How to Choose a Great Party Theme: Entertaining 101

How to Choose a Great Party Theme: Entertaining 101

A party with no theme compounds social worries and leaves guests unsure of themselves. A good party theme provides a built-in icebreaker and an automatic topic of conversation. A recipe for success.

Think back to the last party you hosted. How did it go? Were your guest relaxed and having fun, or did interactions seem forced and awkward? If you were one of your guests, would you want to attend your next party? The difference between a party and a great party comes down a good theme.

Thanks to the rise in popularity of online social media, more people than ever before are suffering from social anxiety. The problem is compounded in real-life interaction. What should they talk about? How will they fill the gaps in the chatter? Consider the following party themes to choose one that’s sure to be a hit.

Holiday Parties

The holidays are a time to gather together with one’s family and friends to eat, drink and be merry. What does that sound like? A party! Hosting holiday parties is an excellent way to get more comfortable with hosting gatherings. Holiday parties come with a built-in theme, which makes them the easiest to put together. Pick a holiday and think of all the traditional foods, drinks, and activities attached to it. Instant theme.

Winter Holiday Parties

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, or something else entirely, there are wonderful parties to be had during the winter holiday season. Get out the decorations, turn on the holiday tunes, brew some hot cocoa, and consider the following themes:

Cookie decorating party theme

Cookie decorating as a group makes a great holiday party theme.

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Bake several batches of your best sugar cookie recipe. Whip up (or buy) some colored icing. You have yourself a cookie decorating party theme! You can go traditional with holiday shapes like angels, Christmas trees, or menorahs. Or, shake things up with ugly holiday sweater cookies. You know your audience, so choose what you think they would enjoy most. Don’t forget the eggnog!

Sledding or snowman party theme

Outdoor fun is a favorite of all the party themes, especially for kids.

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If the climate in your area provides an abundance of snow during the holiday season, take advantage. Bundle up and head outside for some fun building snowmen or sledding down the nearest hill. Playing in the snow brings out the kid in even the staunchest of adults. Just be sure to let your guests know the theme in advance, so they know they’ll need their winter gear. Also, throw together a batch of hot chocolate in the slow cooker before you head out into the cold. Your party guests will thank you when they come in to thaw out.

Gift exchange party theme

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We all want to give gifts to our friends and family during the holidays, and receiving a present or two doesn’t feel too bad, either. There are many different methods to organize a gift exchange party. You could have your guests draw names ahead of time, play a game like white elephant, or narrow down the theme by asking that all gifts be ornaments (or any particular item you think your guests would like to exchange with each other). If you’re not into consumerism, you can require that all gifts be handmade by the giver. If you’re an Eco-warrior, ask that all gifts be used/recycled. You can tailor every party theme to you and your specific guests’ interests.

Halloween Party

Halloween makes the perfect Party Theme

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Who doesn’t love an excuse to dress up, have a drink, and eat candy? Host a fabulous Halloween party by decking the place out in scary decorations, playing creepy music, putting out gruesome snacks and drinks, and holding a costume contest. You’ll be shocked at how much fun people have crafting the perfect getup, casting their votes, and taking advantage of all the spectacular photo ops.

Pro tip: Put out a pile of cheap masks for those who thought they could get away with showing up to your party without a costume. This keeps it festive without directly calling out the party poopers.

Birthday Party

Save time with a birthday in a box.

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The king of all parties is most certainly the birthday party. Birthdays are a bit different than other holiday parties in that the occasion itself doesn’t provide much of a theme. The only thing all birthday parties seem to have in common is cake. If you want to throw a hit of a birthday party, you’ll need to dig deeper for a theme. Find out the birthday boy or girl’s interests. Are they obsessed with a certain show, band, or sport? Use it as their party’s theme. If you’re stumped on how to make a theme happen, it is now possible to purchase a birthday in a box kit and have the work done for you.

Decade Party

People love a blast from the past. A decade party is a fun, affordable theme that your guests can run wild with. Choose a decade, send out your invites, and watch how creative everyone gets. Vintage clothes and accessories are available at thrift shops and consignment stores for great prices, which makes this theme perfect for those who may not be rolling in extra money. Just be sure to choose a popular decade and maybe provide examples, so your guests know the vibe you’re going for.

’30s party theme

A 30s party theme is fun for dressing up.

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The era of the gangster. Think pinstripe suits, suspenders, fedoras, pin curls, and silk or leather gloves. This theme pairs best with scotch in rock glasses or martinis, and jazz or old movies playing in the background. Bonus points for giving out cigars as party favors.

’70s party theme

The 70s is one of the easiest party themes to organize.

Image: CC by 0, by Bru-nO, via Pixabay

Everybody needs a chance to dress up like a hippie once in their lifetime. Bell bottoms, tie-dye, denim vests, patchwork, and peace signs. The best part about a ’70s party theme is the music. Put together a playlist of legendary artists of the time, like Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and you won’t be able to go wrong.

’80s party theme

The 80s gives your party theme some ultra fun changes to dress badly but listen to great music.

Image: CC by 2.0, by Jamie, via Flickr

Bring on the neon, spandex, shoulder pads, and Aqua Net. An ’80s party is all about the absurdity of the decade’s fashion choices. Put on a Brat Pack movie and watch people reminisce about their own embarrassing memories. Or, get really creative, and build this giant Jenga game. From acid-washed jeans to mile-high bangs, the ’80s is a decade for revisiting, if only to remind ourselves never to repeat our fashion mistakes.

Movie or Game Party

Movie watch parties is an easy party theme.

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The best party theme for someone nervous about hosting is easily a movie or game party. Human beings love to be entertained. Choose a movie (preferably one with a sequel, or even a trilogy, to last the entire night) to show. Or choose a multi-player video game to play. Dig out the cards or board games (or even giant Jenga, like we mentioned above). Just make sure you have adequate seating and abundant snacks. Done. You don’t have to worry about whether people are getting along or facilitate conversations. Everyone will be busy watching or playing, and that takes the pressure off of you.

Food and Drink Party

Special foods make a great party theme to highlight your cooking skills.

Image: CC by 0, by MaggiePoo, via Pixabay

Are you passionate about cooking or baking? Wine? Margaritas? Food and drink pairings? If so, a food and drink party theme is definitely the one for you. You can go as big or small as you want with a food and drink party. Offer a simple DIY taco bar with margaritas from a jug. Go big and prepare a multi-course meal with a different wine pairing for each course. You can even make the cooking or baking part of the party. Give your guests aprons and bake different varieties of cookies or brownies together (possibly while sampling wines). There is really no messing up a party with good food and drinks.

Don’t let your next party be a dud. Your guests need a gentle push in the right direction when it comes to socializing and having a good time at your gathering. A good party theme provides that push by setting them up with fail-safe activities and conversation starters. Choose a theme, invite some guests, and become the successful party host you always knew you could be.

 

Feature Image: CC by 2.0 by Pawel Laj via Flickr

8 Unique Smart Home Devices and Automation Accessories

8 Unique Smart Home Devices and Automation Accessories

Everyone’s home could use a few high-tech home automation upgrades, right?

 

There are so many options out there. How do you know which Google Home accessories you need and which gadgets are a waste of money?

 

Chances are, you might regret splurging on that automated washing machine or refrigerator in a few years.

 

Yes, everything seems super cool when it hits the market. However, not all cutting-edge smart home devices are worth the splurge.

 

8 Home Automation Devices and Accessories to High-Tech Your Life

 

The purpose of smart homes and home automation accessories is to make your life easier, right?

 

The goal isn’t to spend a bunch of money to impress your friends.

 

Well, maybe it is. But that’s probably a waste of cash if you can’t actually use the smart home devices on a regular basis.

 

These devices and accessories can get pretty pricey, but they’re very useful. The only question is: what will you splurge on?

 

1. Neato Botvac Connected Robot Vacuum

 

If you’ve been waiting for the price of robot vacuums to come down, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen anytime soon. You might as well spend your money on something high quality like the Neato Botvac Connected.

 

This robot vacuum works well so you can be sure it’s not just a novelty device. Plus, you don’t have to chase it down because the app offers complete control.

 

2. Alexa Echo

 

At this point in the game, a multi-purpose utility speaker is nearly a staple item in many smart homes. Not only is the Alexa Echo affordable at just under $100, but it’s also compatible with other smart home devices like lighting options, security gadgets, and thermostats.

 

3. Google Home Accessories

 

Just like Amazon’s Alexa Echo, Google Home offers a full suite of compatible devices for connecting your entire home. Whether you want voice-activated speakers, Wi-Fi-infused outlets, or lighting for smart homes, Google Home accessories have you covered.

 

4. Security Lighting for Smart Homes

 

There are so many options here it’s hard to narrow down one featured product. You really need to take the size of your home and needs into consideration before making a final decision on security lighting.

 

Smart lighting offers major advancements to improve your home’s safety – and not just from intruders. The BeOn bulbs, for example, work during power outages. You can also program them to turn on or off on a schedule or based on an event like when the doorbell rings.

 

5. Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat

 

If you spend a lot of time away from your home or just have a large house, a smart thermostat can help save your money and the environment by reducing energy consumption.

 

Not only is the EcoBee4 Alexa compatible, but it contains its own Alexa Echo speaker for optimal efficiency. Beyond Amazon, you can integrate this thermostat with other brands like Apple HomeKit, IFTTT, and Samsung’s SmartThings.

 

6. WeMo Wi-Fi Smart Plug

 

Smart plugs may seem like a novelty device, but they’re really worth the money – mostly because they don’t cost very much (about $30) and are extremely versatile.

 

The WeMo Wi-Fi smart plug is compatible with most smart systems (besides Apple or Siri) and provides home automation on a large scale: you can automate just about any device. Plus, it’s safe and small so it won’t block other outlets.

 

7. Remote-Controlled Shades

 

Most smart shades don’t come cheap. If you know someone with a disability or medical condition that affects their mobility (or you just want to treat yourself) this is a great item.

 

These are also an excellent solution if you have a home with shades in hard-to-reach places. Although they’re expensive, smart shades are super easy to install and control with an app or remote.

 

8. Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock (2nd Generation)

 

This is the coolest smart lock for average folks. You’ll never need to fumble with keys while your arms are full of groceries ever again: just touch the lock.

 

It unlocks the door based on close-range authentication like many car key-fabs. You can choose from a regular key and lock, keyless touch, or app control. This smart lock also lets you give your friends or family eKeys for easy sharing and access when needed.

 

What You Should Know About Smart Home Devices

 

Although it’s tempting to splurge on the latest and greatest everything, it’s best to wait until these smart home devices and home automation accessories have been on the market for a while.

 

Why?

 

Because you can read reviews and give the companies a chance to work out all the kinks. (There are always kinks or glitches in first generation devices.)

 

This means if you wait to buy a second or third generation device, you’ll get something improved and tweaked based on customer feedback.

 

After all, you want these devices to make your life easier, right?

Amazing and Unique Top Dog Toys of 2018

Amazing and Unique Top Dog Toys of 2018

When it comes to the top dog toys, you have no shortage of options to choose from.

 

Whether you need chewy toys, indestructible dog toys, or something fresh and interesting, this list has you covered.

 

You’ll just need to figure out which toys work and which flop.

 

Indestructible Dog Toys for Tough Guys

 

Just a few years ago, if you needed an indestructible toy for your dog there weren’t many options. The only thing available was the heavy-duty rubber red Kong toy.

 

This meant energetic dogs were doomed to playing with one toy over and over unless their owners could fashion something themselves. Creating your own dog toy isn’t always safe because if your dog likes to chew and destroy things, this could impose a choking hazard – yikes.

