$mashing Parties on a Budget

by Doris Dobkins

I love parties, don't you? With the holidays coming, my calendar seems to fill up quickly with parties and dinner engagements. A few of them I even host myself. Anyone can host a smashing party. You don't have to spend a lot of money. The key to a great party is creativity. If you utilize some of the following tips, your party can still be the talk of the town for less.

Create a Plan

The first and most important step in saving money with a party is in the planning process. I don't mean just planning the party itself but rather planning your parties as far ahead as possible. If you like to give parties, it is a good idea to sit down once a year and create a party plan for the year. List all the birthdays, holidays and theme parties you want to host for the next twelve months. Identify tentative dates for each party and a general theme. This will allow you plenty of time to shop when things are on sale and heavily discounted. Then create a budget for each party and you are ready to go.

It's time to plan that first party and narrow our theme. Are you having a tea party, a birthday party, a holiday party, or a block party? What is your theme going to be? Picking a theme will help you keep focused as you prepare.

The next step is to pick a date, time and location and make an invitation list. Now you can prepare the invitations. Have you ever tried making your own? There are many computer software packages that make cards. You can also use plain paper and decorate with stamp art, stickers, colored pens, markers, or make a pretty flyer. How about cutting up old cards to create new ones? Hand-delivering the invitations will also save money.


Decorating for a party can be costly, but it doesn't have to be. Keep the decorations simple but be creative. For centerpieces, pick any greenery from your yard as a base and then add fruit, flowers, peppers, pinecones, candles, figurines, woodcarvings, etc. For a neat tablecloth idea, put a clear plasticdrop cloth over flat and colorful objects such as leaves, theme paper decorations or decorated paper cloths. Borrow what you can instead of buying.


Let's get creative on the menu planning. The cheapest way to save money on food and drinks is to host your party between 2 and 5 p.m. If you prepare and serve the food yourself instead of hiring a caterer, you will save money. You can prepare most of the food ahead of time and then freeze it. To save money on help, make a trade-off deal with a friend in similar circumstances. They can help you with your party and you can help them with one of theirs.

To feed large groups of people, buffets are the easiest and cheapest method. If appropriate, make your party a potluck. Assign people categories to bring to avoid duplication. You can prepare the drinks and dessert. Make a list of all the nonperishables on your menu. Look for coupons and buy items ahead of time when they are on sale. Then make a list of all the perishables. Look for foods that can be made and frozen ahead of time. If you want to serve cut foods like vegetables, cheese or meat slices, buy the foods whole and slice them yourself.

Help in the Kitchen

Invite some older kids to help out with the younger children and play games with them. Some can even assist you as the hostess by greeting guests, taking the coats, passing out the food, pouring drinks, serving dessert and cleaning up. You can use your own kids or borrow someone else's. It's a great experience for them.

Entertainment Tips

Use the artistic and musical talents of friends. If you have a theme party, ask your guest to bring something to contribute to the theme. For kids' parties, hire some local teenagers to put on a puppet show or to play games with the kids. Play silly games and give silly prizes. Have the guests participate in the entertainment with skits, music, or poetry.

Thanksgiving Ideas

A couple of great Thanksgiving tips I just have to share are:

  • Use a hollowed pumpkin for a punch bowl or soup tureen.
  • Make your harvest dinner a potluck. Identify a menu and let people select what to bring. Maintain a master list.
  • Use pumpkins, fall leaves, fresh fruit and candles for decorations.

Christmas/New Years Ideas

  • Write "fortunes" for the New Year and put them inside balloons for people to blow up and pop.
  • Wrapping paper, cards, and decorations go on sale the week after Christmas at 50 to 75 percent off, so stock up for next year and SAVE.
  • Give handmade and homemade items as gifts. Some good examples are jams, breads, potholders, and tree ornaments.
  • Write your favorite recipe on a card or pretty holiday paper. Put some of the key ingredients in a pretty jar decorated with a ribbon.
  • Put 5-7 kinds of beans in a Ziploc bag and include your favorite bean soup recipe.

Doris Dobkins is a money saving expert, author and speaker and has helped thousands of people find ways to save money and get out of debt.

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