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Hosting a Frugal, Rocking Holiday Party

That title might be a little misleading. Parties do cost money, and if you are in a financial bind, you really shouldn’t be hosting one. However, if you like to entertain, there are ways to do it frugally. I did host a pretty rocking Christmas party for my employees this past weekend. Obviously, these tips don’t work if you have 200 people to serve and entertain, but if you are hosting a small holiday gathering, there’s no reason you can’t have a great party without having to ask Santa for grocery money next month.

Food

Basically for any party, you need to provide food. There is nothing wrong with doing appetizers only. If you buy those fancy pre-made trays at the grocery store, it is much less work, but you’ll end up spending 3-4X more. I like to buy veggies and fruits, then cut and arrange them myself. If you don’t have serving platters or utensils, dollar stores or thrift shop are a treasure trove of holiday serving items right now. You can also buy something like a big bag of frozen shrimp at the grocery store. These cost less and provide more volume than buying the pre-arranged platter with the tiny container of cocktail sauce.

For our office party, dinner is always provided. If you have to feed 10-20 people or so, it can get expensive to serve a dish with meat as the main fixture. Chicken Parmesan is great, but you’ll have to buy enough individual chicken breasts for everyone to have one. I like to serve a dish that doesn’t use meat as the main ingredient. I made four pans of enchiladas, one chicken with red sauce, one ground beef with red sauce, one chicken with green sauce, and one veggie. This took a total of 6 chicken breasts, 1 pound of ground beef, and the veggies that were going bad in my refrigerator. I also bought cheese when it was on sale for $2.50/lb. If you have spices, you could make your own, but I ended up using canned enchilada sauce.  You can find a bag of tortillas for around $1. Total cost for a pan of enchiladas was around $5, or $20 for all four pans. Not bad, and I had enough left over to feed my family for another 3-4 meals. The other nice thing about doing something like enchiladas or lasagna is that you really don’t need other side dishes, and unless you blow up the oven, it’s hard to screw them up.

Since the office covers the cost of our Christmas party, it doesn’t come out of my actual budget, so we do provide some wine and beer as well as soft drinks, but there is no reason you can’t make it a BYOB party. If you are providing dinner, guests don’t usually mind picking up a libation on the way.

Entertainment

We have a few games that we do at our office Christmas party. They cost nothing more than some brain power, paper, and pens. The first one we call the name game. The host thinks up a list of people, living or dead, famous or not, really anyone that your guests might know. You write the name on a piece of paper and stick one on each person’s back when they arrive. You are allowed to ask yes or no questions about your person until you are ready to guess who it is. We usually have some scratch lottery tickets that we give to the first three people who guess correctly. You always have some people who get theirs right away, and others take the whole party to figure it out.

This year we also did an ornament exchange. We’ve done white elephant gifts in the past as well. Everyone brings their gift all wrapped up,  and we draw numbers. When it is your turn you can either open a gift or steal one from someone who already opened one. It can get pretty rowdy with lots of steals, but it’s really fun to see people’s reactions. You don’t have to buy expensive gifts to have a fun exchange.

Dessert

In year’s past, for dessert I would go to the bakery section at the grocery store and pick up some ready made treats. No more. Even though the party was paid for by company money, my new, frugal self decided to make only homemade goodies this year. I think they were much more impressive, and I know exactly what went into them. My favorite this year was mint brownies. My friend has made these for years, so I thought I’d give it a try. We couldn’t find her recipe, so we searched online. I’m so glad I practiced the week before.  The first recipe we found sounded right, but the brownies came out tasting fine, but looking like a coffee cake. The second one we found at cooks.com, and it was spot on. I’ll share below. Warning: if you are trying to lose weight, run, turn off the computer right now. This baby is fantastic, but contains almost three sticks of butter! I think you can gain weight by smelling it. It also takes either a full day or can be made over the course of two days, as you have to let all the layers cool down between additions.

Mint Brownie Recipe

Brownie Layer

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

4 eggs

1 cup chocolate syrup (like you put on ice cream)

In a large mixer bowl, beat flour, sugar, softened butter, eggs, and syrup until smooth. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Mint Layer

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon mint extract (on the same shelf as vanilla extract)

3 drops green food color (optional, but your mint layer will be white without this)

Mix ingredients for mint layer until smooth. Spread over cooled brownies. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Chocolate Topping

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup chocolate chips

Melt butter and chips until chips are smooth when stirred. (I just put in a glass bowl and microwaved, but I’m sure you could do it on the stove top as well). Pour over top of mint layer. Cover and chill. Serve chilled.

Hopefully you can use these tips to throw a frugal, killer party during the holidays or any time of year. (For more tips, check out Anne’s post from Plunged in Debt). It’s easy to call the caterer, but by planning and doing it yourself, you can save some money and feel proud of your hosting achievement.

