Affordable Entertaining

By Kristen Castillo

November 6, 2016 5 min read

The holidays are here, but you don't have to go broke to celebrate.

"Host a themed party and focus on the theme, not so much on the food," says frugal living expert Lauren Greutman, who's the author of "The Recovery Spender." She suggests hosting an ugly-sweater party or an '80s-themed Christmas gathering.

Another idea is to host a potluck-style party. Share the cost of food by asking guests to bring a dish for the theme. "It's not rude at all," says Greutman. After all, the majority of guests ask whether they can bring anything to a regular party anyway.

"Making your holiday party a potluck will greatly reduce your costs while giving guests an opportunity to share their favorite seasonal dish," says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. "You can be in charge of the main course and ask guests to bring side dishes, appetizers or desserts."

Still, that doesn't mean you should tell guests what to do.

"Don't be too controlling and assign guests dishes or ask guests to bring large portions of their dish," says Woroch, who also advises keeping the menu limited and simple with hearty and tasty foods, such as budget-friendly soups, stews and chili.

*Grocery Savings

Set a grocery budget, and try to stick to it.

"Stores have weekly sales on seasonal items, so craft your menu early and watch these sales so you can stock up when the price is low," says Woroch, who also recommends using online sources such as Coupon Sherpa.

When buying food, you'll save money by doing your own meal prep. That means avoiding pre-cut fruits and veggies. Chopping your own produce can save you 30 percent. "Do as much as you can yourself," says Greutman.

Shop warehouse stores for deals, and look for in-store deals. Use digital coupons to save money on party items. For example, with the Whole Foods Market app, shoppers can get deals on seasonal products, such as $5 off when you buy $20 worth of produce. Digital coupons rotate regularly, so expect to find seasonal deals in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Shop the bulk bin, especially if you need only a small portion. You'll save because you'll be buying the exact amount you plan to use, such as a quarter-pound of walnuts or 2 cups of coconut.

Similarly, if you need a small amount of produce, cheese or meat, just ask a grocery team member to help package what you need. You'll save because you'll be buying only what you need.

*Cheers!

"Alcohol can be one of the most expensive aspects of the meal," says Trisha Antonsen, chief cocktail officer at Drizly, an alcohol-shopping app. "Share the menu in advance, and ask people to bring a wine or beer pairing of their choice."

Greutman recommends that hosts stock up on affordable wines -- for example, those sold at Trader Joe's. Serve a signature drink, too, which is fun and inexpensive. "That way, people don't realize you're being cheap."

*Decor and Entertainment

"Don't go overboard on decor which you'll only use for one night," says Woroch. "It's a waste of money." Instead, shop dollar stores for stylish seasonal decorations and party props.

Plan ahead for budget entertainment, too. You can stream holiday music free (with some commercials) from Pandora or Spotify. Don't want the commercials? Buy an inexpensive one-day pass. For example, for less than a buck, you can listen to Pandora ad-free for 24 hours.

Bring out the cards and board games. If you want more seasonal variety, get holiday games online free, including Christmas movie trivia games and a Pictionary-like game with a Christmas carol theme.

Keep the party going by setting up an inexpensive photo booth area. Stock it with props, such as silly glasses, hats and scarves. Don't have props? Buy some at the dollar store.

With a focus on fun, friends and family, celebrating the holidays can be more affordable than you think. Just plan ahead and keep the party simple. And whenever possible, share some of the expenses with guests.

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