Christmas is best when it’s celebrated with friends and family, preferably over a good meal and a glass of wine. For those with their own house, you may find that there is some pressure to host a Christmas party. With my own house, I definitely felt the pressure to host something for some friends as well, but when I looked at the list of everything that I needed for my dinner party, I had sticker shock!
Hosting your family or friends can be very rewarding but let’s face it: the costs escalate quickly. With a little bit of advance planning, you can still have a great party without spending a lot of money. Even hosting overnight guests can be affordable if you prepare beforehand. Here are some of the major expenses you’ll be looking at for holiday guests and some ideas for how to save money with them.
Food is one of the biggest items on any party budget. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to reduce the cost of serving a meal and appetizers. Generally speaking, it’s more expensive to serve a dinner than it is to serve a brunch or noon-time meal because of the type of food that is normally served. If your group is flexible to the time of the gathering, you could choose a lunch party with make-your-own sandwiches or choices of soup which can be made cheaply in large quantities.
If dinner is the only time that will work for your get-together, consider skipping the traditional meal in favor of something that’s less expensive to make in bulk. Homemade pizzas take a little bit more work, but it can be fun for everyone to add their own toppings. It also helps that the dough is very inexpensive to make. It might be untraditional in the U.S. to have a Christmas with Mexican food, but a large spread of taco fixin’s will be a frugal crowd-pleaser.
Going potluck and asking everyone to bring a dish is another way to save money on the price of food. As the host, you could roast a turkey or cook another large dish while all of your guests bring a salad or a dessert. While we’re on the topic of dessert, you could choose to have a desserts-only party and ask everyone to bring their best. No matter which menu you ultimately decide on, going simple is the best way to go. The fancier dishes will cost more, so keeping to the basics will trim your bottom line expense.
The fastest way to trim the alcohol budget of any holiday party is to either cut it out completely or declare it a BYOB event. One thing that I always forget about when I have a BYOB party is fridge space. If you ask your guests to bring their own beverages, then you should at least be able to offer them a cold place to store it. This is worth planning in advance for because if you are also serving a meal, fridge space may be at a premium. A bucket of ice is a great fridge alternative, and it is a relatively low cost compared to everything else you’re spending money on.
If you’d like to serve some alcohol with less expensive options, then you could choose a “signature drink” to serve. This could be something a little more basic like vodka and cranberry juice; it could be more festive like a spiked eggnog or peppermint schnapps hot chocolate. Mixing up a big batch yourself means that you can avoid pouring drinks too strongly and get the most out of the alcohol you purchase.
It sounds a little tacky, but research has shown that most people can’t tell the difference between boxed wine and a fancy bottle if they can’t see what it was poured from. Save money with a big box of wine and dress it up by pouring it into empty wine bottles. If this feels like cheating, then take the labels off so you don’t feel dishonest. Your guests might not even ask about the wine. If they do, then keep this in mind. Research suggests that they will enjoy it more out of the bottle regardless of its boxed origin.
Inviting guests from out of town to your holiday party probably means offering to let them stay the night or weekend at your home. It always sounds so easy to have weekend visitors, but if you don’t prepare ahead of time you can easily spend more money than you intend to.
Plan ahead for what meals you will be preparing for your guests and what meals you will be eating out at restaurants or family events. Inexpensive meal ideas to feed a crowd: oatmeal bake or muffins and fresh fruit in the morning. Cold cut spread or grilled cheese with tomato soup work for lunch. Bake and freeze muffins or baked goods, and thaw them the night before you plan to serve them.
Have some form of entertainment planned, and then plan a backup. If you feel like your house is boring, you will be more tempted to invite your guests out on the town, where you are certain to spend money. Cheap entertainment ideas could be board games, a rented movie, or crafts. Even if you end up just talking the whole time and don’t need entertainment ideas, having them on deck is a safe way to guard your budget.
Watch for sales of travel toiletries and keep a stash of deodorant, tooth brushes, and soaps for guests who forgot their supplies at home. Before your guests arrive, stock up on basics like toilet paper so you don’t end up running to the more expensive corner store to save time.