Don’t let a tight household budget discourage you from having friends and family over to your home this holiday season. There are many ways to host a great party without spending a fortune.
1. Streamline your décor. You don’t need to buy new lights and extra decorations for your entire home. Instead, concentrate your decorating on key areas. Consider hanging a fresh wreath or bright bow on your door, setting a clear bowl filled with glittery ornaments in your entryway, and adding a holiday candle to your powder room. Focus the rest of your efforts in the one room people will congregate most, such as your dining room, family room, or main seating area.
2. Keep food simple. Instead of a full meal, offer hearty hors d’oeuvres. Use smaller dishes instead of dinner platters to make guests’ plates look full.
3. Put less expensive food at the front of the buffet line. Steal this smart catering trick: Put filling, cheaper items, like rolls and veggies, at the head of the food table near the plates. Put pricier items, like chilled shrimp or the meat tray, toward the end of the line. Your guests will automatically fill their plates with less expensive items before piling up the specialty foods.
3. Plan food quantities carefully. You don’t want to run out of food, of course, but you also don’t want lots of expensive leftovers. Plan three ounces of meat per person for deli trays. (Turkey and beef are more popular than ham, so plan with that in mind.) Assume about one ounce of cheese per person, and budget for one to two rolls or three slices of cocktail-size bread per person.
4. Stay seasonal. Avoid holiday party recipes that call for ingredients like red peppers or cherry tomatoes, even though they look festive. These choices are expensive because they’re out of season, and they won’t taste as fresh because they’re likely to be imported.
5. Simplify beverages. Instead of hosting an extensive (and expensive) bar, serve one white wine and one red wine. If you decant them into serving carafes, you can buy inexpensive brands (I’m partial to the Charles Shaw line at Trader Joe’s) and no one will know. Add a coffee carafe, a bowl of punch or cider, and a pitcher of water for guests who’d like non-alcoholic options.
6. Keep gifts to a minimum. Ask guests to bring a “white elephant” or silly gift that costs less than $10. If you want to give party favors to your guests, try something inexpensive, such as a pretty packet of hot cocoa mix tagged with a message like “Warm wishes for the season!” You could also take fun photos of each guest and email them or post them on a photo sharing site.