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My husband and I love entertaining, but parties can get expensive if you’re not careful. Fortunately, over the years we’ve discovered several ways to keep our expenses down while still throwing a great party.
The number of people you host is the biggest driver of how much you’re going to spend on your party. Obviously, a smaller guest list means less food, which is typically what you’re going to spend the most on. Keep your guest list to those whose presence will truly make you happy. Try not to feel obligated to invite others. If you’re only casually friendly with your next door neighbors, there’s really no need to invite them to your party. Unless you’re bff’s with coworkers, it’s fine to leave work relationships at work and not invite them into your home. A good rule of thumb to use when deciding who to invite to your party is asking yourself the question, “If I am seated next to this person at dinner, would we be able to keep up a conversation at dinner, and would I enjoy it?” If not, drop them from your invitation list.
Like I said before, food is probably going to be the biggest driver of how much you spend on your party. You have two main options to consider: serving just appetizers and making your dinner party more of a cocktail reception, or doing a full entree. Let’s look at the apps option first.
An app-only, or apps and dessert party, can be a great solution if you’re tight on space and can’t fit everyone around a table. Serve easy to eat options so your guests can mingle throughout your space. Because you’re not going to do a full dinner, you’re going to need to serve heavier appetizers so your guests don’t go hungry. Great options include:
- Mini quiche
- Cheese and crackers
- Pigs in a blanket
- Deviled eggs
- Bacon wrapped….anything
- Antipasto platter
Do a pinterest or web-search for appetizers or tapas for more ideas!
Another cost-saving tip? Skip the prepared veggie tray. The markup on these is crazy! This year for the holidays and for another recent party I did, I bought a bag of baby carrots, a couple of cucumbers, and a few bell peppers. It took me ten minutes to chop everything up and I saved TONS. I have a great serving dish that is meant for deviled eggs, but when I take the top off, it’s a sturdy, acrylic divided tray that is perfect for veggies. In just three events, I estimate I’ve saved over $30!
One thing it took me a while to learn was that if I was going to serve dinner, I didn’t need to go crazy on appetizers. For several parties, I had a full spread of appetizers, which my guests devoured. By the time I was ready to serve dinner, everyone was full and much of the food I had prepared went to waste. I finally learned to cut back on the appetizers and just put out a few light things to tide people over, like chips and salsa and veggies.
It seems counter-intuitive, but it seems like the more options I serve, the more I save. Think about it: if you serve one entree, you’re going to need a lot of it to feed everyone. However, if you serve a few different dishes, everyone will want to take a bit of everything and you can therefore buy less of each individual dish. In this way, we’ve usually been able to serve sausage, beef, and chicken without spending an arm and a leg.
When planning the entrees for your party, I highly suggest you have a meatless option. Not only will it cover any vegetarians on your guest list, it’s usually a cheap, filling option. Baked ziti, lasagna, and stuffed shells are all great make-ahead options. Throw them in the oven as your guests arrive and it’s one less thing to worry about.
Chicken and pork are also easy options, and you can likely find good sales on both without too much difficulty. I typically stay away from fish as an entree (except for our Christmas Eve Night of the Seven Fishes!) since it can be tricky to prepare for a larger group and people usually have strong feelings on fish. Beef obviously can get expensive, but again, if you have several options and everyone is just taking a tasting sample, it can be totally doable.
I think a dinner party without alcohol would be strange, but you also don’t need to have a full bar. Beer and wine are perfectly sufficient for a dinner party. Think about your guests and what they drink. My crew predominately drinks wine. When we have them over, we buy several bottles, and only get a bit of beer for the one or two people who drink it.
If you want to serve cocktails, consider serving a signature drink. This allows you to control the liquors you serve, which means less for you to purchase. Stick to simple drinks that only require a couple of ingredients. This will be cheaper for you and easier to prepare. You can also consider batch-drinks or punches so guests can serve themselves.
If a signature drink reminds you too much of a wedding, stick to the basics and skip the schnapps, cream-based drinks, and other liqueurs. Again, it’s helpful to know what your guests drink. My husband and I like vodka and many of my friends drink whisky so I always have those on hand. No one drinks tequila or rum so I can skip those. Knowing what your guests enjoy can really help to control expenses.
Finally, you also don’t need to serve top-shelf alcohol. I’d steer clear of the plastic bottles, but as long as you enjoy what you serve, it should be fine for your guests.
A dinner party isn’t a kids birthday party so decorations aren’t necessary. Clean up so your house looks tidy and sparkling, and put out fresh towels. A vase of fresh flowers will brighten things up and a few well placed candles or votives will add a touch of elegance and warmth. Done.
Certainly not a requirement, but a little background music is always a nice touch. Use music saved on your computer or music-listening device of choice. Another option if you have Amazon Prime is Prime Music, which has millions of songs that you can stream without ads for free. They also have themed stations so you can set the perfect mood.
I will admit, paper and plasticware make cleanup easier, and of course they’re cheaper than buying permanent serve pieces…if you only host a party or two. If you’re going to be hosting on a more regular basis, it could be worth looking into buying things you can use over and over again. After a few parties, you’ll more than recoup your investment. Don’t worry about buying everything at once. Pick up things as they go on sale, or ask for items for Christmas, birthdays, or other gift-bearing occasions.
Some things you may want to consider purchasing include:
Cloth napkins: Certainly not a necessity, but cloth napkins do swank up a party quite a bit, and you can get a decent set of twelve pretty cheaply.
Dinner plates: I have ten place settings in my everyday dish set, and often I come up just a few plates shy of everyone having a proper plate. So, I end up using paper plates. I’m getting some more place settings, but I also considered getting some plain plates to supplement what I have. I love the Amazon Basics line because it is perfect for these situations when you need something cheap and durable to use occasionally.
Wine glasses: Again, nothing fancy, but let’s be honest, no one really wants to drink wine from a plastic cup. Libbey is another great brand to get solid, basic pieces for entertaining.
Appetizer plates: I got these Crate & Barrel plates for a wedding gift and I love them. They’re sleek and stylish and because they’re white they’ll go with anything else I have. They’re great for appetizers or desserts (Savings tip: if you buy anything online from Crate & Barrel, make sure you activate cashback from Ebates!).
Don’t Go It Alone
When people asked me what they could bring, I assured them all they needed to bring was themselves. Maybe it’s because I have kids now and don’t have the luxury of cooking all day, but for my last party, if someone asked what they could bring, I told them a dessert or bottle of wine would be lovely.
Oh. My. Goodness. Why did I never do this before?!? It was so much less stressful to know that I didn’t have to provide everything for the party. We still provided wine and dessert because we weren’t sure what people were bringing, but we didn’t buy nearly as much of either. It saved me quite a bit of money too, particularly when it came to the wine. Besides, it’s fun to try new wines that guests bring.
If you’re a type A personality like me, it can be hard to let go of some control, but believe me, it’s totally worth it. Besides, many guests feel better about bringing something so you might as well provide them with the opportunity! Keep it simple, like a bottle of wine, dessert, or appetizer, but save yourself some time, some money, and some stress, and let your guests help out!
That’s how we’ve saved money on our parties over the years. How do you save money on throwing a party? Leave a comment below so we can all learn!