Not my actual ones, but they looked like this. Photo bettycrocker.com

Did you host a holiday party this year? Have you ever blown up an oven?

My normal posting schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday might be a little different for the next few weeks. Today, I have a guest post over at Making Sense of Cents (Go read it or I will throw a stick of butter at you!) Tomorrow, Joe at We Got Outta Debt will be guest posting for me, and don’t miss Thursday when I reveal my gift from the Frugal Portland Exchange. It won’t disappoint. Who knows about Friday? I can’t think that far in advance right now! Oh, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway for your chance at $100!

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

43 comments

  1. Making your own is definitely way cheaper in most cases. We went to two holiday parties this weekend where we had to bring something. At the first party, the veggie tray looked amazing. Knowing that I had to bring one to the second party the next day, I asked the person who brought it where they got it and how much it was. $35! Holy cows! For veggies and ranch! I bought the same plastic tray at the dollar store and did almost the exact same tray that he brought for a grand total of about $9. My veggie tray was a hit at the second party.

  2. Making your own is a great way to save some money but I’m shocked as to how many people are too lazy to do it. lol. Nearly all of the parties I attend have the pre-packaged meats or veggie trays.

    Those brownies look delicious by the way. Yummmmmmmmmmmmy

    • They are yummy, and they take so long to make you feel like you earned it. I can see running out to grab a platter if you wait until the last minute. You really have to start cooking either the day before or very early in the day. I guess if your time is worth more than what the platter costs?

  3. Excellent post. You have me wanting brownies now, despite not having breakfast yet! Spreading out high cost ingredients like meat is an important tip for making money go further. Also, thanks for the mention 🙂

  4. I never blew an oven, my roommate did when she came back drunk and put a burrito in the oven then dozed off on the couch. I woke up in a cloud of black smoke. Good idea to provide Mexican for a party, it is festive and super cheap. I like to make Spanish tortilla too, it is just egg and potatoes, and you can dice it to serve with toothpicks like tapas, people generally enjoy it a lot.

  5. It always amazes me how so many people will buy the pre-packaged fruit & veggies and is just so expensive…to each their own I guess. Ok, those brownies should be illegal, they look too awesome!

  6. It sounds like you threw an awesome party for your employees! We always play games at our office party too. I think its a lot funner than hired entertainment!

  7. Those brownies look awesome. We usually host a holiday party for thanksgiving and take the same approach. We enjoy making the appies and often do veggies as you suggest. Sometimes CF will also make spring rolls! Turkey can be bought cheaply around the holidays for under $10 for a small bird. And dessert is also usually homemade. We like to provide some drink but people will also bring their own.

    Entertaining for any holiday is a lot of fun!

  8. I love the recipe at the end! They look delicious. My office usually has a giant Christmas party where literally 1,000+ are invited (entire Finance department). I was sick last year and they didn’t schedule one this year, which was fine with me. I dislike the giant parties where it’s hard to find people you know. I think that’s one thing that would be fun about working at a small biz – you have a nice little office party where everyone knows each other!

    • We did have fun. My head optician, who has worked there for 30 years, made up a game this year where he wrote down odd things that patients say on cards. We all took one and had to write what we wish we could have said, then he read them out loud. The best is when someone’s glasses fall apart and they come in and go up to the front desk and say “I need a screw!” We had a great time with that.

  9. We have given and gone to many parties where everyone brings one dish. It is easier on the host/hostess and keeps the costs down. We still do it to a lesser degree although the cost is less of a factor.

    • It works great when everyone brings something good. When everyone brings chips, not so great. I’d make sure to specify what to bring or at least give a class of entree or appetizer.

  10. Chicken Parmesan sounds like an awesome, tasty and filling party dish. You could always stock up on lots of chicken from Costco. The couple of times we hosted a party, we went with shrimp cocktails because the shrimp was in a huge bag and on sale. Mmmm want one right now!

  11. We’ve never hosted a holiday party (unless my mom’s annual Memorial Day picnic counts), but we have hosted other parties. Not only do we cut our own veggies, but we also make our own dips.

  12. I miss the office holiday party. Working for myself it just never happens 🙂 Those brownies look awesome – I cold eat the whole plate.

  13. Wow does that recipe sound amazing! Definitely going to give it a try 🙂

    I’m a huge DIY fan, especially when it comes to entertaining. Great tips!

  14. MINT brownies sound freaking phenomenal!! 🙂

  15. I love your new, frugal self! Great work!

  16. If you follow me on Pinterest or Facebook you know I have a small addiction to Brownies…. ok a BIG ONE. I just love making different kinds of brownies especially for parties or for our mates just to say thanks and they enjoy it. Mrs.CBB has her fav’s and I have mine but these look awesome! You can make treats at home that are unique far cheaper than you can buy them for that is if you can find them. