10 Things You Can Do to Throw a Great Party on a Budget

Birthday Party Tips

Parties are a great way to release stress and relax with family and friends. Unfortunately, many of us who have hosted parties equate party planning to anxiety and stress. This does not have to be you! Parties should be a fun and exciting event that doesn’t deplete you of your mental wellness.

1. Always, always have a budget. When you don’t have a budget and stick to it, it’s incredibly easy to go overboard. What started out as a cooler full of bottled water, soda and a few bottles of wine can quickly turn to a full or half bar where you’re stuck bartending all night and counting the dollars every time someone wants a drink.

You can start by creating a simple worksheet that will tally your total costs for each item. Items you should add to your budget: appetizers, soup or salads, entrees, side or vegetable dishes, dessert, beverages, alcoholic drinks, coffee and tea, ice, table cloths, napkins, plates, glasses, service ware, centerpieces, tables and entertainment. If you’re having a formal party, add invitations and postage. Also add any rental costs, decorations, party favors and flowers.

2. Create to-do lists. With everything going on with planning a party, how can you expect yourself to remember to take of everything? Have different to-do lists for different aspects of your party. A guest list will keep track of RSVP’s. You can also make a note to yourself to call or email attendees with a friendly reminder about the party. A grocery list is crucial; you don’t want your guests to be walking through your door when you realize you forgot to buy the drinks. You can create another list for all the things you need to do for the party, like decorations, silverware, plates, etc.

3. The cost of food can throw your budget out of whack. Instead of making appetizers that require a lot of preparation time, purchase foods that are already packaged or prepared. A platter of mixed raw vegetables with a simple dip is always popular. Placing cheese and crackers on a tray with small bunches of fruit for garnish creates a simple and beautiful appetizer for your guests.

4. Plan your menu carefully. If you’re going to have chicken as an entree, don’t have chicken as an appetizer too. Mixing and matching your food colors will create a stunning table presentation. No need to buy new cookbooks from the book store — The Food Network always has simple and delicious recipes. Another place to find excellent recipes are in magazines. Instead of slaving all day in the kitchen trying to cook everything yourself, go to the deli section of your local grocery store and purchase cooked and pre-packaged foods like rotisserie chicken, macaroni salad or pre-seasoned chicken wings (from your grocer’s freezer). Serve these foods on your own plates and platters. Have the deli make a foot-long sandwich for you and cut in small, easy to handle pieces and arrange on a platter garnished with cherry or grape tomatoes and sprigs of parsley.

5. If you don’t want to cook, or aren’t confident with your own cooking skills, ask party goers to bring favorite dishes they love to cook. A potluck is simple and worry-free. Make sure you confirm with your guests what they are bringing so you don’t have redundant dishes on the table. Alternatively, you can specify a certain part of the meal for each attendee: your sister can bring the salad, your best friend can bring her signature lasagna, your next door neighbor can bring her green bean casserole. If your budget can handle it, hire a caterer instead to take care of all your food needs — that’s one less thing on your mind.

6. Many recipes allow you to cook food ahead of time and re-heat just before guests arrive. Do it! Don’t wait for the last minute to cook or wait until your guests arrive. The whole point in throwing a party is to mix and mingle, not to hide in the kitchen and peer into the oven’s window while you mix and stir sauces. Vegetable and cheese and cracker and sandwich platters can all be prepared ahead of time. If you choose to make something like teriyaki chicken wings, you can make it the night before, store in the refrigerator and re-heat the day of the party.

7. Instead of making your own dessert, buy something that is already prepared. Go to your local grocery store’s bakery and ask them for 12 or 24 unfrosted cupcakes of any flavor (base your cupcake quantity on how many people will be attending). The day before or of the party, organize the cupcakes on a rectangular tray. If you don’t have something big enough to hold these cupcakes, use a cookie sheet lined with overlapping doilies (don’t forget to cover the edges and tape the doilies down). Line the cupcakes in four rows of three, creating a rectangle. Frost the cupcakes as if it were one large cake with vanilla frosting. Cut one or two fresh flowers (no stem) or petals from your garden or get some colorful blossoms from your local florist and place them in the corners of your cupcake cake. You can even use petals as a border. The pop of color on the white frosting makes a great contrast that your guests will talk about and want to eat right away.

8. Instead of providing a full bar for your guests, ask everyone to bring their favorite bottle of wine or spirit or a 6-pack of beer. Just provide the shaker, stirrers, a carton or two of orange juice and ice. Your full bar is now fully stocked!

9. Have a garbage system in place so your guests aren’t wandering around the house trying to figure out where to put their garbage. Since we recycle at our house, I always let guests know where our paper and glass & plastic bottle recycling bins are. Overflowing black garbage bags that take over the kitchen are disgusting and not pleasing to anyone’s eye, so monitor your garbage can frequently. If it looks like it’s getting full, immediately take it out of the can, tie it and take it outside where no one has to endure the sight and smell. Don’t forget to add a new garbage bag to the can.

10. You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on entertainment. If you have an iPod, create a playlist specifically for your party. Add your favorite music or songs you know will elicit conversations, like those songs you refuse to acknowledge you know the words to, but you secretly sing your heart out to when driving in the car alone. You know what songs I’m talking about. You can also create playlists with themes, like 80’s songs or songs with a tropical theme. Connect your iPod to your laptop, desktop computer or stereo system.

Start planning well ahead of the party date. Give yourself four weeks to plan your budget and organize your lists. Start buying non-perishable foods one week before the party. Make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator by purging expired foods and condiments. You can start shopping for the party two days before the important date. Prepare and set your table and add any decorations the day before your party. Staying within your budget and planning ahead will save you a lot of time, money and headaches.

Happy partying!

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