6 Ways to Throw an Affordable Holiday Party

Americans spend on average of $200 on holiday-related entertaining expenses, but you can cut that figure in half with these tips.

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Getting ready to host a big bash for family and friends this holiday season? You might have noticed that parties aren’t cheap. The invitations, food, and decorations quickly add up. The National Retail Federation estimates that while we spend about $400 on gifts for family, we spend close to $200 on decorations, food, flowers, and mailings this time of year.

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In their new book, Plan to Party, professional party planners Elizabeth Mascali and Dawn Sandomeno explain how to host a successful gathering without breaking the bank. They suggest saving on invitations and professional venues and splurging on a few special touches. Here are six of their suggestions for hosting on a budget:

Host at home: Would-be hosts often worry that their home isn’t big enough or nice enough, the authors say, but they insist it is: “In many families and cultures, an invitation to someone’s home is considered a great honor. A home is sacred and private. The honor is conveyed in the unwritten part of the invitation. ‘I consider you special and I want to share my home with you.’”

Think small: “Bigger is not always better,” the authors insist. Deciding on a budget in advance and planning everything—the size of the gathering, the type of food you will serve—around that number will help keep the costs under control. Shopping ahead of time so you can order decorations online without paying for shipping, for example, can also keep costs down.

Focus on colors: According to Mascali and Sandomeno, a technique they call “mass appeal,” which involves using a handful of items that are the same or similar color, can glam-up relatively inexpensive decorations. They suggest groupings of matching carnations, cupcakes, or candles.

Host brunch: Since brunch involves breakfast foods, including egg dishes such as frittatas or quiche, and usually less meat and alcohol than dinner parties, it can be relatively affordable.

Include a few special touches: Adding fresh lemons to water and other drinks or berries as a cocktail garnish can add a sense of indulgence to an otherwise simple affair, the authors say. “A few hours before serving, simply fill a container with water, add selected produce that has been thoroughly cleaned and cut if necessary (e.g., citrus, cucumbers), cover and set aside for an hour or two. The water will slowly become infused with the essence of the produce,” they write. Then, shortly before guests arrive, chill the infused water in the fridge.

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Stick with email invites: Paper is expensive, and these party planners insist there’s no shame in using digital invitations, as long as you personalize them. Plus, they add, it’s the better choice for the environment.

If you’re still looking for ideas to host your own holiday bash, here are a couple of party prototypes from Mascali and Sandomeno:

1. The cookie party: On their website, Mascali and Sandomeno offer a free cookie party guide, which suggests donating cookies to a local shelter or exchanging them as gifts among friends. Other tips: Tracking guests’ contributions to avoid duplicate cookie recipes and specifying that no store-bought cookies are allowed.

2. The chocolate party: Similar in approach to a wine-tasting party, Mascali and Sandomeno suggest throwing a chocolate-tasting party, complete with worksheets for guests to rank the treats they try. One key, they say, is to make a detailed shopping list, including the types of chocolate you will offer, to avoid last-minute impulse purchases. Do you have holiday hosting tips to share?

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