Throw a Party That Won't Break The Bank
No matter how much you love entertaining, throwing a party can easily toss a wrench into your monthly budget. The cost of alcohol, mixers, food, decor, and entertainment adds up more quickly than the time it takes most of us to down a margarita. But when you google for inexpensive options, the results—DIY decor from Etsy, tacky paper plates, and red Solo cups—don’t seem to be the right fit for an elegant soiree either. There are ways to save, though, without making it obvious you are sticking to a budget.
Make it a Cocktail, Not a Dinner
The time of day you throw your party directly affects your total bill, and one of the easiest ways to save is to avoid the dinner hour. Serving dinner to even six or eight guests can easily run you hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the menu. Instead, throw a cocktail party before the meal hour, say 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or an after-dinner nightcap fete starting at 9 p.m. Earlier allows you to serve lighter fare, such as canapes, crudite, and cheese boards rather than a full-scale, multi-course meal. After dinner parties can include more sweet treats and depending on the length of the gathering, possibly some savory late-night bites (hello mini pizzas and sliders). Plus, avoiding major meal times means your guests aren’t coming ravenous, though, I can attest, there is always one looking for the free meal.
Have a Limited Cocktail Menu
Your home is obviously NOT a bar, and I highly doubt your guests expect you to be one. That means they aren’t anticipating a huge selection of drinks like they would walking into a nightlife destination. To keep your alcohol budget in check, plan to serve one or two signature cocktails or punches for the party. Stick to popular liquors, such as gin or vodka for a clear-based spirit, and whisky or rum for a darker spirit option. Choose simple-to-mix recipes of well-known drinks or put your own seasonal spin on a classic cocktail. Do not go with something completely esoteric, unless you know your guests will be into it. I have some more tips for serving cocktails at home here, but I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice on this: Always have tonic available. If someone has an allergy to a certain ingredient or doesn’t like any of your options, a gin and tonic or vodka tonic are easy backups.
Serve Prosecco Instead of Champagne
No party is complete without the ultimate celebratory beverage—sparkling wine—but that doesn’t mean you need to serve vintage Dom Perignon. Opt for less expensive but similar styles, including Cremant, Prosecco, Cava, and American sparkling wines, to save on the bubbles bill. Most guests won’t know, or care, about the difference, and you can literally save hundreds depending on your guest count. For more tips on serving sparkling wine, check out my piece, Best Bubbles for a Party.
Decorate with Non-Floral Centerpieces and Reusable Glassware
Decor can sneakily add up—I’m serious! By the time you gather fresh flowers, cute cocktail napkins, balloons, candles, vases, linens, and more, you may have hit the budget for the entire party. While I will never throw a soiree sans blooms from my go-to local florist, there are plenty of ways to save on the decor, and your guests will be none the wiser. Number one: forgo the botanicals. Opt for centerpieces of other objects, from piles of seasonal fruit to stacks of your favorite tomes. Nothing says party quite like putting the ice bucket with bottles of Champagne smack in the middle of the table either. Candles create atmosphere without being fussy—you can light your Diptyque scents or go with less expensive options, like a pack of plain white pillar candles from Ikea. They’ll save you bundles. And as for other, regularly used items such as linens, glassware, and vases, purchase one set to use for all of your social gatherings. As long as the colors are neutral for year-round affairs, they’ll do their job diligently. Plus, it will save you time since you wont have to track down themed paper plates and plastic cups for every shindig. Finally, stop looking at Instagram influencers. They get so much stuff for free that it’s not like they are purchasing new colored Juliska glasses for every at-home party, and you shouldn’t compare your table to theirs.
Pick a Theme Where Guests Bring Food & Drink
Nothing says you have to provide everything for a party, but I’m not talking about a backyard potluck either. Communal-focused themes, like a wine and cheese party, can be an interactive way for guests to partake in the experience AND help you cut costs. Ask each guest to bring a cheese and an appropriate wine pairing. Guests can explain why they choose their specific cheeses and wines to the group while everyone tastes each others. You can even have guests vote on the best pairing at the end. This works for things like a “top your own waffle” brunch party, where guests all bring their go-to toppings to share, or a “pie party,” where guests share their favorite sweet or savory pies. The themes are practically limitless.
Keep Entertainment to Lively Conversation and Music
It’s shockingly not hard to entertain a group of people—great conversation does most of the work! You don’t need performers or a photo booth to ensure that your guests will have a good time. Instead, focus on creating a wonderful atmosphere for your shindig. Plan a playlist to bump through your home speakers, music that feels upbeat without being so loud that it results in guests yelling in order to speak. If you do opt for a live musician or DJ, be sure to keep their volume levels in check. That will help with noise complaints from the neighbors too. If you fear conversation may be a challenge, such as parties where most guests won’t know one another or are just plain shy, there are some tricks. First off, icebreakers, those games you may have played at a networking event, work wonders. Choose a theme or question that feels authentic to you, even if it’s as simple as naming your favorite reality television show. Another great conversation starter are card games made for this exact situation (See: Table Topics). Each card poses a question to the group, at varying levels of intimacy, so you can kick off a dialogue. Lastly, do you have an uber-talkative BFF? Ask him or her to help keep guests engaged by keeping an eye out for guests who may be more reserved.