How to Throw an Awesome Party on a Budget
Whether you want to plan a great summer party for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, celebrate an engagement or wedding, or congratulate your new graduate, it can be difficult if you are operating on a limited budget. However, it can still be done if you go about it the right way. Here are a few tips on how to throw an awesome party on a penny.
Set Your Budget in Advance
If you set a budget before you start planning the party, you’ll be able to set your expectations in advance. Then you know when you can afford to cater the party and when you need to plan the party to feature affordable party platters from the big box store or abundant finger foods instead. If you start planning on the cost per head and the overall amount is too high, you could switch from catering to a taco bar or potluck or reduce the headcount. Another option is co hosting the event with someone else and splitting the costs. Just remember that charging your guests turns the party into a for-profit event, and that requires a permit in many jurisdictions.
Pick a Theme
The ideal party has a theme. The party may already have a theme due to what you’re celebrating like an engagement, wedding or baby shower. Or you can pick one, such as a football party or an American themed party any time in July. Remember that you don’t have to go overboard to make the food and décor fit the theme. Red, white and blue streamers and cupcakes with the same colors are excellent options for a celebration of America’s birthday. A pool party theme can feature fake waves made from blue streamers and blue paper on the walls while people wear swimsuits, whether or not you have a pool.
Consider the Impact of Schedule on the Party
If you plan to go out, happy hour drinks are cheaper than drinks later in the evening, and restaurant meals are often cheaper in the early afternoon as well. Some catering services will charge you less if you’re scheduling events on a weekday instead of a weekend or accept delivery in the morning instead of afternoon. If you plan the party for the afternoon, you may be able to get away with only snacks because people will eat lunch and dinner on their own elsewhere.
Hit the Dollar Store for the Décor
Your party décor doesn’t have to be fancy or costly. Hit the dollar store for cheap place cards, plates, cups and utensils. You could pick up gelatin molds, seasonal platters and other exotic items at an affordable price. These choices let you enjoy the party instead of worrying about the bills or being afraid of someone dropping your china platter. Remember to use what you have on hand as much as possible, and party decorations like comic convention cosplay always look better to others than they do to your own perfectionist gaze.
Plentiful, Affordable Food
The quantity of food is almost more important than the quality of food. People would rather have plenty of affordable finger foods than upscale small servings and still be hungry. Quality does matter when you serve meat that is more fat than protein or falls short of expected taste. You can mix and match by serving skewers of deli meat with bowls of chips, grapes and other low cost snacks. When portions and price are a dual concern, consider serving cupcakes instead of a very large cake.
If money is truly a concern, make it a potluck party or ask guests to bring food in lieu of gifts. If “potluck” sounds cheap, call it a recipe exchange instead. If people ask how they can help, be specific with “bring a bag of chips” or “bring your favorite beverage to share”.
There is a reason why cash bars are popular at weddings – alcohol can be a budget buster when it is available for free at a party. You can save money on alcohol by asking people to bring their preferred alcoholic beverage to share. Skip the cocktails and provide a variety of cheaper alcoholic drinks.
Offer a modest variety of drinks with a wider selection of flavored waters, bottled water, soda and energy drinks. The side benefit of offering many non-alcoholic drinks to guests is that you can slow down alcohol consumption while allowing those who don’t drink to still fit in. If you have guests younger than 21, the non-alcoholic drinks that they like will let them enjoy the party, too. Make certain that you label the spiked punch from the fruit juice based beverage so that no one’s designated driver ends up more soused than the passengers.
Use Technology to Replace the DJ
Instead of hiring a DJ for the party, create a playlist or “radio station” via a smartphone app and play that music on the sound system.
Use the Tools at Your Disposal
There are many tools at your disposal to simplify the process of preparing for a party and keeping in touch with everyone. Remember that not everyone uses Facebook, and “event” pages can result in dozens of strangers showing up at your home. Use online invitation systems to send out invitations to everyone on your list, RSVP, report conflicts and track how many have confirmed and how many friends they want to bring along. These same party planning tools let you send reminders to invitees and send out updates like “we moved the time to 4 PM” or “park in back”.
Don’t forget to use a free online tool to create custom thank you cards, letting you personalize and streamline the process of saying thank you for gifts or simply attending with relatively little effort.
If you want your party to be a success, set your budget in advance, and plan the party to fit what you’re willing to spend. Pick a theme, and look for ways to use what you already have and affordable buys to fit the planned décor. Determine how the date and time of the party affects the price you’d pay or even availability of venues. Have plenty of drinks, especially non-alcoholic ones. Focus on the quantity of food instead of the quality, as long as it still fits the bill. If cost is an issue, ask people to bring drinks and snacks. Skip the DJ and use the apps for the music playlist instead. Finally, use free online tools to send both invitations and thank you cards.