How to Start a Frugal Dinner Club

Photo: Dinner Series

A dinner party never has to be over the top, but anyone who has ever hosted one knows that the cost can escalate quickly.

In an effort to impress their guests, many hosts opt to make a fancy dish with expensive ingredients. Or they go out all out on table decorations. Or they pick up pricey bottles of wine. Now, what once might have cost $25 total has increased to $100 — an amount that quickly sucks all the fun out of having friends over for an evening of good food and conversation. (See also: How to Throw a Fabulous (and Frugal!) Dinner Party)

If you’re a fan of dinner parties and keen to avoid this common mistake, perhaps starting a frugal dinner club is a good idea. The primary purpose of the frugal dinner club is to bring your friends together so you can spend quality time together enjoying delicious grub without spending a lot of money. If this sounds like a club you’d like to start, here are a few criteria.

1. Establish the Club by Inviting Your Frugal Friends

Everyone in your frugal dinner club should be frugal-minded and resourceful. These are your friends who live on a budget, always have a coupon for dinner or activities, and can seek out the best deals no matter where they are. You don’t want those friends for whom money is not a concern or those friends who are too lazy to save cash when they can. Inviting the latter will defeat the purpose of the club and take away the excitement.

2. Establish the Frugal Dinner Club Rules

Once your club is established, it’s important to set up rules by which the club will abide. They don’t have to be so strict that they turn off some members, but they should adhere to frugal principles. Consider these suggestions to adopt as your own rules:

Individual Dishes Alternate Meal to Meal

I like to cook all kinds of different foods, so I wouldn’t want to be stuck always bringing the main dish or the side dish; sometimes I may want to bring dessert. Alternating the types of dishes members bring to every club meeting will keep it exciting for everyone.

Use Only In-Season Ingredients

Using only in-season ingredients will help you narrow down your recipe choices, but it will also save you money since in-season foods are inherently cheaper than out-of-season foods.

Clip and Swap Coupons

Of course you’re going to use coupons to buy food for your frugal dinner club. So to enhance your stash, make it a rule that every member should clip coupons prior to each meeting so you can trade after dinner.

Put a Cap on the Cost of the Dishes

The group can decide a reasonable price point for each dish based on the amount of members in the group, but the price point should be low enough that it requires smart shopping and creative cooking. I’d also suggest that everyone keeps their receipts so the group can tally up the total at the next club meeting, so everyone can see how much money is actually spent and saved.

Raid Pantries

Before anyone goes to the market to buy food, one of the rules should be that they must raid their pantries for ingredients. There’s no reason to buy anything you already have. After you've searched your pantry, use Recipe Key to input items to find a suitable dish to make for the club.

3. Set the Frugal Dinner Club Schedule

Come to a consensus within the group to settle on the appropriate meeting schedule.

4. Assign the Frugal Dinner Club Dishes

Now that you have your friends lined up, the frugal dinner club rules set, and a schedule firmly in place, it’s time to assign dishes (not to be confused with recipes; those are at each member’s discretion). Who will make the main? Who’s in charge of dessert? Discuss.

5. Sit Down for Dinner and Brag About Your Saving Savvy

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Gather for a meeting of your frugal dinner club and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Discuss the recipes (ask members to bring a print out for the rest of the group), the ingredients, what you had on hand and what you had to buy, how much you spent, and how much you saved. Then simply enjoy each other’s company while stuffing your face with the satisfaction that you can throw a fabulous dinner party without inflicting any pain upon your pockets.

Do you have a frugal dinner club? Do you have other suggestions for those who want to start one? Let me know in the comments below.

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Dinner parties don’t need to be expensive. If you want to enjoy dinner with friends, without spending a lot of money, starting a frugal dinner club is a great idea. Check out our tips on how to start! | #frugalfood #dinnerparty #cheapdinner

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Guest's picture

Great post ! My parents did a dinner club for a bit when I was young and it always looked so fun, it's great to have tips in order to keep it cheap.

Guest's picture

This is such a fun idea! I'll have to see if my friends are interested and, if they are, I'm definitely starting one up. Great tips on how to keep it frugal and thrifty :)

Guest's picture

I enjoyed having friends over back in the 70's and 80's for dinner. Yes, I was frugal that long ago. Only we did mini meals while playing cards. Or pick foods we were not familiar with and cook it together, i.e. one lobster tail, a pound of crab legs, etc. It was fun..

Guest's picture

Great article, definitely a good idea. Who doesn't get together for dinner with friends & family anyways? Add a touch of frugality and you've got a winning combination ;-). Everyone benefits--socializing,bonding, learning about frugal cooking. Love it!