Planning a Family Reunion on a Shoestring

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant


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If you plan ahead, you can host a budget-conscious family reunion that everyone is sure to fondly remember.

If you don't have the yard space to invite everyone to your home, consider using a public park that has restrooms and a playground nearby. Most are free. Ask attendees to bring lawn chairs and parts of the meal, such as a dessert, side dish or appetizer. A potluck can also increase the fun if you request that they bring a family favorite with the recipe written out on a note card. Supply a basket with pens and blank 3" x 5" cards so that the recipes can be copied. Ask the cook to share a special story or memory about the recipe, either orally or on the card.

Consider barbecuing; many parks offer grills. Although hot dogs can be an economical option, consider a menu of chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, and salad. You can whip up a vat of barbecue sauce quite easily by combining equal portions of honey and catsup. Add finely minced onion, Liquid Smoke, ground cayenne pepper and dried cilantro to taste. Grilled kebabs can be reasonable, too. Kebabs are nothing more than a casserole on a stick, making the meat go a lot further. Look online at FoodTV.com for recipes.

Lemonade, iced tea and/or punch are the least-expensive beverage options beyond water, but provide water as well because some people avoid sweetened beverages. No one wants to see flies doing the backstroke in the punch bowl. Ask around about borrowing a large, insulated spigot system if you don't have one. Many churches and civic organizations own them and yours may let you borrow one for the day.

When you compare the cost of homemade to pre-bottled, add up the cost of cups, ingredients, container rental (if applicable) and the hassle. For a crowd, it's easier to go with bottled. Hit the warehouse club or dollar store for bottled drinks and juice boxes for the little tykes. Mix in some generic or store brands with top brands. Place a labeled receptacle for empty cans near the regular trash can so that you can recycle the aluminum for cash or, if available, collect the deposit. Dessert can be as simple as slices of watermelon, an assortment of homemade cookies and brownies, or home baked sheet cakes. Many farmer's markets sell inexpensive watermelon. And if you're not much of a baker, enlist a family member to provide these goodies.

If you can't send e-mail invitations, printed ones are very inexpensive at dollar stores or you can print ones at PrintFree.com. Some sites such as Stamps.com even offer free postage through a trial offer.

Make it a themed bash by using one color and/or motif throughout the decorations and table settings. Check the dollar store for inexpensive table service. String up lights near the eating area so that you can light up the evening as you party on. Some dollar stores and grocers sell helium-filled balloons at a smidgen of the cost of florists and party-supply stores. Consider tying the theme and color to your family heritage with icons from the Old Country. A little online research can reveal much information on your roots. Many brands of software link you up with an online database that can help you for less than $40. Genealogy.com is more costly, but offers a free two-week trial of their services.

Do you have a family crest? A photo of the old family homestead? Pictures of your great-great-grandparents? Scan and reproduce images onto card stock to make centerpieces. Print out copies of your family tree and include your contact information to encourage them to keep up-to-date.

If you use a public park, make sure the site has electrical outlets in the pavilion and bring a stereo large enough to fill up the area with lively tunes.

Especially if no playground is available for the kids, provide something safe for them to do: plastic horseshoes, foam balls, tot-sized golf set, and a badminton/volleyball set. The fun shouldn't be limited to the kids. Encourage the grown-ups to bring copies of labeled photos to contribute to a family scrapbook that guests can assemble as they arrive. If your reunion is particularly large, ask guests to sign in and write down their contact information, including e-mail addresses. Issue nametags to help jog the memory and keep conversation going. Write down story starters on strips of paper such as, "My favorite memory of Grandpa was..." or "My funniest moment was..." Place the strips in a hat and pass it around.

Ahead of time, appoint a few willing family members as the official digital camera crew for the day. Then you can e-mail the highlights of the day to everyone later and save on mailing and developing costs. You can also use a memorable photo to grace the invitations to the next reunion you host. As fun and affordable as this year's party was, why not host another?


Take the Next Step

  • Begin contacting your family to find out what dish they'll be bringing to the reunion
  • Find out who your 'camera crew' is going to be

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