iced tea 2

Most first-time brides look forward to the bridal shower, but the person charged with hosting it probably isn’t looking forward to the costs it entails. I’ve been to big showers, and small showers, and come up with a few ideas for hosting a bridal shower on a budget. Rest assured, these bridal shower tips won’t look cheap, but they’ll save you a pretty penny on the bride’s celebration.

Choose a Free Location
I’ve been to a bridal shower held in a restaurant, and it seemed like a lot of expense and hassle. I much prefer showers held in homes. I hosted my sister’s shower at my mom’s house, which allowed us to do all the cooking and set-up in advance. We also didn’t have to bring multiple cars to get the gifts home from the party. If you don’t have access to a home, consider a park or low-cost community center with a kitchen. Avoid restaurants if you can – not only are they expensive, but they limit the amount of time for the party.

Recruit a Co-Host
My aunt offered to host the bridal shower with me, so we split the minimal costs. We were also able to use items and ingredients we, or my mom, already had on hand.

Keep the Guest List Reasonable
Unless the bride or groom has a huge family, invite less than 20 people to each shower. That’s a manageable size for talking and gift opening. More than that stretches your ability to serve the guests good food and keep the gift-opening portion to a reasonable amount of time. If the bride has numerous friends and relatives, she should have several showers, only one of which need be hosted by you.

Keep the Menu Simple
It’s easy to find simple, affordable recipes that look fantastic and expensive. My aunt and I started off with grand ideas for multiple dishes, but we settled on serving everyone the same thing. This was our menu:

  • Goat cheese mousse with crispy polenta and parmesan crisps
  • Blue-cornmeal chicken on a bed of lettuce with black beans, kernel corn, bell pepper slices, and a buttermilk dressing
  • Ginger-berry lemonade
  • Ice cream cake

While this menu looks expensive, we bought the lemons, ginger, and peppers at a farmer’s market and the raw chicken came in a value pack. All the other ingredients were cheap or something we already had on hand. We even made the ice cream cake ourselves.

Limit the Beverage Options
To keep the costs down, we served champagne with the appetizers, wine and water with lunch, lemonade while opening presents, and water and iced tea with dessert (it was hot, no one wanted coffee.) No one expects full cocktails at a bridal shower, so choose a few affordable options.

Borrow Dishes from Friends and Family
My aunt has gorgeous glassware, platters, and linens. My mom had the china and more glassware. If you don’t already own these things, ask your friends and relatives what they have. Odds are you know people who will lend you everything you need for a bridal shower. You don’t need everything to match. Mixing dish sets is trendy now.

Skip the Theme
As far as I’m concerned, “bridal shower” is the theme. Plan the décor around the bride’s colors and skip everything else. Use your favors as the centerpieces at the table, if you feel you need to have centerpieces at all.

Choose Simple, Cheap Shower Favors
At my shower, the guests received small votives and candles and in my wedding colors. They probably cost about $1 each. At my sister’s shower, we filled small flower pots with flower foam and fresh herbs from my mom’s and aunt’s gardens. The pots cost less than $1 and I already had the foam.

Skip the Games
I took a quick poll of a few women and determined that none of us like bridal shower games. Maybe we’re all spoilsports, but I find the games to be expensive and a waste of time. Just let your guests enjoy each other’s company.

Everyone enjoyed my sister’s shower, and neither my aunt or I spent a fortune on it. If you’ve got a shower to host, use these bridal shower tips to keep the costs in check. You can also use them for a baby shower or even an adult birthday party. If you don’t have to host the shower, but have a wedding to attend, use my previous advice for saving money during wedding season.

As I said yesterday, summer is a time for throwing parties. But, with all your money going into your gas tank, you might not have anything left for entertaining. Or you might just be bored and need something to do now that there’s nothing to watch on TV. Here are 9 nearly free ways to entertain yourself, your family, and your friends at home.

Host a Game Night
Drag out all those old board games (or fire up the Wii if you have one), and invite everyone over for a game night. Ask your friends to bring snacks and drinks. Use your regular plates, cups, and utensils to avoid buying them. You can also do this with the family. Rather than a full dinner, make nachos and then play a game together.

Open that Bottle Night
Technically, Open That Bottle Night falls in February, but that’s nine months away, so do it now. The theory is that everyone has a bottle of wine they never opened. Maybe they were saving it for a special occasion that never came or they just forgot about. Invite all your friends over to open those bottles. Even if some are crap, you’ll still have plenty left. Serve veggies, finger foods, cheese, etc. Since your friends are bringing wine they already have, they can bring snacks, too.

Open the Freezer Night
This is a great one for barbecue season. Ask everyone to dig a grillable out of the freezer, thaw it, and bring it to the party to share. Assign the buns, side dishes, and drinks to the guests and you’ll have an instant party for little cost.

Silly Movie Night
Each family member or friend picks a DVD they love (the sillier the better). Put them all in a bag and draw one. That’s the one you watch with lots of popcorn and other junk food.

Have a Treasure Hunt
Write names on dollar store goodies and hide them in the yard, then send your kids or friends out to hunt for them. The challenge is that they have to find their own name, and can’t help anyone else. If you hide them well, this could fill hours.

