Hosting a party is a great way to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, holidays and promotions. However, it can get expensive if you don’t set a budget and stick to it. With a thoughtful plan, you can throw a memorable party on a budget. Use these tips to know how to plan a party without overspending.
Plan your party
Choosing the time
Planning the time of your party can play a role in determining the cost. Not every party requires a full meal. Hosting a party in between mealtimes can lower your food budget. A party from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. might include light snacks, while a party beginning at 8 p.m. might be a perfect setting for easy desserts.
Money isn’t necessarily what makes a party successful. “It’s the people,” says Cristina Verger, who runs an event planning company in New York City. “Who are you inviting and how will you make them feel welcome?”
Offer plenty of comfortable seating for older guests. If smaller children are coming, create a supervised play area for them and perhaps a separate buffet table with foods they enjoy, like mac and cheese or hot dogs. If your friends often get together, try co-hosting to cut down on the costs. Multiple people can share the costs of food, decorations and event-space rental, if needed. Or, each person can volunteer to cover a specific cost, with one person handling food and another doing the decorating. This typically works better — and is more equitable — if the budgets are around the same amount.
To save on invitations, use an online service that delivers information via email. Most people rely heavily on emails, and these services allow you to easily see who can make it. Email-invitation services can also send RSVP reminders. This not only saves on the cost of invitations and postage, but it also provides a more accurate head count. Using the reminders, guests can adjust their attendance if anything changes. You have attendee information compiled digitally, which makes planning easier.
Set the scene with simple party decorations
When decorating, less can be more. It’s simple to create a visually impactful setting with just a few well-placed candles and flowers. One small bouquet of cut flowers in your entryway or on the mantel is enough to denote this is a special event. If your party is outdoors, gather flowers from your garden and put them into simple glass jars on each table. Twinkle lights over the buffet or beverage station bring a festive feel.
Chicago-based event planner Debi Lilly, whose clients have included Oprah Winfrey and jewelers Harry Winston and Cartier, suggests a “visual, exciting theme you can bring alive through a few large pops of decor – like covering your living room ceiling with dozens of affordable helium balloons in one single bright, fun color to surprise guests as they arrive.”
Table settings can follow the same suit. Streamline and save by adding in accents that wow your guests without adding to the cost. Colorful tablecloths or runners, simple centerpieces and a sprig of greenery in each napkin roll add just enough detail to elevate the experience. Andrew Zill, design director of the award-winning Baltimore event-planning firm Feats, Inc, uses fabric and wallpaper remnants as tablecloths or table runners.
Party food ideas on a budget
From cocktail parties to formal dinner parties, the food is often a focal point. When planning your menu, consider options that are filling but lower in cost. Think a tapas-style party with kabobs mixed with cheese trays and a variety of crudités and dips.
A dinner party is traditionally more formal than a standard get-together. You can still serve an elegant sit-down meal on a budget by focusing on a lower-cost protein or a simple yet impressive pasta dish.
Offering a buffet at your party is an easy way to stretch your budget. Buffets allow you to offer a few options, and you can add in more economical dishes that help to stretch the budget. Serve expensive foods — such as barbecue meatballs or chicken cordon bleu bites in smaller portion sizes to encourage guests to try a little bit of everything. The time-honored potluck is gold standard for stretching a budget, too. Provide the main dish and ask your guests to round out the meal with their favorite sides and desserts.
Toasting on a budget
When thinking about drinks at your party, keeping it simple helps. For non-alcoholic options, set up attractive dispensers or pitchers filled with iced water with fruit slices, freshly-brewed iced tea and homemade lemonade. This is a cheaper option than bottles of water and sodas. It also cuts down on waste.
Adult beverages typically include beer and wine. Depending on the number of guests, a party keg can keep costs down. Making a sangria for the wine lovers stretches a bottle a bit further, too. Consider making a signature drink; it’s a way to incorporate something that feels unique to the event without adding the expenses of many different liquors and mixers.
