The holidays are upon us, and it’s time to party. But for those of us mired by budgets, a little party planning is the key to painless entertaining. If you’ve got to host a Halloween haunt, a Thanksgiving feast, or a Christmas come-and-go, here are some tips for being the host with the most — without breaking the bank.
Perfect Planning Makes Perfect
Perfect Planning Makes Perfect
The first step to a perfect party on a budget: Plan. Fortune favors the prepared mind, as it does the prepared home. When hosting at your house, you’ve got to come up with a game plan for success. Identify your exact budget, and assign each category (paper goods, food, invitations) with a percentage of your budget. When I’m hosting parties, I start with free e-vites. Websites such as Paperless Post make inviting and tracking your attendance quick, beautiful, and easy. And best of all: It’s free. Begin with a guest list, and let the invitations set the theme for your holiday party. If you like formal parties, choose a formal invitation. If you’re like me, you want your guests to feel welcomed and comfortable, exactly as they are. This means choosing a quirky, casual invitation. It’s an easy way to set the mood without having to lift more than a few fingers.
After your invitations have been sent out, you’ll have an idea of how many people to plan for. Take advantage of your kinder guests ó if a friend wants to bring baked goods, or another says she’ll bring some wine, let them. Count only on those who are dependable, but let good friends know what you need. Next, make a list.
- Decide what food to serve. Are you having a sit-down dinner, or serving finger foods? Will chips and dip work, or do you need to make a full set of hors d’oeuvres? Pick some simple party recipes that go a long way. Start here. Or here. Also, look here.
- Be sure to buy 15-20% more than you think you’ll need, of both food and drink. Budget six hors d’oeuvres per person, and three drinks. Know that some people will come hungry. Know which people are coming that will drink more, and who will drink less. Your goal is to have enough left over to feed you while you clean up after the party. No more, no less.
- An easy tip for simplicity: Offering one signature cocktail and one or two finger foods. Make these cheaply, and in copious quantities. There are lots of affordable holiday-themed foods and drink. Find one and stick with it.
- Next up: Plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery. Either use what you have, or — if entertaining several dozen people — find a decent bulk set in matching or corresponding colors. If you don’t need knives, don’t buy knives. This is where finger foods come in handy. Napkins and plates are all you need. Use your own serving pieces; even mix-and-match bowl sets can look nice. There’s no need to buy everything new.
- Use minimal decorations, and purchase almost nothing. If you need more than a tablecloth and napkins to signify your theme, you’re trying too hard. Repurpose old objects or borrow decorations from friends. There’s no need to buy new, especially if you’re hosting a seasonal event.
- Enlist the help of friends on the days prior to and of the party. If your house needs a deep clean, call in a favor. Surely someone you love owes you for something. If not, ask for their help as, for example, a Christmas present. A few hours of a friend’s time will go a long way in party preparation and ensuring hostess sanity.
- Don’t feel the need to have party activities. Unless you need to provide a distraction for children, the art of bringing people together to celebrate is plenty. Play appropriate music, encourage conversation, and introduce people who may have positive commonalities. Instead of buying a deck of cards, invite guests that are skilled at conversation and light communication.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but as long as you’ve got a date, a menu, a reason to celebrate, and seating for most — you can host a party. Don’t focus so much on perfection. Instead, put your energy into creating a lovely space and atmosphere for people to get the most out of your party. When hosting large parties, especially, you should take heart. Most people don’t have the guts, internal, or external resources to pull off such an event. Do your best, stay within your budget, and don’t stress. You’ll be a party hosting pro after the holiday season is over.