Throwing a festive party can be the high point of your holiday season—but it can also be a jolt to your holiday budget if you’re not careful. Here are a few ways to warmly welcome friends and family while hanging on to your cold cash:
1. Multiply the fun: If you’re having multiple small groups over for dinner during the holidays, don’t reinvent the wheel. Plan just one menu (or maybe two), and serve the same thing for every group; they’ll never know! You can save time by making and freezing a big batch of the same dessert—like decorated holiday cookies—or multiples of a casserole-type main dish. You’ll be saving money by buying the ingredients at one time on the best sale you find. Your own family may get tired of the same fare, so buy them a lunch out the next day with your savings.
2. Stay in season: Plan your menu around produce and fruit that’s in season during the holidays—it’s much cheaper. For instance, choose tangerines for your fruit tray instead of imported fresh blueberries. If a main dish calls for an item that’s spendy in the winter, like fresh red peppers, find a cheaper substitute, like canned tomatoes, or skip it altogether.
3. Simplify drinks: You don’t need to provide a full bar to guests. Choose one or two wines (inexpensive ones, disguised in pretty carafes) and maybe one specialty mixed drink, served in a pitcher.
4. Decorate on a dime: Focus your holiday lights and decorations in the rooms most used by guests, such as your living room and dining room. You don’t need to deck out the kitchen or powder room. And remember, candles are some of the most elegant—and least expensive—decorations of all.
5. Go bulk: Warehouse clubs sell large trays of tasty hors d’oeuvres that just require heating. They’re often much cheaper than making your own.
6. Make it a potluck: Family and friends love to bring something to parties, so have them share in the cooking. You’ll save money, and they’ll have a chance to showcase one of their favorite treats, like Aunt Mabel’s famous three-layer dip. Add to the fun by asking everyone to bring multiple copies of their recipes for other guests to take home as favors.
7. Stack the (food) deck: If you serve a buffet, take a lesson from restaurants: Place the filling, less expensive food (rolls, veggies, starchy casseroles) at the head of the line, near the plates, so guests fill up on those first. Serve meat and more expensive items toward the end of the line, so guests naturally take less.
8. Host during off-hours: Have a cookies and hot cocoa party at 3 p.m. or a dessert buffet at 8 p.m. Guests won’t expect a full meal, so you’ll spend less. Terms like “light hors d’oeuvres ” on an invitation also signal guests to plan on eating before or after your shindig.