Holiday Helper 2 – Is it possible to host a gathering without blowing the budget?

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After reading last week’s post on How to host a gathering you might be thinking that there’s a lot to consider and a lot of hard work involved in running a party. Don’t let that scare you as the Hosting a Gathering Framework is supposed to help you consider everything ahead so you know how small or big a party you want to throw.

It’s often the case that larger parties can be quite expensive as well. There’s heaps of food to be bought and then you need drinks and snacks and salads and you can just imagine the costs spirally out of control. And at a time like Christmas and New Year your money is probably already allocated for Christmas presents for the family and friends, and you’ve probably got a holiday planned for January as well (are you going to Queensland like I did when I was a kid?).

Just thinking about how much money you’re going to spend over the next few weeks can be enough to make you feel faint. And on top of all that is the regular bills and commitments you have. I’m sure your credit card is going to get a bit of a work out over the next few weeks.

I’m here today to tell you that it is possible to host a gathering without needs to send costs spiraling out of control. There are some simple things you can do to make sure that you still host a great party and everyone gets great food, but that you keep the costs to a minimum.


Tips for saving money on food

All of these tips and the tips below about decorations are tips I have used myself. I don’t have heaps of cash to splash around so I make sure that I make great meals by using my creativity and by trying to use what I have on hand, rather than running out to get everything each time I host a party.

Follow these money saving tips:

Carefully choose the type of party you’re hosting

What I mean here is that certain types of parties can be more expensive than others. A sit down dinner for 50 people will cost you more than a buffet in the garden, or a bbq at a local park. Hiring a hall for 250 people can be expensive, when you might be able to use a friends’ place or host the gathering at your parents’ place (my parents have an acre so we can spread out a bit). And a buffet means you can usually put lots of smaller dishes on the table so everyone gets a taste, but you don’t need to prepare (and buy) a full size meal for everyone, ultimately saving you money as you can buy smaller amounts of more expensive ingredients and everyone still feels like they had a great meal.

Bulk buying ingredients

A great way to save cash is to buy ingredients in bulk. But think carefully about what is actually worth buying in bulk as you don’t want to be left with 5 litres of juice no one wants to drink because it’s cheap and tastes nasty. Some easy things to buy in bulk can be:

  • Tasty/cheddar cheese – which can be added to lasagna’s with a smaller amount of a stronger flavoured cheese like parmesan, or add it to salads and cheese platters (either sliced or cubed).
  • Tomatoes – which can be used for making pasta sauces and marinades for meat, or used as the basis for casseroles.
  • Soda water – Aldi sells 1.25L bottles for about 80c and you can add these to refreshing summer drinks, fruit punches, or as part of alcohol mixers.
  • Melon – buy watermelon cheap and freeze it into a granita for a cold dessert on a hot day, or simply cut slices to add to the buffet/dessert, make a watermelon salad or use it as part of a drink/punch/mixer. Rockmelon can be used as an entrée wrapped in prosciutto or as a cold soup.
  • Bread – offer bread as a side with meals, use it with sausages and BBQ food, use it as bruchetta with tomatoes, onion and basil, or use it in a fattoush salad.

Get everyone to contribute a dish

This is usually a great way to get everyone involved in a party. Ask each person/family to bring something so they can help with the catering of the event. It might be that you offer to buy the meat and you ask others to bring along salads, desserts and drinks. It could be that you provide the salads and the drinks and you ask each person to bring along their own meat to BBQ on the day (this works especially well when you are having a gathering at a local park).  People are usually willing to help out, and a bottle of drink or a few steaks won’t break their budget either, so you’re not going to look bad asking everyone to bring something. This is how all the Christmas gatherings work in my family, and mum is always asked to bring along her ‘famous’ casserole that everyone loves.


DIY dinners

By this I mean choosing a meal where everyone can make their own version on the day, and you only need to prepare a few things ahead. For instance, a friend of mine recently hosted a party for 100 people where she got them all to make their own tacos. She provided the tacos, the cheese, the chopped salsa and the beef/bean mixture, etc and all the guests put everything together the way they liked it. She said it was easy to prepare ahead (she made the salsa the day ahead and cooked the meat just before guests arrived) and made clean up easier too (5 big bowls can be cleaned up in minutes, not hours). She also told me the guests loved it cause it was a novel idea. Sometimes asking for help can be done in a creative way, and tacos are pretty cheap food to make. What other meals would lend themselves to DIY dinners?

Tips for saving money on decorations and furniture

Along with saving money on the food it’s also great to same money on the decorations, especially for a Christmas or birthday party (where it’s expected you have some decorations up around the house).

Here are a few tips I’ve used myself:

Buy decorations at the Christmas sales

This is a great one to keep in mind, but it takes some planning ahead. At this years Christmas sales get some extra decorations, particularly tinsel (I’ve seen it sell for less than a dollar) or Christmas tree knick-knacks, at cheaper prices and save them for next year. Christmas lights are also usually reduced after Christmas so stock up now.


Buy decorations at variety/department stores

Here in Australia you can pick up some cute and cheap decorations for around the $2 mark at places like The Reject Shop. I’ve also seen great quality but cheaply priced decorations (especially for birthdays) at Big W. The Big W at the QV centre here in Melbourne has a huge party section that caters for any event, in almost all colours and themes, so check out your Big W as well.


Borrow decorations/furniture from family/friends

If you’ve been designated as the host of this years’ Christmas party then ask Uncle Tom or Aunty Jane if they can bring along that great banner you saw at their place last year, or talk to Grandma Bernadette about borrowing her Santa sleigh table centre piece because you think its a great family heirloom. Ask Cousin Sarah if you can borrow the funky placemats you saw at her place earlier this year, or see if your brother will lend you his extra large outdoor table for the event. And I’m sure that your parents could have a large esky (cooler) or two you could use for piling drinks into, and they’re also likely to be able to bring along a spare Christmas tree or two (don’t your parents have the old Christmas tree they used 10 year ago still out in garage? Or is that just my family?). And if it’s not a gathering with family, ask your friends for help – especially if they’re going out of town for their own celebrations this year (they won’t be needing their 6 wooden kitchen chairs that you really need).


Don’t use furniture

This works best when you have guests that are willing to try something a little novel (or who can get up off the floor easily). I had planned a picnic one day and it turned out to pour down with rain that day, so I moved the picnic inside. I put pillows and cushions on the floor, put down some sheets/blankets to make it feel like we were on the picnic and used the coffee table as our picnic bench. I did this cause I didn’t have enough chairs for everyone, and it turned out to be a fun event. I did this a second time for a Middle Eastern themed party where we ate food on a rug on the floor as the traditional peoples of the Middle East would have done and that went down really well as well. This certainly helped me to save money as I didn’t need to hire extra chairs or a gazebo.

I hope you find these tips helpful and that you can see hosting a party doesn’t have to be as expensive as you thought. Next week I have two more holiday helper posts coming for you, one on great summer drinks using mint, and the other on what presents to buy for a new home chef (I can’t wait on that one!).


What other tips do you have for keeping the budget low when hosting a party? Leave a comment below.


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