Tis the season for Christmas carols, mistletoe and repeated viewings of Elf. What can I say — a bowl full of spaghetti and maple syrup sounds delicious! Or not. I like my spaghetti and maple syrup separate from one another, as most people, who are not elves or Will Ferrell, likely do. Two things that I do know belong together, even if they seem quite opposite at first blush, are fabulous and frugal. Yes Virginia, hosting a wildly fabulous and frugal holiday party is possible with a little ingenuity and planning.
To be fair and honest, your party won’t rival one thrown by Beyonce, but her pocketbook is much, much bigger than mine and I’m guessing your party budget as well. However, your guests will certainly still have a wonderful time, and you won’t break your piggy bank celebrating the holidays with your friends.
5 Secrets to a Fabulous and Frugal Holiday Party that Will Wow Guests
It’s my goal to be the hostess who throws a party that will be long-remembered by guests, while I secretly laugh at how easy and affordable it was. Here’s how to do it.
Create a Party Plan and Download My Free Holiday Checklist
While you could certainly throw together a party on a whim, you will likely end up spending more and doing more work to make it fabulous, so take the time to plan ahead. Here are a few things to consider:
- What is your budget? Break it down further into invitations, food and beverages, decorations and party clothes (if applicable).
- What is your party theme? Some popular ideas include: Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, Cookie or Ornament Exchange, Cocktail Party Potluck (instead a dish to pass, you bring a cocktail or drink), Christmas Karaoke Party, Holiday Progressive Dinner, Christmas Movie Marathon or A White or Chocolate Christmas to name a few.
- How many guests? Who is the party for? Friends and family, co-workers including your boss or clients? Or will it be a mix? Is the party meant to be casual and fun, formal and elegant or a practical and get things done kind of party?
- What items do you need to host your party? Can any of the items be borrowed?
Can you do everything — clean, cook and decorate — within the time frame or do you need assistance, either friends helping out or paying for some prepared food and/or a cleaning service? A fabulous and frugal holiday party doesn’t mean that you can accept help or pay for some conveniences. All that matters is you budget for those things.
To help you stay organized and a little less stressed, I’ve created a free Holiday Party Checklist for you as an early Christmas present. You can download it here.
Pick the Perfect Time to Celebrate
To help minimize costs, I recommend that you avoid serving a full-course meal and don’t schedule your party over meal times to avoid any confusion from guests. You’ll immediately lower your food costs and decrease the amount of time you’ll need to prepare for your party. Depending on the type of party you are planning, I suggest either an afternoon get together from 2-4 PM (perfect for the cookie exchange/wrapping presents type of party) or 9 PM to 12 AM for your more social parties.
On the invitations, you should also note that appetizers and/or a dessert buffet will be served to make it clear that a full meal will not be offered and guests should eat a light meal before the party. Now you can actually mingle with guests and enjoy your own party, rather than be holed up in the kitchen.
Select the Right Menu to Keep Food Costs Low
When it comes to hosting a fabulous and frugal holiday party, I prefer to keep the menu simple, while stilling serving delicious food that gets rave reviews. An appetizer and/or dessert buffet are perfect for holiday parties, because if we’re being honest — they are what everyone wants to eat anyway. And even better, you can prepare almost everything in advance.
Generally speaking, I recommend serving 3-5 appetizers and desserts. I like to serve at least one hot appetizer, and my artichoke and crab dip is incredibly decadent and surprisingly affordable. It only takes minutes to prepare, which is another added bonus. Cheese and meat trays are nice but they get a little spendy, since you tend to select fancier and higher quality meats and cheeses. A more affordable alternative is making a homemade cheese ball or my cranberry jalapeno cream cheese dip. They still taste and look fabulous but don’t require high-end ingredients.
Round out your appetizers with fresh veggies and dip, hummus and pita chips, tortilla chips and salsa or party mix and some fresh, seasonal fruit. If you feel absolutely uncomfortable not offering something a bit heartier, I recommend pulled pork because it’s relatively cheap, easily made in a crockpot and can be served on small slider buns.