Play Obstacle Croquet
This one’s good for a weekend day. You probably know someone with a croquet set. Borrow it and set it up in your backyard or a nearby park. Up the ante by introducing obstacles like a wooden bridge (just two small planks leaned over another piece of wood), or a tough root to get around. In my epic set-up, my friends had to hit the ball up a seam in the concrete, up a grate, across the deck, down a gravel path, across the lawn, over a bridge, through a tunnel, and then go through all the wickets. The winner got the glory.

Play Farmer’s Market Bonanza
Take the whole family to the farmer’s market and have each person choose one ingredient. Then you all have to figure out how to combine them into a delicious meal that you cook together.

Tapas Potluck
Ask your friends to bring hors d’oeuvres, preferably in bite-sized pieces. If it’s you and the family, plan a dinner of appetizers while you play a game or cards.

Backyard S’mores
S’mores don’t have to be a camping food! Get out the supplies and roast them over the BBQ. Use a gas burner if you don’t have a BBQ. Sit around whatever flame device you have eating s’mores and telling ghost stories.

If you invite friends to share in these activities, then they’ll have to drive to get to you and spend a little to provide snacks, but it will still keep the costs pretty low for everyone. If you stick to your family, then your costs are slightly higher, but you don’t have to drive far, so it’s still pretty cheap.

Do you have any ideas for entertaining for free or nearly free? Tell me in the comments.

Summer and the winter holidays are the two biggest times of year when people host parties. If you’re planning a party, and are worried about busting your budget, use these tips to keep the party costs in check.

Plan Early or Plan Late
If you plan for the party early, you have plenty of time to plan an affordable menu, schedule the party prep, and scout out affordable supplies. If you wait till the last minute, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be serving simpler and cheaper fare and paring down on the decorations. It seems to be the middle of the road planning that gets people into trouble with their budget – there’s not enough time to scout deals, but plenty of time to decide on a gourmet menu for twenty.

Avoid Meal Times
Unless you’re holding a simple barbecue in the summer — where chicken, hot dogs, and burgers are expected — hosting your party during a meal time can quickly eat up the entire party budget. Instead, schedule a cocktail party from 4-6 or after 9. That way people will know not to expect a meal. If you don’t want to limit the hours, indicate that it’s an “open house” party, which means people can drop in and won’t expect a big meal.

Skip the Theme
Some parties lend themselves to a theme automatically – red, white, and blue for Independence Day, holiday décor for Christmas. The rest of the time, skip the theme. Simple decorations you can use at another party are the best way to go. Think low candles in votive holders and a few flowers. Maybe some twinkle lights for an evening party.

Stock Up On Cheap Supplies
First, drag out all of your current platters, pitchers, and glassware. It’s fine to mix and match. If you’re hosting a large gathering, you’ll need to buy plastic cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils. Visit Costco, Target, or a dollar store to nab deals. Don’t go to a party store unless you want to overpay.

Use Free Invitations
Unless this is a formal event like a shower or wedding, use evite or just email your friends. Paper invitations are easily misplaced, and most people are fine with electronic invitations these days.

Hold a Potluck
For several years, my friends and I rotated New Year’s Eve duties. Most of the time it was a potluck – everyone brought a favorite dish. That also keeps your costs down as the host. You can do the same thing for a dinner party with friends – everyone brings their favorite to share.

Have a Buffet
For a large party, a buffet is pretty much the only way to go. Be sure to choose simple foods that taste good at room temperature. Think veggies and dip, chips, cold cuts and bread. Avoid items that must be kept hot, like soup. If you want to serve something cold, set it on a bowl of ice. Finger foods are best – it’s too hard to deal with a fork, a plate, and a cup if you’re not sitting down. Most of these can be found cheaply at a bulk store like Costco or Smart & Final.

Limit the Liquor
Stick to one kind of liquor that goes with several mixers, or skip the hard stuff all together and limit the options to wine and beer. The standard rule of thumb is 2-3 drinks per person. A bottle of wine gets five servings, a bottle of beer is one serving, and hard liquor is usually 1.5 oz. per serving. When buying, remember that many of your guests will bring a drink or snack. That means you can buy a little less than recommended without running out. Be sure to provide some bottled water and soda for the non-drinkers.

Make Your Own Music Mix
Create a music mix in your iPod or computer, hook it up to speakers, and you’ve got free music for the whole evening.

Formal Parties for Less
Formal parties are a little different. For events like showers, guests will only bring a gift for the guest of honor, so buy enough wine for everyone. Although you will probably need to serve a meal, you can still serve it buffet style. Look for menu items that can be prepared well in advance and are made with affordable ingredients. Again, skip the big theme. Simple, elegant decorations in the bride’s color are best. Skip the games, too. They usually require supplies and no one really enjoys them.

Some people think they must go all out to host a party – plan a huge theme, make tons of food, and schedule out activities. The truth is, most people go to party to relax and talk with their friends. Keep it simple and you and your guests will be happy. Your budget will be happy, too.

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