Start the party
While natural conversation is a main source of entertainment at any party, there are a few things you can do to liven it up. Create a music playlist that enhances the party theme – ask friends to bring their selection, as well. Stream songs from your computer through a wireless speaker. From background music for cocktail hour to dance-worthy beats, a playlist allows you to set it and forget it.
Card and board games are always favorites to get people talking and laughing. Create your own conversation starters by placing notecards throughout the party rooms that have fun questions for guests to ask one another. Or, create a scavenger hunt for groups to do together before dinner. These ideas are a little playful, but they’ll have guests laughing and relaxing in no time.
Hosting parties doesn’t have to be expensive, no matter the theme or time of year. If you’re planning a party during the holidays, check out these holiday party ideas to start prepping. Want to see what else you can save on? Learn more about budgeting and saving money.
Thanksgiving is a day to remember only the things that are important in life: family, friends and good food. Excess can seem like it’s the theme of the day, but it doesn’t have to be (except for when it comes to that extra slice of pumpkin pie). Use these cheap Thanksgiving dinner ideas and give thanks for full bellies and a full wallet throughout the holiday season.
Plan your Thanksgiving menu early
Serious shoppers begin thinking about Thanksgiving dinner as soon as the Halloween costumes are put away. Creating a list that far in advance will help in two ways: it gives you time to find great recipes for simple dishes with minimal ingredients, and it allows you to look around for the best prices on anything that can be stored.
If you’ve been shopping with a grocery membership card, consider downloading their app. The stores often provide extra incentives to app users, and you can get customized coupons. Also, pay attention to circulars and coupons on groceries—there are plenty of deals during the weeks leading up to the holiday. You may even be able to score a free turkey if you spend a certain amount at your grocery store between now and mid-November.
Choose generic brands
With some dishes, there are no substitutes for the best ingredients. But there are instances when generic will serve you just as well as gourmet. Don’t worry about going with the least expensive canned items like pumpkin, olives, peas and water chestnuts. Canned chicken broth is relatively inexpensive.
DIY the basics
If you plan to make a chicken dinner in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you can use the bones to create homemade stock for just pennies (the cost of an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery and some seasonings). It often tastes better than store bought broth. If you have the skills, you can also find savings by making your own dinner rolls and pie crusts.
Go to the local farmers’ market
Building a menu around seasonal produce will not only save you money on your Thanksgiving meal, it will result in more flavorful and colorful food. If you’re in an area that’s still warm enough for harvesting produce, your local farmer’s market is likely to have great deals on fresh seasonal vegetables like green beans, yams and Brussels sprouts. It’s also a great place to stock up on inexpensive staples like white potatoes, onions and fresh herbs.
You can also use ingredients from your garden, if you have them. Canning is a good way to store summer surplus, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to use what you’ve saved.
Brine the turkey
Your turkey is likely to be the costliest item on your menu, but how much you pay for the bird will vary greatly. You don’t have to choose an organic, free-range turkey to get the best flavor. In fact, how the bird is processed is just as important—if not more—than how it is raised. All you need is a good brine.
There are countless brine recipes to choose from online, but they all center around a simple ratio of one cup of kosher salt per gallon of water, using enough water to submerge the turkey. To make storage easier: seal the bird, salt and water in an extra-large locking plastic bag and set it in a covered pan in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Have a Thanksgiving potluck
If you are having guests, encourage them to contribute things like appetizers, desserts and wine. It will save you money and time, and it helps to make your visitors feel more involved. Ask them each to bring a dish with a story behind it or that is special to them. It will make for great dinner table conversation.
Get crafty with the decor
Thanksgiving is the kind of homespun holiday that allows for inexpensive decoration. Whether you make a casual centerpiece out of gourds from the farmers market or make festive turkey-shaped napkin holders out of construction paper, you can get away with a lot on a lean decorating budget.
Save more with Thanksgiving leftovers
Your Thanksgiving guests have gone home, doggie bags in hand. Yet you’re still looking at a mountain of leftovers, mostly made of turkey. Consider these 7 Thanksgiving leftover ideas:
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