Throw a Thrifty Tailgate Party

by Erin Huffstetler

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Cheering your favorite sports team on with a tailgate party can be a lot of fun, and you may be surprised to learn that it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. For fun ways to turn your next tailgate party into a thrifty affair, consider the following:

Tablecloth - Add a bold splash of team spirit to your table by covering it with a solid colored bed sheet in one of your team's colors. A single twin-sized sheet should be large enough to cover most tables, and can be picked up inexpensively at any discount store. Then, stretch your dollar further by using the sheet on one of your beds after the game is over.

Napkins - If you'd like to forgo the typical paper napkins in favor of something a bit more stylish, give bandanas a try. They can be purchased in your team's colors for a minimal price, and then washed and reused again at your next tailgate party.

Cups - There's no need to waste money on fancy decorative cups. Instead purchase plain, plastic or paper cups and have your guests write the number of their favorite players on their cups. (A permanent marker works great for this.) It'll serve as a fun pre-game activity, and make it easy for your guests to identify their cups.

Drinks - Canned or bottled drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, can really run up the cost of a party. To keep drink costs under control, serve a kids' fruit drink in your team's chosen color instead; or if alcohol is a must, give frozen, blender drinks a try. Daiquiris, margaritas and rum runners are just a few options. Choose your favorite, and enjoy the savings.

Snack food - For an inexpensive pre-game snack, purchase paper lunch bags in your team's colors, and then fill them with peanuts or popcorn. You could even make caramel corn dyed in your team's colors!

Decorations - To decorate your table inexpensively, consider the following projects:

  • Newspaper clippings - Cut out news articles about your team, and mount them on card stock to make them stiff. Then, attach them to wooden dowels and stick them into the dishes you'll be serving.
  • Pennants - Sports pennants can be made inexpensively by cutting triangles out of felt or card stock. Add a fun message to your pennant, and they're ready to display.
  • Souvenirs/sports equipment - Nearly every sports fan has souvenirs featuring their team. Make the most of your collection by using it to decorate your table. Sports equipment can also be used for this purpose. Gather up your old footballs, helmets, etc. and you've got the makings for a festive tailgate table.

Plates - Turn boring paper plates into a tribute to your team by using a marker to draw a wavy border around the rim in your team's designated colors, or go a step further and write out the words to your team's fight song or cheer.

Ice - For an ice chest that says "go team," just add a little food coloring to your filled ice cube trays before sticking them into the freezer. Guests are sure to get a kick out of this fun detail, and it's something that will only cost you pennies to do. You can even go one step further and create flavored cubes by filling your trays with a colored, fruit drink in place of water.

Pillows - If you'd like to cushion your folding chairs with comfortable, team-colored pillows, but don't have money to spend on new pillows, consider this no-sew alternative. Just gather throw pillows from around your house and place a bandana over each side of the pillow. Then, gather the fabric at the four corners, and secure the bundles with rubber bands to create the perfect temporary pillow cover. Once the game is over, the bandanas can be removed to restore the pillows to their original state.

Toothpicks - Turn a box of plain toothpicks into stylish decorations for your party sandwiches quickly and easily. Just cut out little footballs from construction paper and glue them to the top of each pick. Then, insert the picks into your sandwiches, and they're ready to serve.

If you're limited on time, sports related stickers will also work. Choose stickers featuring your team's mascot or buy a package of monogram stickers featuring letters that are appropriate for your team. Then, just stick them onto the top of the picks, and you're done!

Put your frugal sense to work, and you're sure to plan a tailgate party that's as affordable as it is fun.

Erin Huffstetler is a freelance writer and mother of two who resides in East Tennessee. She is the Guide of the Frugal Living section at and the owner of the site My Frugal Home.

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