 

Fortunately, manufacturers have figured out how to create indestructible toys over the years. Now, several plush and rope options exist for your friend to have something colorful, soft, and fun to play with.

 

Although, they’ll still probably try to figure out a way to destroy them. (Good luck with that.)

 

  1. Kong Cozies Squeak Toy: The indestructible brand you trust now offers plush squeaky toys.
  2. Braided Toys: These come in all shapes and sizes and are much less likely to degrade after hours (or weeks) of chewing.
  3. Stuffing-less Toys: Lots of manufacturers now make plush toys without stuffing so you don’t have to worry about that annoying clean-up.
  4. Gnawt-a-Rock: Got a dog who loves to chew on rocks? Give her this instead. It’s made of heavy-duty rubber and has a hole to dispense treats.

 

The Freshest Top Dog Toys to Hit the Market

 

The pet industry is a huge market for startups – everyone thinks they can figure it out better than the last.

 

For consumers, this means lots of fresh and interesting new toys for your dog. From novelty gadgets to updates on old favorites, something new is always around the corner.

 

Who loves these novelty toys more: the dogs or the owners?

 

  1. iDogmate automatic tennis ball launcher: This remote-controlled gadget launches tennis balls a whopping 30-feet and is battery operated. It’s a win-win for you and your dog.
  2. Smart Pet Behavioral Aid: This snuggly toy mimics a soft heartbeat and includes a warming function to reduce anxiety and encourage proper sleep.
  3. Zogoflex Tug Toy: The Zogoflex offers innovation on the modest tug-of-war with a unique “S” shape design.
  4. Trixie Interactive Toy: This exciting toy is perfect for pets that get bored. Your cat might even want in on the action.

 

Chewy Toys for Dogs to Reduce Stress and Improve Teeth

 

Chewy toys aren’t just fun to play with: they’re great for a number of reasons.

 

  • Reducing stress in anxious dogs
  • Encouraging healthy chew habits (giving your shoes and furniture a break)
  • Maintaining proper oral health in gums, teeth, and breath

 

Plus, there are a ton of options when it comes to chewy toys so your dog will never get bored.

 

  1. Benebone Chews: These chew toys aren’t edible but they’re flavored so they taste great and last a lot longer than standard options.
  2. Raw Marrow Bones: You might need to check your local supply store for these – but your dog will thank you.
  3. Nylabone: This heavy-duty toy cleans your dog’s teeth while stimulating her imagination with bright colors.
  4. Mammoth Flossy Chews: Every dog needs a high-quality rope toy to drag around.

 

Must-Have Puppy Toys for Ultimate Fun

 

Puppies are full of energy and love getting into everything. Puppy toys aren’t just nice to have: they’re vital for keeping your home and wardrobe intact.

 

When your little guy is just learning how his teeth work, it’s important to encourage healthy habits. He needs to know that he has something of his own to chew and play with so he won’t go straight for your shoes.

 

If you don’t give him puppy toys, he’s going to find something else to play with. This could end up being your couch or cat. Either way, avoid this hassle by loading him up with some high-quality puppy toys.

 

  1. Kong Teething Stick: It provides a unique shape with special grooves to soothe sore gums.
  2. Nylabone Teething Ring: This adorable toy looks just like a baby’s favorite set of keys.
  3. Loofa Dog Plush Toy: The squeaker, soft exterior, and bright colors give your pup all the excitement they crave.
  4. Kong Puppy Flyer: The best part of having a dog is playing fetch and this heavy-duty flyer from Kong is perfect for just that.

 

Selecting the Best Toys for Your Best Friend

 

Every dog is unique so each pup requires different types of toys.

Some dogs may love chewy toys while others require indestructible dog toys. You’ll have to pay attention to how your dog plays so you can decide which toys are best.

Either way, you have plenty of options when it comes to selecting the top dog toys for your best friend.

12 Fresh Summer Vacations and Unique Ideas Everyone Can Enjoy

12 Fresh Summer Vacations and Unique Ideas Everyone Can Enjoy

There’s nothing quite like summer vacations: you get to spend time with your loved ones creating unforgettable memories.

