Ask the Readers: How Do You Host a Party on a Budget?

By Ashley Jacobs on 1 July 2014 (Updated 8 July 2014) 49 comments

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Jennifer, Laura, and Thomas for winning this week's contest!

You can have a party at any time of the year, but there's something to be said about a backyard barbecue in the summer sun — and it's something fun and yummy! Granted, hosting a party of any sort can be a lot of work, too, and it can cost even more if you don't watch your budget.

How do you host a party on a budget? What tricks do you use to cut costs on food, supplies, or decorations? What is the largest party you've ever organized?

Tell us how you host a party on a budget and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

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Guest's picture
Guest

I've hosted pot lucks which are a hit. However, if I plan to supply everything (food, drinks) I tend to stick with a "theme" so multiple ingredients can be used in the same dish. For example I may do Mexican food where I can use a bunch of cilantro in multiple dishes (cilantro lime rice, guac, salsa, ect). I can also use a less expensive cut of meat (pork shoulder or ground beef) to feed a lot of people. Additionally instead of the meat being the main focus I can use beans, rice and other less expensive sides (chips and salsa) to fill up guests. Also I never say no if someone offers to bring something!

Guest's picture
Elena

I host a party on a budget by serving simple meals like pizza and pasta salad. I use coupons when I shop for party food

Guest's picture
Shannon

To save money on hosting friends in the summer, I watch for deals all year long. I always shop the clearnace section in stores from TJ Maxx to Walgreens to JCPenney and find cute and really inexpensive accessories to complete my decorations, like placemats, fun straws and dinnerware!
I also make sure I clip coupons when I'm buying for meals like barbeques that need meats and fresh ingredients like breads and veggies. Brands like Heinz that sell basic condiments almost always have coupons somewhere!

Guest's picture
Mary Happymommy

To save money, we do potlucks so everyone brings something to the party.

Guest's picture
Tina in NJ

A few years ago, friends of ours held a themed pot luck party. It was March and they invited several couples to bring along a pot of their favorite homemade soup. I didn't really make soup from scratch then (18 years ago!), so I brought several loaves of fresh homemade bread. Good choice as our hostess' father had been a baker.

Donna Freedman's picture

1. Potlucks, as just about everyone else has suggested.
2. Have an afternoon tea -- all you have to do is brew some tea, make a couple of batches of cookies (freezing some for later use in brown-bag lunches) and, if you really want to put on the dog, put out some sandwiches cut into fancy shapes. Alternate: Have a couple of loaves of homemade bread in the oven when people begin to arrive. Offer slices of freshly baked bread with butter and jam or honey and they won't miss the petit fours or the cucumber sandwiches.
3. Make it a BYOB party: As host, you provide mixers and a few snacks. Hit the dollar store for chips and such, or watch for loss leaders like 99-cent pretzels. Oh, and the National Popcorn Board has *amazing* recipes (from chai to Thai) at popcorn.org.
4. Ice cream social. Watch for coupons and sales for ice cream but also for syrups and whipped cream. Put out little dishes of whatever you have in the cupboard -- chocolate chips, M&Ms, broken-up pretzels, cereal, pulverized cookies -- and let people make their own sundaes.
5. Games night. Put out all the board games you have; check thrift stores on half-price day if you don't own any. However, drunken Twister is never a good idea.
6. Card night. Put out several decks of cards and let people decide whether they want to hang with the poker crowd or the Go Fish crowd.
7. Homemade pizza. One of the cheapest things you can serve, actually. Lots of easy recipes online.
8. Do a themed movie night, e.g., both "Captain America" movies or an old "Godzilla" flick plus the latest iteration. Those popcorn recipes could come in handy then, too.

Guest's picture
Louly

I buy things in bulk at GFS or Costco! Or I make a themed party and have people bring an appropriate dish to cut down on costs. Also, boxed wine saves a TON of money.

Guest's picture
Guest j

The way we cut down on costs is to have people bring food. A lot of times we will provide the main dish and ask for others to bring sides.

Guest's picture
Happy Love

Pot luck!

