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 your house and yard
Use green cuttings from your yard such as ivy, rosemary, bay leaves, and laurel, and place them in containers you already have — vases, canning jars, tall glasses, glass or pottery bowls. Look around for knickknacks, such as sea shells or assorted rocks, that you can arrange artfully. Add candles or holiday lights if your party will continue after dark.
Don’t overlook a simple bowl of fresh fruit or vegetables as a centerpiece; try oranges, lemons and limes, or zucchini, various colors of peppers, and eggplant. You can put your decorations in a clear glass container or arrange them artfully down the center of the table.
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 tablecloths (prints are the most forgiving because they won’t show stains). 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.
Reuse cloth napkins
Reusable napkins will also save you money. They average $1 to $4 each. To drive down the cost, check the dollar store (don’t overlook the bandanas), 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; just call it eclectic!
If you are serving barbecue, go big on the napkins. Look for inexpensive hand towels that will be useful in the kitchen long after the party is over. 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 rectangles, and serge or zigzag the edges on your sewing machine. Or use pinking shears to cut fray-free edges.
Shrink your plate size
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 will fill whatever size plate we’re given.
To help cut your party costs, ask your guests to bring a package of paper plates or paper napkins. Or you can find mismatched but cheap plates, both paper ones and the regular kind, at thrift stores and garage sales. You can also l0ok in the clearance aisle at stores such as Cost Plus World Market or Pier 1 Imports.
If you’re using real dinnerware, set up a station where guests can scrape their plates into a garbage bin and drop dirty dishes into a dishpan or tote container. This will make for easier cleanup at the end of the day.
Plastic or paper cups are helpful at outdoor parties because glassware can easily break in a crowded setting. Keep party costs in line by providing marking pens so that guests can label their cups and reuse them throughout the event. Buy cups made from a compostable or recyclable material to help save the environment.
Alternatively, if you have sturdy glassware, use it instead of disposables. Ask guests to drop dirties off at the station mentioned above.
Lay out the buffet table like a caterer
Put the plates and flatware at the beginning, immediately followed by the least expensive, filling appetizers first. 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. With this arrangement, your guests will fill their plates with the cheap stuff first and only take the pricier meat that they are going to eat.
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
Instead of soft drinks, make a big batch of inexpensive iced tea, lemonade or similar thirst quenchers. 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). 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. Your guests will remember how much fun they had at your party. Plus, they won’t spend all their time eating and drinking when they’re busy running around and playing.
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 barbecue 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
- Got barbecue leftovers? Use them in these delicious recipes
- Best vegetarian burgers using cheap and tasty beans
- How to barbecue safely
- Tasty recipes for cheap and abundant zucchini
- 5 cheap healthy party snacks