The best advice for watching your party budget is to start from scratch. The more you do yourself, the slower the costs add up—and the more fun you can have. Try these economic ideas from Tori Spelling’s CelebraTORI: Unleashing Your Inner Party Planner to Entertain Friends and Family.
FOOD AND SHOPPING
The best way to save money on food is to make fewer dishes. Pull a number of recipes that interest you, then edit yourself. Be realistic. Think about how long the party will last and how much an average person eats. Sure, it’s good to have an overabundance of food, but not a wasteful amount. And you certainly don’t want to buy ingredients for a recipe that you end up having no time left to make. Go to the store with a set menu and a shopping list.
This may sound obvious, but before you go to the store, check to see which ingredients you already have at home. I must have six jars of cinnamon because I never remember to check before I’m at the store shopping for ingredients for eggnog. Little extras like that, especially spices, clutter your kitchen and add up on the grocery bill.
Prepared or premade food cuts down on time, but it costs you more. You’ll pay a premium for those hideous plastic platters with cut-up carrots, celery, and ranch dip in the middle. Save money by peeling the carrots and cutting them up yourself. Cheaper, and fresher. If you must get the premade platter, that’s okay. But please, I beg you, transfer its contents to your own dish. Anything is better than that store-bought clear plastic.
Even for a daytime party, I always buy soda in liter bottles instead of six-packs. I found that when I offered cans, guests would take a few sips, put down the can, and forget about it. When people have the freedom to pour their own drinks, they can take exactly the amount they want. There is only one critical exception to this rule: You should absolutely buy individual sodas if you are color-coordinating the bottles.
I can’t stand the look of those ubiquitous water bottles, and you know they must be dominating landfills across the country. Instead of buying individual water bottles, fill pitchers with your favorite water. Or invest in one of those glass water coolers with a button you push to serve yourself. It looks much better and saves plastic.
In my twenties, I thought I had to offer every kind of liquor known to man at my parties. The built-in bar in my apartment must have been five feet long, and lined up on it were what I thought were the standard liquors. Some were—vodka, gin, tequila, scotch. And some not so much—Jägermeister, Goldschläger, Bailey’s. I bought mega bottles of them at Costco and supplemented with wine coolers. Wine coolers! Not exactly the beverage choice of a sophisticated host.
At my parties now I don’t put any bottles of liquor out for my guests. Instead, I offer one or two premade cocktails and wine. If I do put liquor out, I decant vodka and gin into nice bottles with labels. If I serve beer it’s mostly Stella Artois—because of my daughter Stella and because I think foreign beer looks more chic.
DISHES AND GLASSWARE
Don’t wait until you’re having a party to stock your kitchen with dishes and glassware. If you love garage sales as much as I do (and you should, they are a host’s dream come true!), you can start building a collection of mismatched finds that will look great at any party.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. In a world of overshopping and clutter, I say that buying more (at least at garage sales) can save you money in the long run. You just have to develop a discerning eye.
You don’t need to buy or own full sets of anything. If you’re at a garage sale, and you see two glasses you love for a dollar, buy them. A mishmash collection is cool and chic.
You can get more tips like Tori’s, plus helpful lifestyle advice, parenting info, and recipes in the Tips on Life & Love newsletter.