For dessert, two easy options are a fudge buffet with caramilk fudge, peanut butter fudge and Oreo fudge or your favorite fudge. These can all be made in advance and frozen until the day of the party. The second option is chocolate fondue. You can make the fondue earlier in the day and keep it warm in a crockpot, then transfer the chocolate goodness to a fondue pot for serving. Serve with big marshmallows, brownies (from scratch or box), bananas, strawberries (if you can find decent ones at a reasonable price), pound cake and/or rice krisipie bars.
For more great options, please visit my sister site, Eat Laugh Purr where I’m sharing my 2015 Holiday Candy, Cookies and Treats Round-Up.
Bonus Tip: Don’t feel that you need to run out and buy new serving platters, slow cookers, etc. There is a good chance that among your friends and family, you will find everything you need. Ask nicely if you can borrow and return the dish or appliance promptly and in good working order and be willing to reciprocate in the future.
Offer Select Alcoholic Beverages Versus Open Bar
It’s always fun to watch hosts start twitching as they mentally calculate the cost of everyone guzzling their top-shelf liquor, unless it’s your party, then it is expensive! There is certainly nothing wrong with offering a wide selection of alcoholic beverages if your budget permits, but don’t feel obligated to do so either. You can still offer some excellent beverages without needing to pat down your guests for loose change when they leave.
I am a big fan of offering one or two adult beverages, like punch or hot chocolate, that have some alcohol in them versus an open bar or even bottles of wine or beer. One of my favorite shows is The Kitchen and last week they made a gorgeous cranberry lemonade punch that looks delicious and holiday-ready with its pretty red hue. If you prefer wine, I recommend visiting a local wine shop where knowledgeable employees can help you select great wines at your price point.
Note: BYOB is also an acceptable option. For those who feel uncomfortable putting it on the invitation, consider making the theme a Cocktail Party Potluck where everyone brings a drink (adult or not) to share while you provide the food. It is also okay to simply choose to not offer any alcoholic beverages too.
Create an Elegant, Low-Cost Ambiance
Unless your holiday theme demands specific decorations, your normal holiday decorations should suffice. Don’t feel like you have to over-decorate either. It’s not necessary. Too much can actually overwhelm, while a more minimalist look can be quite chic. Instead of cramming every nook and cranny with Christmas decorations, determine two focal points that you want everyone to notice, such as your Christmas Tree and buffet table.
Your lighting can also set the right ambiance and doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Consider stringing up twinkling clear or white Christmas tree lights around the room and only using them, lamps and candles (real or faux) to light-up your main party area. I also recommend only using scentless candles because some people are very sensitive to certain scents. Plus, you can buy plain white candles very cheaply at your local dollar store.
Easy Holiday Potpourri Recipe
While I just recommended scentless candles due to some potential guest sensitivity, we still want our home to smell inviting and a bit like Christmas. One easy and affordable way to make your home smell fantastic, without being sneeze-inducing, is a stove-top holiday potpourri. Here’s what you need:
- 1 orange, cut into large chunks with rind still attached
- 3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 1 cup of fresh cranberries
- 1-2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 1–2 teaspoons nutmeg
In a small pan, combine all the ingredients together. Fill with water to approximately 1 inch below the rim. Simmer on low and enjoy the citrusy, Christmas aroma!
Start the potpourri around 30 minutes before guests arrive and you can either keep it going throughout the party, although you will need to check it periodically to add water. Or turn it off after everyone has arrived. The aroma will linger for awhile.
May Your Holiday Party Be a Huge Success!
I hope these tips help you put together your own fabulous and frugal holiday party this Christmas season. Best of all, these tips hold true any time of the year and can help you throw memorable parties without breaking a sweat or your budget.
What are your best money-saving party tips? Are you a holiday party-goer or host(ess)?