Parties on a Budget – Part I

Summer has begun.  Well, not officially until the 21st, but we’ve had unseasonably BEAUTIFUL summer-like weather in the Pacific Northwest.  It makes me want to entertain!  My husband re-landscaped our yard last year, and it’s so much fun to share it with others.  Then again, entertaining can be spendy.  Some of us may hold off because we can’t throw the epic parties that we’ve thrown in the past.  However, I don’t want anyone to think is that they can’t throw a party… on a budget. 

“But CnC, how can I throw a party without breaking the bank?”  Fear not, dear readers, I can help.

Plan Ahead.  You can gather items for your party when they’re on sale. I saw a pack of 50 black napkins for $1.50 on clearance the other day… that’s cheaper than the dollar store (20 for $1).  You can use black for almost any occasion. 

Do It Yourself.  Any prepared food you buy will cost you significantly more than if you do it yourself.  Make meatballs ahead of time and freeze them.  Make a cheese ball instead of buying it.  That will save you a bundle in the end. 

Downgrade.  Maybe you want to serve steaks and burgers; but if money is tight, hot dogs and brats are great!  People don’t expect gourmet at your backyard barbeque.  And homemade potato salad will go a long way!

Clean for a week.  Don’t put yourself through the stress of food and cleaning on the day of.  You can scrub the toilet a day or two ahead of time… how dirty can it get in two days?  If you dust the house top to bottom three or four days beforehand, you’re only touching up on party day.   I work systematically room by room and make sure the whole room is clean top to bottom.  Then, after each room is clean, the house is clean.  Trust me, someone will notice the dust on the china hutch, the scuff marks on the wall, and the clutter on the counter.  A clean house is a welcoming house.

Paper and Plastic and Glass.  We had an indoor gathering at our house a while ago.  I opted to serve beverages in my glasses instead of expensive plastic cups.  It didn’t matter that the glasses didn’t match because people were drinking different things.  I have 4 pilsner glasses that I picked up at an Estate sale for $0.50 each, 4 white wine and 4 red wine glasses that were wedding presents, and then I have 4 beer mugs too.  Some of the guys drank beer out of bottles so there were plenty to go around. 

Since I don’t have enough small plates, I got a pack of 20 paper plates at the dollar  store for – you guessed it –  $1.  If I had enough “real” plates for the number of people coming, I would definitely have used those instead.  And since I entertain regularly,  I will buy a set of 20 plain small plates for $0.50 (or less) each when I see them at an Estate Sale.  You should too!  Think of it as an investment in future fun!  I would never pay more than $1 for a plate because the Dollar Store has some really cute ones (right, Laura?).

Then, I used paper napkins leftover from my last party.  They didn’t match so I didn’t put them next to each other on the buffet.   If your friends judge you for mis-matched napkins, maybe they aren’t your friends.  I do usually buy solid colored napkins to limit the distraction.   I prefer paper napkins because I don’t want to wash cloth ones.

Dinner not included.  Dinner parties are great for a small group but usually way too spendy for a large gathering.   Schedule the party later in the evening or in the middle of the afternoon to avoid the expectation of a sit-down meal.  Most people only expect munchies not a whole meal when they come to your house for a party anyway, but specify what you’re serving in the invitation if you think there may be confusion.

BYO… whatever.  If you don’t want to spend all of your money, have others contribute to the spread.  There are people out there who want to show off their culinary talent even at your house.  Personally, I like it when my food is the feature at my house, and my guests can bring beverages (they’re usually the biggest expenditure).   Whatever your preference is, specify it in the invitation. 

Have Backup.  I learned this one the hard way.  Even if you specify for others to contribute to the party, they may not know how to read.  It happened to me … no one brought beverages!  I didn’t have enough beer to share.  I didn’t have enough soda to go around.  And the liquor store was closed.  Eeek!  Thank goodness I had half of a bottle of Rum and some juice to mix up some Rum Punch.   One of my personal favorites is Sangria.  And my friend, Amanda, serves a pretty mean Cosmo Punch.

I also suggest food for back up.  Your guests may come hungrier than you planned for.   That same night no one brought beverages, I’m glad I had an extra bag of chips to share and some frozen cookie dough to pop in the oven.  Popcorn would’ve been the next trick out of the hat. 

Cheap and Plentiful.  While it would be great to have enough prosciutto wrapped pears for everyone to have 3 or 4 servings each, prosciutto is expensive!  Serve cheap, hearty, tasty food… like potato skins and stuffed mushroomsChex Mix is inexpensive when you plan ahead and pair up sales and coupons… oh, leave out the nuts and substitute goldfish crackers for the bagel chips to save cash.

Entertainment.  Most of your guests are just looking for a chance to get out of the house and are probably not expecting live entertainment.  If you’re afraid that there won’t be anything for your guests to “do”, or if there’s a lull in conversation because people don’t know one another, there are a few crowd pleasers that I’ve used in the past.  Apples to Apples is a fun word game that doesn’t require a table to play at.  Cranium is also quite entertaining for a group because you can split up into teams (we set up the board in the middle of the room on a TV tray).   But if everyone is having a great time, leave the games in the game closet.  If your game closet doesn’t have group games, you can sometimes find them at thrift stores and garage sales for 90% off retail price.

Share the fun (and the expense).  If you and someone else want to entertain a group of mutual friends together, share the expense.   She’ll clean her house and you cook up a storm… or whatever!  People like entertaining, but don’t always like the nitty gritty (I do, but I’m strange that way).  So be creative and have fun. 

Have fun.  A clean and welcoming house is what your guests will remember!!! 


Do you have any great party recipes to share?



  1. Madeleine said,

    June 11, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Yay! You’re back!

  2. Kim said,

    June 11, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    When we need a main dish for a big crowd I usually go for stuffed shells. They’re cheap (especially when you use cottage cheese instead of ricotta) and can be made way ahead of time and frozen. If I have people who insist on having meat I put Italian sausages on top while cooking it. Personally, we like it best with spinach mixed into the stuffing and no meat. Since whole wheat shells are hard to find we sometimes do the same recipe except with whole wheat lasagna and make ‘rollatinis’ like you see in the Olive Garden ads.

  3. Chelsie said,

    February 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Love the post and tips! However, your clean house is not what I always remember (although I’m sure I would remember if it were dirty :)). The most memorable is actually all the yummy food you whip up! 🙂

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