 

Thinking of running off for a little escape by yourself? That’s okay too: everyone needs some time to themselves.

 

Either way, you need some amazing vacation ideas and unique vacation spots to get the ball rolling.

 

Whether you’re looking for cheap vacations or the best family vacations, there’s something here for everyone.

 

4 Fresh Vacation Ideas for Unforgettable Summer Getaways

 

Sick of the same-old, same-old? No problem: these vacation spots are perfect for spicing things up and chilling out somewhere new.

 

1. Skaftafell, Iceland

 

Skaftafell offers a slightly more laid-back option for visiting Iceland because it’s part of a beautiful national park. Plus, this town is a four-hour drive (along the marvelous Icelandic coast) from the bustling city of Reykjavik.

 

2. Fes el-Bali, Morocco

 

Morocco can get a little hot in summer. If you can stand the heat, you’ll be glad you made the decision to visit. Fes al-Bali is full of fabulous colors, shopping, beaches, cuisine, and culture. In fact, UNESCO lists the entire town as a world heritage site. What more do you need?

 

3. Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore in Michigan, USA

 

If you’re an outdoors person and looking for something a little different, this is your place. Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore offers a unique landscape for kayaking, hiking, or just chilling out. Between the stunning colors, rock formations, shipwrecks, and twelve-mile beach, you’ll never run out of things to do.

 

4. Sedona, Arizona

 

If you’ve been meaning to take a trip through the great American Southwest but want to avoid the hustle and bustle of high profile locations, Sedona is the place for you. You get unique shopping, luxurious lodging, and stunning hike options to keep you occupied for any length of time.

 

The 4 Best Family Vacations with Something for Everyone

 

Taking young kids on international flights isn’t relaxing or fun for anyone. These interesting US-based spots are some of the best family vacations you can find domestically.

 

5. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

 

When it comes to vacation ideas, people don’t usually think of New Orleans as a family destination. However, this location offers something for everyone: museums, shopping, history, dining, you name it.

 

6. Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

 

Parks aren’t always the most exciting vacation spots for young kids, but Glacier National Park has something to keep everyone busy. Even within the park, there’s no shortage of places to stay for a few nights. Kids will love the star gazing, horseback trail rides, and Native American-run cultural activities.

 

7. Salem, Massachusetts, USA

 

Salem is an excellent destination when it comes to summer vacations because it’s a lot less busy than the fall months. This makes it one of the best family vacations to soak up interesting sights, activities, history, and architecture without the massive crowds during Halloween season.

 

8. Sequoia National Park in California, USA

 

While adults can hike for days, kids might get bored quickly if the scenery doesn’t change very much. Sequoia National Park is the perfect solution for this. Here, you get seriously massive trees, crystal caves, junior ranger activities, and of course: great lodging and dining to keep everyone comfortable.

 

4 Cheap Vacations to Enjoy Your Time Off While Sticking to a Budget

 

For a lot of people, traveling isn’t a financially viable option. These cheap vacations have you covered.

 

9. Anywhere in Thailand

 

Just about everywhere in Thailand is chock-full of activities like swimming, hiking, shopping, or vegging out at the spa. Although the plane ticket gets a little pricy, your money will go very far once you get there.

 

10. Zanzibar, Tanzania

 

Again, a plane ticket might set you back a bit, but once you arrive it will be money well spent. If you’ve always wanted to take an ultra-luxurious vacation and never had the budget to do so, Zanzibar is your ultimate destination.

 

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

 

Folks who love cheap vacations and hiding out in the middle of nowhere to reconnect with themselves will love Gatlinburg. Whether you want exciting outdoor activities or just want to kick-back and absorb the scenery, this is the place to go.

 

12. Biloxi, Mississippi

 

If you want to soak up the sun on a beach for a few days, look no further than Mississippi – yes, really. Here you can find casinos and American Civil War attractions to peak your interests and of course: the glorious Gulf coast.