Guest's picture
Mike Johnson

My favorite party on a budget is a film festival. Contact your guests to nominate their favorite DVD, and pick 2 to present. Start with brunch. Make a casserole of egg, cheese, stale bread, and a sofrito of onions peppers and other leftover cooked veggies and a simple salad with homemade vinaigrette. Coffee, sparkling water and juice. Next do cheap TV snacks: Pretzels, Popcorn, Nachos, Hot dogs wrapped in biscuit dough, and trifle at the end (Pound cake from day old bin or dollar store cubed, sliced up seasonal berries or fruit, Instant pudding, whipped cream. You can have trivia questions about the movie they just watched and give out prizes from the dollar store.

Guest's picture
nicole dz

We use materials we have already on hand for décor & get crafty. We also shop at the dollar store for additional stuff. We have hosted a party for 40 people before. It was a birthday party.

Guest's picture
MELISSA HANSSON

I buy party supplies whenever I find cute ones on clearance, rather than waiting until I need them. The dollar store is also a great place to pick up tableware & other party needs. I also love using Pinterest to gather creative, inexpensive party ideas, themes, decor, etc.

Guest's picture
Kacey

Potluck, Always. Everyone always wants to bring something anyway. I always provide beer and non-alcoholic drinks, and if people want to drink something else, they can bring it themselves!

Guest's picture
Laura J

To host a party on a budget, we always ask everyone to bring a dish! That helps out alot! We also try to make fun decorations with what we have! One that we always do that is cheap for our birthday parties, is we wrap the pictures on the walls in giftwrap! Add a bow and ribbon....looks so cute for birthday parties!

Guest's picture
Liz

Potlucks are great!

Guest's picture
Matt

Have a fun game night and provide some snacks and have everyone bring a bottle of wine.

Guest's picture
Jennifer Marie

I look for sales and buy things early if I can.

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Tabathia B

We do a potluck and have someone bring drinks and cook sides when everyone is there

Guest's picture
Ashley

I second everyone suggesting potlucks, game nights, and pizza. Grilled pizzas can be even more fun, since everyone can make their own personal pie and it turns into an activity.

My sister and I always threw great parties when we were living together because we always made sure there was food (novel for two early twenty-somethings!. She hosted a weekly game night and made a vegetarian chili, something that all of our friends could eat and was cheap to make in bulk. I would bake a few loaves of bread and make a few dips. A favorite of our friends was a white bean dip, which cost almost nothing to make (a large can of cannelinis pureed, chopped garlic, and olive oil, served warmed.) Always amused me that a it was such a hit as it cost me less than $2 to make a big bowl of it!

Guest's picture
Tammy S

I try to make sure and plan far enough ahead so I can use coupons to help cut down the cost. I also try to make foods that are filling and not super expensive like pasta, chicken, bread.

Guest's picture
Lynda

hosting party on a budget = potluck

Guest's picture
tami

We have a progressive party. Where we go from house to house for each course. We have salad at one house, soup at another, entree and still another and finally dessert. That way we can keep it interesting, inexpensive and moving.

Guest's picture
lostAnnfound

We do a lot of pot lucks. Everyone can bring a dish and it helps whoever is hosting.

Also, for the summer we keep it simple. Hamburgers & hot dogs, tossed salad, potato salad, and fresh fruit. For us the whole point of having a party is to celebrate an occasion or get together to visit with family and friends.

Guest's picture
Guest

I host a potluck, that way everyone shares the responsibility of cost and no one pays way too much

Guest's picture
SerenityNow

I always find that hosting a breakfast or brunch party is easier on the wallet and more laid-back than a dinner party. A game night with snacks is also a fun party to host on the cheap!

Guest's picture

I recently had to host 3 parties in one month for my daughter who recently graduated high school. To save money, I had family members prepare favorite dishes to bring as a potluck. Also, I look for a few high impact decorations, which may cost a little more individually, instead of spending a ton of money on many smaller items.

Guest's picture
CAR

Hit up costco for the alcoholic beverages. Then I ask friends to each bring something to share.

Guest's picture
Guest

Disposable ware at dollar store and Pinterest a recipe for the cake. Shish kabobs are cheap, yummy, and a nice summer dinner.

Guest's picture
Mary

I hosted last month's book club for seven guests for under $25. I made a ton of sangria with three bottles of Charles Shaw wine from Trader Joe's, and only put in some sliced apples and cantaloupe - nothing too fancy. Also, for snacks I cut up a whole head or broccoli and cauliflower and peeled some carrots instead of buying a prepared veggie tray. To round it out, I purchased generic brand chips and dip and served everything in nice ceramic dishes. The sangria was a hit, the food was devoured, and everyone had a great time.

