You like to entertain, but you can’t afford to spend a fortune every time you invite people over for a party. Here is our guide to saving money when planning for a summer party or barbecue.
Decorate with items from around the house and yard. Arrange them casually down the center of the table, or in containers you already have, such as vases, canning jars, tall glasses, glass or pottery bowls. Use green cuttings from your yard such as ivy, rosemary, bay leaves and laurel. Look around for “tchotchkes”, such as sea shells or assorted rocks. Add candles or holiday lights — especially if your party will continue after dark. Don’t overlook a simple bowl of fresh fruit or vegetables (try oranges, lemons, limes, pineapples and bananas; or zucchini, red peppers and eggplant).
Don’t buy disposable plastic tablecloths. Instead, use cloth covers that save money with each reuse. For the chic and frugal, you may repurpose a well-washed beach towel or a bed sheet, or that awesome blanket you bought in Mexico. Another alternative is oilcloth, purchased from a local fabric store (about $6 per yard) — just wipe it down and use it over and over. Otherwise, buy inexpensive, washable fabric or table cloths (prints are the most forgiving because they won’t show stains) from stores like Wal-Mart, Target or IKEA. If there is a kid’s table, cover it with butcher paper and provide containers of crayons. Or ditch the tablecloths completely and go for colorful placemats.
Reusable cloth napkins also save you money. They average $1 to $4 a piece. To drive down the cost, check the dollar store (don’t overlook handkerchiefs), buy from linen service companies (which sometimes sell old napkins by the pound) and scour thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Don’t be afraid to go for a mismatched look. If you are serving barbeque, go big on the napkins. Look for inexpensive hand towels for kitchen drying cloths that will be useful later on. The DIY alternative is to purchase cotton, cotton/poly blend or washable linen from a fabric store, cut it in 10- or 12-inch squares (or oblongs), and serge or zigzag the edges on your sewing machine. Or use pinking shears to cut fray-free edges.
Paper plates are practical for large, outdoor parties. Help keep food costs in line by using smaller plates (9-inch instead of 10-inch) to cut down on portion sizes. Americans tend to overeat and we need all the help we can get. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring a package of paper plates (or paper napkins). Better yet, ask them to bring their own dinnerware from home. Find mismatched, but cheap plates at thrift stores and garage sales. Or look in the clearance aisle at stores such as Cost Plus World Market or Pier 1 Imports. Set up a station where guests can scrape their plates into a garbage bin, and drop dirty dishware into a dishpan or tote container. This will make for easier cleanup at the end of the day.
Plastic or paper cups are helpful, because glassware can easily break in a crowded, outdoor setting. But if you have sturdy glassware, use it. Ask guests to drop dirties off at the station mentioned above. If you go with disposable, consider a compostable or recyclable material to help save the environment. Keep party costs in line by providing marking pens so that guests can label their cups and reuse them throughout the event.
Lay out the buffet table like a caterer. Put the plates and flatware at the beginning, immediately followed by the least expensive, filling foods first. This area is your star – appetizers are inexpensive to make and filling. Continue with the starchy sides (potato, beans and rice), and then the vegetables and salads. Be sure to put the breads and rolls just before the meat, chicken or other expensive protein foods. Put the desserts last, unless you want to place them on a separate table or hold them back to put out later.
Skip the sodas and make pitchers of popular beverages. Instead of soft drinks, make a big batch of inexpensive iced tea, lemonade or even Kool-Aid. Try out some new versions of the traditional, like this Hibiscus Arnold Palmer or a non-alcoholic Sangria. Be sure to include a pitcher of ice water (no plastic bottles – just cool, clear water). If you are serving alcohol, try a pitcher of Margaritas, Mai Tais or fruity sangria.
Add some games. The food isn’t as important as the play and conversation, so add a few backyard games like these. Your guests will remember how much fun they had at your party.
Start planning for next year. If you plan to make this a recurring event, make a list of items you’d like to have next year and plan to shop sales throughout the year to find the best bargains on your party needs. In late August and early September, stores clear out their summer stock with huge markdowns. Don’t overlook sales after Christmas for décor and tableware. Stick to solid colors. Red works great for winter and can also be part of a red, white and blue theme for the fourth of July or Valentine’s Day. White tablecloths go with every theme, and can be bleached if they’re splattered with barbeque sauce.
Here are some other tips for low-cost summer entertaining and feeding a crowd:
- Cheap recipes for your summer barbecue
- How to throw a picnic for less
- Best vegetarian burgers using cheap and tasty beans
- Free guides on how to barbecue safely
- Tasty recipes for cheap and abundant zucchini
- 5 cheap healthy party snacks