Thursday thoughts: 10 tips for frugal holiday entertaining

Hosting a holiday shindig this year? Hoping to stay within a reasonable budget? Here are 10 tips for throwing a fun AND frugal holiday party.

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Faye Prosser

Hosting a holiday shindig this year? Hoping to stay within a reasonable budget? Here are 10 tips for throwing a fun AND frugal holiday party.

1. Go digital: Before the party even begins, you have to alert the masses about your soiree. Many people are going digital this year and sending out invitations online via sites like evite. I have received two digital invites this year and thought they were perfectly acceptable. No stamp or invitation expense and you get a much quicker response from guests if they can just hit the reply button.
2. Make your own party trays: Ordering a party tray from a grocery store or buying one from a warehouse club can easily cost you $20 or more. Make your own trays using items you purchased on sale (with coupons, if applicable) and you will save a bundle. Sales lately have offered crackers for $1.50/box, 8 oz blocks of cheese for $1.00, green peppers for .75, carrots for .70/lb and dip for .50 a container.
3. Pasta, pasta, pasta: Every coupon shopper knows that pasta is a frugal staple. Include it in your party options to keep the budget in check and offer variety. Pasta options are pretty much endless. You can make pasta salad, baked Italian pasta dishes, comfort food like mac & cheese and more.
4. Accept a helping hand: A surefire way to cut back on the food expense is to say, “YES!” when people ask if they can bring anything. You can answer their question by asking them if they have a favorite side dish they would like to share or a traditional holiday cookie they would like to bring. I received a holiday party invitation this year that indicated what was on the menu and then the host stated, “and whatever else you would like to bring.” Well done. I contacted her to let her know I would be bringing a side.
5. Don’t drown in alcohol and beverage expenses: You do not, I repeat, you do not need to offer a full bar – or anything close to it. There are plenty of delicious wines in the $6 range. Head on over to Trader Joe’s and they will fix you up with a great selection of affordable and tasty adult beverages that won’t eat up your entire budget. One of my favorites is a white lambrusco (sparkling wine) that sells for $4.99 a bottle. Yep – under $5. Things that sparkle are perfect for the holidays and that goes for wine as well. In addition, limit the choices so you don’t need a million mixed drink ingredients. A fruity drink like sangria is always a good choice because you can use inexpensive soda and juice mixed with triple sec (less expensive than high end liquors) and less expensive wine for a festive, delicious and frugal drink. Leave out the alcohol for a family friendly punch. Click HERE for some sangria recipes. Offer plenty of soda, coffee or tea and water for those who don’t drink alcohol. Sodas are on sale every week for $1 or less per 2 liter so stock up when you find a great deal.
6. Use the real stuff: Paper plates and disposable forks sound like a great idea for an easy party, but the cost can add up fast if you are hosting a large gathering. Instead of spending your hard earned money on throw away dishes, use the read stuff. If you don’t have enough, asks close friends or family to share theirs. Then maybe they will help with the dishes after the party as well! That’s a sneaky way to get some help, isn’t it?! You just need to decide if an extra 20 minutes of washing dishes is worth saving $20 or more.
7. Decorate naturally: I said it at Thanksgiving and I will say it again – decorate using things from the yard and your house. Sprigs of evergreen, a big bowl of pinecones, apples or extra ornament balls all make for easy and frugal decorations. Your local Christmas tree lot may even give you some cuttings that have fallen off trees. Can’t hurt to ask and they make for great decorations in a vase or on the mantle. Use candles everywhere (keeping them out of reach of small children, of course). Candles create a fabulous ambiance for very little cost.
8. Create a kids zone: Here’s a great tip from Lisa Reynolds, the RedPlum Mom Saver-in- Chief: cover the kids dining table with craft paper and set out crayons for coloring and playing games like tic-tac-toe. I also recommend printing out some holiday coloring pages and spreading out a bunch of stickers on the table to keep them entertained.
9. Make it memorable: We have all been to parties where all you did was eat and drink and eat and drink and eat and drink. There was no music, no games, no grand toast from the host, no dancing. Just food and drink and food and drink. One of the most frugal and memorable things you can do to make your party successful is to create an atmosphere of fun. Play festive music and change up the music repeatedly throughout the party. Play old favorites, new holiday hits, kids holiday music, and maybe even offer some holiday karaoke (you may want to set that up in the garage!). If you don’t have a karaoke machine, borrow one from a friend. Play holiday themed games like “guess how many ornaments fit in this wrapped box” and give a small prize to the winner. For a long list of holiday games, click HERE.. One of the games they suggest is an unwrapping game. Competing guests wear oven mitts while trying to open gifts the fastest. The winner gets to keep the gift they unwrapped!
10. Say goodbye with a simple favor: Send off your guests with a simple party gift like candy canes displayed in a big bowl on a table at the front door.

In your quest to host a fun and frugal gathering, remember that the key is to enjoy the holiday with friends and family. Nobody expects you to put on a Martha Stewart level function and most people don’t even want that amount of formality, myself included. Smiles, songs, silliness and sweets – what more do you need for a wonderful holiday party? Please share your favorite frugal entertaining ideas and as I always say, it’s your money, spend it wisely!


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