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Leisure Spending

Holiday Entertaining on a Budget

Try these tricks to hold down costs. Plus, we've got ten creative party ideas you can pull together on a shoestring -- even at the last minute.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it originally was published.

Want to throw a party this year, but you're short on cash?

No problem! You don't have to break the bank to host a great get-together. After all, it's the company of friends that matters, not how much money you spend (or don't).

Try these three tricks to keep entertaining costs down:

  • Make it a team effort. Share hosting duties -- and budgets -- with a friend. Or, involve your guests (and alleviate your financial burden) by asking them to bring a favorite dish, dessert or wine to share.

  • Borrow what you don't have. If you're young and just starting out in life, you're probably short on décor, dishes and table linens. Ask to borrow from a friend or family member. You could even check-out festive CDs and movies from your local library.

  • Get creative. Host a party that speaks to your and your friends' personalities. For example, is your crew the type that like to put on the ritz or are they most comfortable in jeans and T-shirt? Do they like hands-on activities or do they prefer to be entertained? There are no fixed rules -- make your own.


10 affordable party ideas

Using these guidelines, we came up with ten party ideas you can pull together on a tight budget -- even at the last minute.

1. Holiday open house. Tight on space? It can be difficult to host a party when you live in an apartment, condo or small home. But you needn't rent out the reception hall at the Marriott. Invite guests to an open house spanning a couple of hours. That way, you can celebrate with all your friends or family without too much crowding. Serve up drinks and simple hors d'oeuvres.

2. Intimate dinner party. You don't need to invite the entire neighborhood to have a great party. Invite a handful of your closest friends for a dinner party at your place. This is a great way to go elegant on a small budget. And you can even share hosting duties (and costs) with a friend to lighten your load.

3. Potluck party. Keep it casual and invite your friends over for potluck, where everyone brings a dish to share. You would need to handle only the main food item -- something that feeds a lot of people for a little money, such as a roasted turkey or a steaming crockpot of chili. Then divvy out assignments for drinks, salads, rolls, desserts, etc. Top off the evening with a group game tournament -- board games, card games, party games or video games. Pick something to match your guests' style.


4. Wine tasting and fondue party. Supplying enough wine for all your guests can be a big budget buster. But this party solves that problem. Each guest brings a bottle of wine to share, and you need provide only the food. Fondue makes a great companion for this party. Because you cut all the food into individual bites, you can make a little food go a long way.

Plan for three fondue courses, plus a simple salad to round out the meal:

Cheese: Dip breads, fruits and veggies into a pot of melted Swiss or cheddar.
Entrée: Marinate a variety of steak, chicken and shrimp ahead of time for guests to cook in hot oil or broth.
Dessert: Provide fruit, cake and marshmallows to dip in melted chocolate.

5. Movie night. Kids from 1 to 92 will enjoy a classic holiday film. Pick one up from your local library or rental store for cheap entertainment. Or, invite each guest to bring a movie from home (holiday-themed or not), and the collective group can vote on the one to watch.


Light the fireplace for ambiance, provide piles of warm blankets for your guests to snuggle under and make sure there's plenty of popcorn and eggnog on hand. If you have a bit of room in your budget, you could even rent a digital movie projector (about $100) to create a theater atmosphere in your home.

6. Holiday decorating party. When you're new to living on your own, you may feel nostalgic for the big tree-trimming party at home. So throw your own and invite your friends over for some festive fun. Shop ahead of time for inexpensive décor at thrift stores, dollar stores or big-box stores, such asTarget and Wal-Mart. Top off your party with a heaping plate of holiday cookies and hot cocoa for your guests.

7. Goodwill party. 'Tis the season to think of others. So why not check out volunteer opportunities in your area and invite your friends and family to come along? (Go to VolunteerMatch, Idealist or Network for Good to search.)

Or choose your own charitable project and ask guests to come prepared to participate. For example, you could tie quilts for kids at your local children's hospital or collect food and toys for a needy family in your neighborhood. Or host a regular dinner party, but ask guests to bring cans of food for you to take to the local food bank.


8. Brunch or lunch. If you're planning a party at the last minute, you may find your friends' and family's schedule booked. So instead of competing for those prime evening slots, host an elegant brunch or a casual lunch on the weekend.

9. Dessert night. Making a full dinner to feed your friends or family can be expensive. Instead, invite everyone over for dessert. Your guests can pitch in to make sundaes, dip chocolates or decorate sugar cookies -- then eat their creations. Or you could ask guests to bring their favorite seasonal goodie to share (and the recipe).

10. Holiday recovery party. Don't have the time or money to pull together a party by the end of the year? Start planning one for January when your budget may not be so strapped. Your friends will also likely have more room in their schedule. Besides, who couldn't use a party to unwind after the holidays?

SEE ALSO: Kiplinger's Holiday Buying Guide