 

Selecting the Best Summer Vacations

 

Think about the goals of your vacation.

 

What do you want to get out of the trip? Fun activities, relaxation, history and culture, or maybe all of the above?

 

This will help you narrow down a list of the best vacation spots so you can choose the perfect place.

Here’s the Secret to Saving for College

Here’s the Secret to Saving for College

College is expensive. How can you afford it?

You can’t pull money out of thin air or rob a bank.

As an adult, it’s nearly impossible to save money for school – but you have other options.

When it comes to kids, saving for college isn’t easy but it is very possible if you do the proper planning and budgeting early.

These options are as close as you can get to pulling money out of the sky.

Funding and College Savings Plans: What are Your Options?

Not all college savings plans are created equal. In fact, some can be a rip off.

It’s important to understand your financial situation and education goals before deciding which college savings plan is right for you.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Before you look anywhere else, check FAFSA.

If you live paycheck-to-paycheck or are worried that investing in college savings plans is just not an option financially, you might be eligible for federal education funds. The level you receive is based on your personal and family financial history and college experience.

FAFSA has many benefits and the downsides are easy to manage.

  • The money is tax-free and you don’t need to pay it back.
  • The application is thorough but moves quickly and doesn’t require you to submit documents.
  • You can use the money at just about any accredited school.
  • You need to reapply every year.
  • If you’ve used FAFSA before and withdrew from your program, you may need to pay for an initial semester if you want to receive FAFSA again.
  • When you apply for FAFSA, you may also have the opportunity to receive federal student loans. (These you will have to pay back.)

Since FAFSA is essentially “free money” with no strings attached, check here before looking into a 529 plan or other college savings plans.

529 College Savings Plan

Not every 529 plan is the same. Deciding which one is best for you depends on your financial situation. Brokers often charge outrageous commission rates so beware.

  1. Prepaid Tuition 529 Plan: This allows you to pay for tuition at a two or four-year college or university upfront at the current rate. By the time the student is ready for school, their education is already paid for.
  2. 529 College Savings Plan: Earnings placed in a 529 plan are tax-deferred as they grow. Later, you can make tax-free withdrawals for qualified education expenses.

Every state offers different 529 plans – check with your home state first. If you find a good rate in your state, you may qualify for a yearly state tax deduction due to your investment.

You may, however, find a great rate in another state and that’s okay too. Check with an advisor to work out all the details.

Coverdells and Custodial Accounts

You might know Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) as their previous name: Education IRAs.

You can use these options for investing money for a variety of educational purposes including private elementary and high school in addition to college.

ESAs provide a variety of flexible investment options. Although contributions aren’t tax deductible, you can make tax-free withdrawals for tuition and other expenses.

The yearly contribution limit is $2,000 for an ESA if your income is under $95,000 per year.

Savings Bonds

Educational savings bonds are a great way to save tax-free money for college tuition and other qualified education expenses.

However, there are a few financial limits. Couples filing jointly must make under $116,300 per year while single filers need to stay under $77,550. (These numbers apply to the 2017 tax year so future investors should use this as a general idea.)

Although the concept seems simple, college savings bonds are anything but uncomplicated. When in doubt, talk to an advisor.

Scholarships

When people think of scholarships, they often imagine high school students playing sports or exceeding in other activities. The truth is, there are thousands of scholarships out there for all kinds of people – just like you.

If you have a specific degree or certification picked out, look for professional organizations in that field. The American Welding Society, for example, provides dozens of scholarships each year for students of all ages. Industrial gas distributor, Praxair, also provides scholarships to welding students.

Just about every industry has companies and organizations that give out substantial scholarships – many of them go unclaimed due to lack of applicants. One or two could pay for your entire tuition each year.

Putting it into Action

The hardest part about saving for college is taking the first step.

If you’re uncertain, look for a qualified financial advisor to help guide you through the process. Seek out second opinions: your money is important and you want to make sure it’s invested in the best way possible.