How to Throw a Party on a Budget
You don't have to spend big bucks to make big impressions.
by Erin Henderson
A few years ago, we were invited to a celebration, that, well... wasn't very celebratory. In fact, it was pretty bad.
Picture it: a florescent lit, utilitarian, condo party room. A plastic table covering, random paper plates, white plastic forks and disposable, plastic wine glasses. There was a cheese plate – well, there was one block of cheese sliced onto a paper plate, and the charcuterie – rounds of grocery store salami – sliced onto another paper plate. Music came from someone's iPhone plugged into the wall, laying on the floor in the corner.
The whole thing was so depressing and underwhelming we've never forgotten it.
The lack of attention, the lack of care. We felt bad for the birthday girl, as likely she had higher hopes for her bash than this lacklustre affair.
Accuse us of being shallow, but we're going on record saying momentous occasions – whether it be simple afterwork cocktails, bridal showers, or big-time birthday bashes – deserve a bit of extra thought.
Even with a limited budget, you can still get that wow factor. We're here to show you how.
This seems so obvious, but it's usually mis-used or completely under-utilized.
Instead of giving guests the vague assignment of bringing "dessert" or "wine," get specific. Like, really specific. Specific as in, "please bring two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon." Or, "please make your killer guacamole – enough for 15 people." Or, "please bring three pounds of bagged ice."
PS – the only way you're going to be able to get what you need and want, is to know what you need and want. That means taking some time to create a game plan, writing out a list of who's coming, and what you need to get this party off the ground.
Cheese boards, seafood, and pre-made, ready-to-bake hors d'oeuvres can get really pricey. Or worse yet, if you decide to splurge on these items but not fully commit (think of that frozen, smelly, grocery-store shrimp ring), it can look cheap and lacklustre.
You're better off to skip it all together and go with tasty, yet value-driven, crowd pleasing snacks.
Items like steamed and salted edamame, dips with artisan bread, hummus and vegetables, devilled eggs, and gougères are all easy to make and can feed a party for only a few bucks per item.
Consider the timing of your soirée. Hosting a party outside of meal times means you can get away with less food, so start your shindig after 7pm. Or, if you really want to feed people, a terrific budget-friendly option is brunch. Mimosas, coffee and frittatas are elegant, yet inexpensive.
Lower the Bar
Alcohol can blow the budget off any bash, so skip the wide range of offerings.
If you want to stretch your dollar, but not look like a cheapskate, serve punches and pitcher drinks like sangria, where you can get away with using a (quality) inexpensive wine or spirit base, and stretch it out with juices, sodas or fruit.
Divide Decor and Conquer
The right lighting, tablescapes, and music can elevate your event.... And the wrong elements can completely flatten it.
Repurpose what you already have: cut flowers from your garden, or use fresh herbs or seasonal fruit for centre pieces.
Borrow from friends to fill in the gaps of what you may be missing from your own inventory: pitchers, vases, Christmas lights, candle holders. Whatever you need that will work in your space and with your theme.
Have a little fun exploring thrift, craft, and dollar stores. Let you imagination run a little wild and think about repurposing items for another use – maybe that ornate picture frame can become a plate charger, or a bright flower pot can be used as a salad bowl. Unexpected pieces can be conversation points and infuse a little "wow" into your party.
Plan and Budget
We've saved the most boring and least exciting point for last.
No matter what, if you're hosting a crowd, you will have to pony up some cash. But, a little preparation and planning can help ease the burn on your wallet.
First of all, rarely do your soirées come out of the blue. Birthdays, holidays, graduations, and anniversaries all come with a bit of warning (New Year's Eve is always on December 31st), so if you're going to host a gathering to mark such an occasion, start figuring things out a few months in advance.
We have private clients who we meet with a few times a year to go over their social calendar and plan out the wines they will want for each occasion – not only does it allow for proper budgeting, it saves a ton of last-minute stress.
By giving yourself a bit of time to figure out what you're going to do and what you'll need, you can save up and budget accordingly so you can pull off a fabulously stress-free party – on budget.