Money School

Frugal Friday: Holiday Entertaining on the Cheap

Posted by Arielle O'Shea

875_R_17ea0581According to new research from PulteGroup, a homebuilder, Americans will spend an average of nearly $350 hosting dinners, parties and other holiday gatherings between now and the New Year. Millennials in particular are planning to pull out their wallets, spending an average of $418, with 57 percent reporting that they’d rather host their own gathering than attend someone else’s.

We’d like to help you take that number down a notch, because in a season of spending, saving where you can goes a long way. So below, a few tips for cutting your holiday entertaining budget:

Set a budget. Yep, before you can cut your budget, you have to set one. It’s important to know what you’re working with. Your budget will help you determine what kind of party you can throw, from the food to the bar to the guest list (if your pot is small, the easiest way to cut costs is to cut the guest list, as anyone who has planned a wedding well knows). Once you have your number, reduce it by 10 percent. That will give you some wiggle room when unplanned expenses pop up.

Lower the bar. You’re not a restaurant or swanky lounge — your friends don’t expect you to stock every liquor. Instead, use one of the oldest tricks in the book: Create a festive signature cocktail. Southern Living has a few suggestions here (that pear-basil sipper has my name on it) or you can experiment on your own. The result is the same: instead of offering a wide selection, you can stock one or two liquors, along with some beer and wine, and cut your budget significantly. Finally, do your wine buying at a discount shop like Trader Joe’s or Costco, where prices tend to be cheaper. If you’re worried about the stigma that comes from serving up bottles of Two Buck Chuck, you can print up some personalized labels on your computer and slap them over the existing labels. Many a friend has whispered this little trick in my ear after a wedding, and I promise, no one was the wiser.

Make it a potluck. Or, at the very least, take your friends up on their offers to bring something, even if it’s a bottle of wine. Every little bit helps and reduces the amount of money you’re pulling out of your pocket. There’s no shame in allowing guests to bring food, though — a dessert or side dish is easy enough, and that way you’re still contributing the bulk of the meal.

Take inventory. Before you plan your menu, take a look at what you have. Not just food — maybe you can finally put that five-pound bag of flour to use in some pies — but also tools. Don’t put miniature cupcakes on your menu if you don’t have a miniature cupcake pan. The same goes with a bundt cake, fondue, and any other dish that requires special tools. Instead, plan around items you own or can easily borrow from a friend or neighbor. Bonus: You won’t be fiddling with a torch to make your first creme brulee as guests arrive.

Roll it into next year. As you buy decorations and party supplies, think about things that you can use year after year — so pick up the fake garland, not real. Then pack everything up at the end of the season, and carefully mark it so you know exactly where to find what you need. It won’t save you much money this year — in fact, it may cost you a bit more — but you’ll reap the benefit down the line.