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Janet

Hosting potluck at a nearby park is always fun and worth it!

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Dee Dee

Do your own cooking and not picking up pre-made food. Chicken or burgers on the grill are always popular.

Guest's picture

I always do my research ahead of time. Couponing also helps!

Guest's picture
Guest

Potlucks are great, but I also go grocery shop and find things on sale. From there I create a menu!

Guest's picture
An

I look for sales, stock up. Use coupons, rebates.

Guest's picture
Robbie

Brunch! Breakfast food is cheap (homemade pancakes, bagels, orange juice), and it's great for people who have kids (no late nights). Alcohol not required, and we use the plates, silverware, and cups that we have, no disposable stuff except maybe napkins.

We also do cake and coffee parties, where we only serve one dinner dish (big pot of vegatarian chili with homemade bread) and a homemade cake and coffee. We brew our own beer, which cuts the price of purchasing beer by 75%, and we buy champagne across the year using coupons and deals and store the bottles for when they're needed.

Guest's picture
Kristin Goodson

I like to buy my food in Bulk! Go to dollar store for decoration ideas. I shop around in clearance sections.

Guest's picture
J. Pario

A pot luck twist:

Everyone brings an ingredient.

It's really not as much planning as you'd think. Our young adult church group does it twice a month and it means don't end up with TONS of leftover food. If you are having tacos, one person bring tomatoes, one person brings taco shells, another brings shredded cheese, etc. Folks who like to cook can if they like. Two or three people bring desserts. Someone gets drinks, someone brings napkins. It works out surprisingly well.

Bring on the fun!

Guest's picture
Kim D

Pot lucks are a great idea! I've also discovered the new cheese counter at Kroger - they often have a lot of selections under $5 that make a nice cheese plate. Pair that with wine from Costco and you can have a pretty reasonable party!

Guest's picture
Betty

I shop sales early. Have a pitcher of one themed drink so you don't have to buy a bunch of booze. At work we have very large parties, but call for a pot luck. They are usually the best.

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Rebecca B. A. R.

Potluck, baby!!!

Guest's picture
Susan Smith

I host a party on a budget by having it be potluck so everyone would bring food

Guest's picture
Marcia

A huge pot of spaghetti, Italian salad and homemade rolls are a crowd pleaser every time. Dessert is homemade cookies, various kinds and a chocolate cake. Beverages are coffee, tea, water and lemonade. Some guests bring wine or other spirits to share but I can cook and bake a nice meal for very little cash.
Entertainment includes card playing, charades or Scrabble after dinner depending on what the guests vote to play! My parties are always fun and enjoyable!

Guest's picture
A Florida Mom

If I am paying/hosting the entire affair, I like to do "Bars". A Pasta bar with 3 or more sauces, A Rice bar with savory and Indian flavors, A Baked potato bar with everything from beef & broc, to sweet & sour chicken, along with cheese, onion, butter, sour cream, etc.. goes over really well. I've even done a Hot Cookie bar with oatmeal for a breakfast/ lunch! I had everything from chocolate chips & whipped cream to fresh fruits like sliced strawberries, to butter & brown sugar. If your base food is frugal and your toppings like spiced beef is offered as a garnish, the whole dinner will be quite easy on your wallet, yet everyone will be so impressed at your creativeness .

Guest's picture
Liisa

We use washable dishes/utensils -- a little more work but less $ and nicer, and real tablecloths/decorations that I already have. Any splurging we do is on the food, but we try to keep it economical with the types of things we serve. Hospitality is really important to us, so it is one area where I don't want to be TOO cheap. ;)

Guest's picture
OFG

If you plan well in advance you can stockpile some items while they are on sale. You can buy cans of beans for a BBQ or chips and dip and then store them until the party begins!

Guest's picture
Tina

I usually will have a main dish prepared, like in the summer have the BBQ meats ready, but potluck for everything else. Mostly everyone asks if there is anything they can bring, so I'll ask a few bring to sides, drinks, dessert, etc.

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Amanda Sakovitz

I ask guests to bring a dish of food.

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Thomas Murphy

I tell my guests to bring one thing.

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Holly

We like to do DIY Chipotle nights. Everyone brings a taco or burrito filling to share.