The first order of business, of course, is to decide what sort of gathering you will have. Do you want to host a formal holiday meal, or do you just want to have people over for simple hors d’oeuvres?
Then set a budget and try to work within it. Start with a plan. Sit down and make a list of everything you’re going to need.
Food is usually the biggest expense associated with entertaining, so finding ways to save there can cut down significantly on your total cost.
One strategy is to thumb through sales circulars from local grocery stores and put together a menu based on the week’s best deals. Keep in mind that some stores have lower prices than others, and that some have sales on certain days of the week.
After assembling a grocery list, look for coupons in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. Organize them by category to make it easier to figure out where you can combine savings with other offers to cut down on your bill.
By being creative and innovative, you can save big on table-settings and decorations. It’s kind of fun and eclectic and a little quirky to use mismatched plates and glasses. You can just coordinate your table with a color scheme and theme. Running short on flatware, plates or glasses? Try to borrow before you buy.
Place cards can be made out of all kinds of materials. One of the easiest is card stock cut to the right size.
Create centerpieces and other decorations from items found in the backyard. Pinecones, branches and berries in a basket or a vase look nice and cost next to nothing.
Background music can come from CDs or sound files you already have or from a radio station you like; many stations even play holiday music suitable for a Christmas gathering.
Also, keep in mind that when money is tight, certain themes will produce far less strain on your budget than others. Hosting a potluck—providing the main dish and asking guests to bring a side dish, drinks or a dessert—is a money-saving way to entertain. Or you could do a cookie swap, for which guests bring a plate of cookies to share, a dozen bagged cookies to “swap,” and copies of the recipe.
Another frugal party idea is a popcorn and movie night. Make lemonade, pop popcorn—stove top is less expensive than the prepared microwave bags—have a variety of toppings, like cheese, cinnamon and sugar, butter, and rent a movie. Lemonade from a packaged mix, iced tea, and coffee are all relatively inexpensive drink options for serving a crowd. Browsing magazines at the local library might inspire even more party ideas.
The bottom line? Even when you don’t have a lot to spend, you can still have fun entertaining family and friends.