t mean you have to stop celebrating Holidays your way. You have to be flexible and creative. If turkey is not available, or it is too expensive, roast a duck, instead. If cranberry sauce is too expensive, make a sauce out of local fruits. Always blow your candles at birthdays and if you pray for your children at their birthday parties, keep doing so. You are still you, culture, traditions and all, no matter where you are. If Christmas trees are not available locally, use a palm tree put some lights on it and light up a Christmas tree scented candle. Sometimes this means planning ahead (see below) but it’s always important to celebrate your traditional holidays, especially when raising third culture kids.
  6. Plan ahead. If you are going back home for a while make space in your suitcase for a few party supplies or decorations you consider important for the holidays. If your kids are obsessed with Cars 2, like my Evan, bring the party supplies for their birthday party, even if it’s 10 months ahead. If you have visitors coming and you really want French onions for your green beans, ask them to bring some over. Repay them with your fabulous hosting powers.
  7. Celebrate with your family, even if they are thousands of miles away. Technology today allows us to be in constant communication with our friends and family back home. If timing allows it, have grandma and grandpa sing happy birthday to your kids via Skype at their birthday party. Have a virtual visitor on your Christmas Dinner in the form of an Ipad screen Make sure you take lots of pictures and share them with your friends and family. Remind your kids that the reason for the party is the celebrating another year of life or the birth or resurrection of Jesus, not the candy, presents and yummy dinner.
  8. Don’t stress out and Enjoy! That’s the purpose of the party after all, to have fun! If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for or if your Christmas tree looks a bit crooked, it’s ok. You have permission not to abide by Martha Stewart’s party standards. The most important thing is to have a good time with your friends and family and celebrate the important things in life.

Here are some of the parties we’ve thrown lately:

A “Sombrero Party” for my Husband’s Birthday

For my hubby’s birthday in Bangkok we threw a Mexican inspired Sombrero Party. Everyone was asked to wear a hat. We had all kinds of hats from baseball hats, to Kentucky derby hats and a couple of jester hats and of course Mexican sombreros. We had some of the food catered by a Mexican food company in Thailand and for the rest we had a make your own taco buffet. My dad who was visiting at the time was gracious enough to fill one of his suitcases with zarapes, Mexican clay bowls and of course tequila! Everyone was wearing a small clay shotglass around their neck and we would go around filling their glasses. I got a piñata and filled it with candy and everyone was supposed to take a shot before hitting the pinata. It was a very fun party and my first attempt at a “theme”party overseas.

Christmas in Bangkok

This was our first time hosting a big Christmas dinner. Previously, in Germany, we had my sister and two good friends come visit us during the Holidays. On that occassion we celebrated two Christmas dinners, one on the 24th (like in Mexico) and one on the 25th (American tradition). We had turkey on the first night and duck with Chinese sides on the second night. This time, we had 16 guests, made a turkey, a ham and lots of sides including traditional green beans and mashed potatoes and spiced it up with a chile poblano pasta. We were very lucky to have my husband’s parents and aunt be there for Evan’s first Christmas. As a small activity we asked everyone to read a quote about Christmas right before dinner. We had bible verses, quotes from books and a few funny lines from different Christmas movies. We had a great time!

Evan’s First Birthday Party

This was a Construction Themed party. We were in Bangkok and bought a lot of the supplies locally. My mom was so cool and she brought over with her more party supplies and specially the things that would go on the goody bags. For more details of the party click here.

Evan’s Second Birthday Party

Cars 2 Themed; despite my reluctance to use specific characters.  While we were in the US to give birth to Josh, Evan found a new obsession in the sound of Ka-Chow! So to make things simple enough and about a week after we came back from the US surely enough we had a small Cars 2 Birthday Party I was able to pull-off thanks to all the party supplies I bought back in the US. More on the party here.

Two Baby Showers

The first one was a co-ed baby shower in the evening for good friends that have a toddler Evan’s age and a baby Joshua’s age. We asked guests to bring a real gift and a gag-gift. The honorees received all kinds of stuff from disposable underwear and Chinese toys to Johnny Walker and books on war. Go figure! We had lots of fun and one of the highlights was the make a baby out of playdough game. They decided that the dinosaur baby and alien baby were disqualified so the fetus with an umbilical cord sticking out took the grand prize. We really enjoyed throwing a co-ed baby shower, it provided a different atmosphere and even-though it was baby related we didn’t really have that many ooohss and aaahs and my friend was glad we didn’t try to measure her belly. Please ignore my first attempt at fondant. It looked good when I first made it but after a couple of hours in the Indonesian heat the fondant started falling off. Lesson learned.

The second baby shower was for another dear friend of ours who was due a few weeks after me. I threw the baby shower a day before I was leaving but it worked out anyway. This was a very laid-back and relaxed  brunch baby shower with mimosas and yummy breakfast food. Since I’m not big on the game-organizing section and buying American chocolate to put on diapers was quite a hassle, and expensive, we relied on the baby shower game on the Ipad. It was actually a quite fun board game like app that took about 40 minutes to play and had us all laughing. I made little paper containers for chocolate and made the decorations and labels with the help of my friend Liza from the Card Kitchen. I wish I had taken more pictures since this was a rock-star baby themed party. I had set a clothesline with onesies with guitars at the entrance and I gave my friend a pair of converse shoes for her boy as a gift after the were the center piece on the table.

A Sip N’ See

My dear friend Kaho had just gotten back to Jakarta after giving birth to her handsome boy Yuto in Singapore. I offered to throw a welcome baby party for her so some of her friends could meet the baby. We did a black and white theme. To tell you the truth I got inspired to do the BNW because as I was looking for candle sticks I came across a pretty set of black and white paper napkins I had bought in the US before coming here. I started daydreaming and thinking about the different things I could do for the party with black and white. The food was very simple and everything was homemade. We made yogurt and granola and I experimented for the first time with a cured salmon recipe, which came out delicious. Overall, I think it turned out pretty good. I only have a couple of pictures of the party but you can check out Kaho’s blog and look at them.

What do you think? Any more tips on how to throw parties that shout out “You”, but don’t shout out silly foreigners who spent all their money buying imported party supplies locally?

15 thoughts on “{ExpatLife}: How to throw a fabulous party while overseas without overspending

  1. I love party planning too! Now I know I can go to you for advice! We try to keep as many of our family traditions as we can here. When it’s fall we make all the fall flavored goodies and even have a Fall Festival for the kids. When it’s the 4th we go all out in red, white and blue! It does take a lot of pre-planning, but I like that part and think it adds to the fun. You just do the best you can with what you can find here. great post Ana!

    • Wow, a Fall Festival!!! That’s so cool! My hubby was just talking about that and saying he wanted to make a pumpkin patch for the kids! And yeah, we do what we can. The kids have fun anyway! Hugs!

  2. These are all great ideas! It looks like you two certainly love to party. 🙂 I take it that tequila shots + swinging a bat at the pinata did not result in any damages!

      • Of course! If you lived here you would be having SP cake pops and macarons!!! Do you think you will move back to this side of the world in the near future?

  3. The Sombrero party looks amazing and so genius! I’m always looking for theme party ideas that make it easy for people to get into the spirit of things, what an amazing looking party!

    • Hi Dani! It was a lot of fun. Everyone was wearing a sombrero despite the heat! We were traveling for my hubby’s last bday so I wasn’t able to throw a party this year, but I’m looking forward to next year.

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