For as long as I can remember, my mother has been the hostess with the mostest. From annual summer get-togethers to epic cast parties after the high school musical, my home has always been "party central."
I still remember the childhood birthday celebrations my mother would host for my brother and me each June. I have fond memories of running around the backyard going on "peanut hunts," which were always followed by the "puzzle challenge." My mom would hide pieces of a puzzle all over the house and whichever team found all the pieces and correctly assembled the puzzle first won. I loved it all and looked forward to it every summer.
But what I didn't appreciate at the time was the frugality of it all. The party was joint (shared with my brother), the venue was home, the activities were practically free, the peanuts doubled as favors and the party staples were repurposed each year.
Over the years, I've tried to adopt my mother's knack for fun and resourceful entertaining. Here are some of the hostessing hacks I've discovered for a frugal yet fabulous party of my own:
Use digital invites.
Not only do you save money by skipping paper invites and passing on postage, but you're also likely to get more timely RSVPs with the convenience of an online invite that has RSVP built in. If you'd like something a little classier than Facebook to organize your next event, try a free web invitation service like Evite, which offers customized invites and a host of other useful party planning tools like guest list management and event budget calculators.
Co-host with a fellow party planner.
Team up with a friend or two to share party costs. Even if you host at home, food, alcohol and other party essentials can add up quickly if you're taking on all the expenses yourself. Having an extra set of hands can also save you time on party prep and clean up.
Decide what you can provide, such as the venue, the main course, beer and wine, and assign the rest to friends. You can leave guest options completely open or assign specific courses to specific people or simply suggest a theme for the evening. Breakfast for dinner, tapas and regional cuisines are always good ones. Alternatively, you can keep it super simple and have everyone bring an ingredient for some DIY tacos or a build-your-own quesadilla night.
Skip the open bar.
Stocking your home with handles of every kind of adult beverage will skyrocket costs in no time. Ask guests to BYOB or stick to providing wine and beer. Or, if you're celebrating a certain occasion or theme, consider providing a seasonal punch or specialized cocktail.
Rethink your munchies.
The pre-dinner snacks can be a surprisingly costly part of your celebration. Skip the party platters at the store and create your own crudités. Substitute budget-friendly homemade dips like hummus for expensive cheese and smoked meat platters.
Don't stress about décor or dishware.
If you insist on décor, keep it simple with dollar store buys or by repurposing seasonal decorations. Dessert can serve as a sweet centerpiece, too, by setting it out for everyone to admire (and salivate over) in advance. Party dishware like extra place settings and serving platters can be found at a low price and in great condition at thrift stores and garage sales.
Stick with Pandora for your music.
Thankfully, adult party entertainment doesn't require the same amount of effort as a children's celebration, though the thought of a peanut hunt around my NYC apartment admittedly sounds amusing. Use a free service like Spotify or Pandora to stream a party playlist from your smartphone or laptop for a little background mood music and maybe keep a deck of cards or some pen and paper on hand should an impromptu game night break out.
Don't get carried away.
The excitement of party prep can lead to thoughtless and sometimes reckless celebratory spending. While retailers know how to make everything from napkin rings to seat cushions seem like an absolute necessity when planning your next get-together, remember to stick with what you actually need so that you don't wake up post-revelry with a debt hangover.
Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.
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