It’s crazy to think that our December calendar is already beginning to fill up. There don’t seem to be enough days in the month to attend each program, host fun gatherings with friends and family, and of course squeeze in a party or two with colleagues from work. Christmas, a season packed with unexpected expenses and unanticipated extras, can kill even the tightest of budgets. Luckily these tried and true money saving strategies ensure you can entertain during a merry and bright season while keeping your checking account the color of Santa’s boots instead of his suit. And bonus – these party planning tips work any time of the year, no matter what sort of soiree you throw.
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Begin With a Budget
The worst thing any reveler could do is shop blindly. You must have a target amount in mind of how much you want to spend whether you’re attending or hosting a holiday party. This requires planning in advance and considering each potential expense. Answer these questions as you begin to budget:
- What will you wear?
- Are you hosting the engagement in your home or in need of renting a larger space?
- Will you serve food?
- Do you need to purchase a host gift?
- What paper goods or consumables will be required?
- Are you sending invitations?
- Will there be entertainment?
- Do you need to decorate your home or another venue?
While these questions may not encompass every area of your budget, thinking through each query will engage your thinking as you choose how much you’d like to spend. If budgeting is a weak spot for you, ask a friend or coworker to help you with the process. He or she brings a unique lens to your planning.
Exercise Portion Control
Overspending and overeating seem to go hand-in-hand during the holiday season. If possible, plan a party that doesn’t require a full meal. Your guests are unlikely to starve thanks to the abundance of the season. Try out some of these ideas for minimizing spending without compromising flavor.
- Have an appetizer party. Prepare an assortment of traditional crowd favorites like mozzarella sticks, crock pot dips, meatballs, and bread sticks. Bonus points if you line up a menu that doesn’t require flatware.
- If you’re hosting a more laid back celebration, order pizza. Instead of having the traditional triangle shaped slice, request that your pie be cut “party style.” This will create more square shaped pieces from one pizza. Plus guests are less likely to fall victim to the “eyes bigger than stomach” syndrome where they pick up slices that end up in the trash can.
- Instead of serving full portions of desserts, feature several mini-dessert options. Bite-sized cheesecake, layered parfait styled deliciousness in small cups, or maybe even a milk and cookies bar with a variety of each holiday classic all will delight your guests but remain more cost effective.
- If your fete is immediately following work and requires dinner, consider hosting a potluck and ask your friends or family to bring their best dish. You could theme the night’s food or divide the alphabet having A-M bring a salty dish to share and N-Z bring a sweet dish.
- Serving food buffet style? Place the most economical items (think bread or rolls, chips, veggies) at the head of the line. Guests will fill up their plates with these items first, allowing you to stretch more costly foods like meat and desserts further.
Limit Beverage Options
Open bar? Cash bar? No alcohol at all? Tea, lemonade, cider, hot cocoa, soda, water? Bottled beverages or cups and ice? Merely considering what drinks you’ll serve at a party can make your budget dwindle down to nothing in the time it takes to pour a glass of wine. If at all possible, limit the beverages to 2 or 3 choices. If your event is less formal, you might even consider asking your guests to bring their own favorite beverage. Dress up water by adding fresh fruit. Put cider or hot cocoa in a crockpot for a hot offering that doesn’t require tending. Invest in a thermal dispenser (I snagged one at Sam’s Club for $18) that you can use time and time again.
Take Your Invites Digital
Your guests don’t require a trumpeter and seven swans swimming to announce your shindig. Skip traditional paper invitations and opt for an online evite instead. Not only do you save money on printing and postage, you also have a handy platform to send guests organizational information and last minute details, too. If you require a paper format, consider printing postcards which require less preparation (no envelope stuffing for you) and offer significant postage savings.
Limit the Guest List
When it comes to family or work events, you can’t really pick and choose who you’re inviting to a holiday party. However, other gatherings do have more leeway to let you trim down the number of guests you’ll be inviting. Concerned about hurt feelings? Instruct those on the invite list to keep the affair Social Media “dark.” Collect phones at the beginning of the party so no one is tempted to flood their feed with photos. Help invited guests feel special and remind them what it feels like to left out.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
Celebration is a beautiful part of life. But party planning becomes an easy distraction for excess. It comes from a really good place – wanting our guests to be honored and have a great time – but easily slips into a dangerous pattern of overspending if we are not mindful. Remember that the purpose of a holiday party is to share time together. It’s not about flashy decor or pricey foods. It has nothing to do with DJs or paid entertainment. Spending time together always trumps spending money. People remain more important than things, throughout the holidays and every other day of the year.
Refocus Your Fun
Use your holiday get-together this year as an opportunity to assist your community or the world around you. You just might discover that your prefer a party with a purpose. Check out the following simple ideas, great for serving while celebrating.
- Go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home. Call ahead and schedule a time best for residents and staff. Many of the men and women who live in the nursing home or assisted living facility are on restricted diets, so avoid bringing outside foods. Have your kids color pictures or make cards to hand out.
- Crash someone’s Christmas. Know a friend or family member out of work? Divide a list of non-perishable food and practical household goods. Maybe even wrap a gift or two for their children. Show up on their doorstep with an armful of kindness and give hugs.
- Choose a charity to support and ask your guests to bring any coins they have at home to donate. You can literally “change” the world together.
- Volunteer at a food pantry or relief agency.
You’ll never regret focusing your efforts on others.
Each holiday presents the opportunity to make memories and show others just how much you care. Don’t let the trappings of the season divert you from the true meaning of bringing friends and family together, marking yet another year with one another.