It’s your first summer in your new house and you are ready to have a party. There isn't a better time or occasion than the Fourth of July! Planning a party can feel overwhelming and maybe even a bit scary. You might be surprised to learn that you can throw a fabulous summer bash with nearly no stress and very little cash – it just takes some thoughtful planning.

Create a Facebook event & send out free online invites. Summer is busy, so be sure your friends and family have your party on their calendar. An invite is a great way to set the tone for your party and include important details like what to wear, what to bring and if kids or pets are welcome. There are plenty of free places to do this online - Online Invites is my favorite.

Create your Facebook event the week before the party. Facebook events are great because you can quickly see who has received your invitation as well as who can come. There is even a space to ask questions and to have an ongoing discussion. Sending a Facebook invite is a must – it will help you get the word out quickly and with little effort. Ask your guests to RSVP a week before the party so you know how many people to plan for.

Tidy your house inside and out. Get the outdoor work out of the way the weekend before the party – mow and edge, pull easy to spot weeds, spray off the deck or patio and wind up the hose moving it out of walking areas. If this is the first time showing off your new pad you may want to tidy up the garage…everyone wants the nickel tour the first time they visit.

A few days before the party look at your spaces from the eyes of a guest. Do chairs need a little rearranging? Do you have enough seating? If you don’t think you do ask your friends to bring a lawn chair or two. I have done this several times and no one ever minds. Think about where you will put jackets and purses when people arrive…on the bed in the master bedroom is a great out of the way space. Place the trash & recycling in an out of the way yet easy to spot space. You aren’t looking for a big clean up here…. just making sure the areas your guests will be in are clutter-free and easy to move around in.

Create a contingency plan. Living in the Pacific Northwest do I even risk cursing the day by saying, “Shhh….you might have rain.” If the weather looks to be heading south have a plan to bring the party indoors – it’s a good thing we tidied up that garage last weekend! Planning ahead can keep the panic away.

Keep food simple. This is key! One or two main dishes depending on if you have a vegetarian joining the party. You could do hot dogs with chips & dip, a salad and garden burgers. Or get creative and make gluten-free pizzas on the BBQ. You provide the dough (there are several, wonderful premade dough options at stores like Trader Joes and Market of Choice), sauce and cheese and ask everyone to bring their favorite topping. If you are really squeezed for time make a dish a night for a few evenings leading up to the big day.

Add a fun and fancy look by adding one or two of these recipes: Fourth of July Food Ideas. These are fast and simple but really add some flare to your table. Depending on your preference you can use real plates or plastic plates. If you go the plastic plate route choose white with red or blue napkins. Flowers are a cheap yet an easy and beautiful way to bring life to your table and serving areas!

Ask guests to contribute. Keep your costs down by asking friends to bring a little something. You can provide the main dishes and beverages and your guests can bring a favorite side dish or dessert. Don’t forget condiments and ice!

Add spice by providing kids games and activities. Kids love parties and you can make them feel included and special by adding a kiddie pool, blow up balls, sidewalk chalk, plastic yard bowling or handheld windmills. All of these are found easily and inexpensively at your local dollar store.

Go someplace to watch fireworks. This is my favorite idea. After a long day of hosting you want to clear your home and enjoy the fireworks without a big, messy street clean up. Instead of visiting the fireworks stand stake out a place ahead of time and rendezvous with all of your guests to watch the big show. Bring blankets and good music and enjoy the magic!

Happy Independence Day – make it a good one!