It’s the time of year when everyone wants to get together, so what better time to learn to host a gathering on a budget!
Whether you’re hosting a family gathering or having a party with friends, here are some ways to live it up, cheapskate style:
Host a potluck. You provide one or two main items yourself, or provide all the beverages. Tell your guests it’s “potluck” and politely ask them to bring a dish to share. If you’re unsure what you’ll get, you can create a theme or just ask people to bring a particular part of the meal. I love being exposed to new foods and learning new recipes.
Give dinner a DIY theme. A dinner theme like a taco bar, chili cook-off, or build-your-own homemade pizzas can save you time and money. Having the guests assemble their own main dish can be a fun activity and you’ll spend a fraction of what it would cost you to order in.
Keep the guest list short. A large guest list can deplete your party budget quickly if you’re not planning a potluck. Keep the guest list to a reasonable size, and consider phoning or e-mailing the invites instead of mailing them to keep those costs down.
Be mindful of beverages. Alcohol and soda can really add up. You may want to consider avoiding serving alcohol at your gathering or ask guests to bring their own. Some good friends of mine always put on their party invites, “Please bring a dish to pass or a libation to share,” which I think is a very polite way to say “BYOB.” When it comes to serving soda, 2-liter bottles are almost always cheaper than soda in cans. Make your own hot chocolate mix or create a punch to stretch your beverage budget.
Think about the size of your serving dishes. Buy small cups to control portions. If you have oversized cups, you’ll find half-drunk cups all over your house when guests leave. The same goes for plates: keep them small. People can always go back for seconds if they’re still hungry.
Control the thermostat. If you’re hosting a gathering this winter, remember to turn down the heat before guests arrive, since all those warm bodies will heat up your home. Keep the party outside during the summer to save on air conditioning costs.
Adjust the time. Rather than centering your party on a main meal, consider making it just appetizers or just desserts. If you’re hosting a movie night or game night, stick to simple snacks like popcorn or snack mixes. If you’re not serving three courses or more, you’ll save a lot of time (and money) in the kitchen. If you’re must host a meal, consider having a brunch. Breakfast foods like eggs and waffles are easy to make, easy to dress up, and cost much less than dinner items do.
Consider a progressive party. This works great if you have a lot of friends who live nearby: Start the party with appetizers at one person’s home, then move on to the next for the main course, and on to a third home for dessert. Note: if you’re planning on imbibing, skip the progressive party. It’s better to stay in one place and get a ride home with a designated driver.
Shop the sales. If you know you’re going to be hosting a gathering in the future, start watching those sales. Be sure to clip coupons for products that you may want for your gathering and stack those with store coupons for even greater savings. Check out discount and dollar stores for paper products and décor for your gathering, and use your computer to create invitations, decorations and signage.
Keep the decorations simple. You can use flowers from your garden, pine cones from your yard, a bowl of fruit, or a few simple candles to decorate your table. Hopefully you’ve invited people who want to see you more than your house.
Hosting a gathering should be a fun experience – one in which you create fond memories with family and friends. Make sure it’s not the memory of spending too much money that sticks in your head.