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.