Throwing a Great Party for Less

by Sunday Oliver


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Parties are great fun, but they can run you some money. Here are some ways to vary the party theme so you don't end up with a financial hangover.

Food

Serve satisfying peasant meals that don't cost a lot. Your library has cookbooks with a cornucopia of ideas for simple but exotic food, such as enchiladas, paella, and moussaka. Or use an old family recipe.

Have a tea party or coffee and snacks, which are occasions when no one expects a full-course meal. Have herbal teas or a good decaf for those who prefer it. Here's a tip. Everyone loves hot biscuits, and they're cheap, easy, and quick to make.

Throw a potluck. You can vary this time-honored practice by having a theme, such as Mexican, Chinese, favorite childhood dishes, or if you're adventurous, have each person bring something they've never tried before.

Table settings

Thrift stores are great places to pick up cheap tableware. Besides being classier and cheaper than disposable dishware, you'll also be making some environmental brownie points by re-using instead of throwing away. You'll even be stylish; some people these days consider matching dishes or silver to be out of date. And if something breaks, no harm done. Keep your thrift store dishes in a party box and bring them out as needed. Thrift stores are also a great place to get cloth napkins (throw in the wash and re-use) and tablecloths (try patterned sheets for bigger tables).

My neighbor collects "disposable" plastic dishes and cutlery at parties she goes to, takes them home, and puts them in her dishwasher to sterilize. Then she uses them for neighborhood gatherings. Besides saving money, she's keeping these disposable dishes out of the landfill for a little while longer.

If your friends don't mind informality, try this version of potluck. Have people bring their own dishes, cups, and silver. Before paper plates, this was a general rule for large social gatherings. Have a few extras (especially cups) for people who forget. The bonus is that this saves on cleanup time, too! And everybody knows which glass is theirs.

Drinks

Alcohol can be a huge party expense. One solution is simple: don't serve alcohol at all. Instead, have hot cider, coffee, iced tea, or whatever your pleasure according to the season. Fruit juice mixed with sparkling water is pretty and festive. Homemade lemonade is always a hit in hot weather. It isn't hard to make, and tastes like something expensive. Add a few mint sprigs, and you've got something special.

Potluck works here, too. In my area, it's often the custom that the host provides the food, and the guests bring the drinks. This means your guests will have what they want.

Shop discount stores for liquor and use it creatively. Serve spritzers to make the wine go further and camouflage less-than-vintage wine. Mixed drinks make sense with hard liquor, and the dilution might be easier on your guests, too. Instead of having an open bar, offer one drink for everyone. If it's a little exotic, people will enjoy the mood. Rum toddies? Banana daiquiris? The Internet is full of recipes with cheap ingredients. Or ask a bartender for ideas. People who don't want the alcohol can enjoy the exotic drinks straight.

Entertainment

That's easy. The best entertainment people have at parties is each other! That's the point of having a party in the first place.


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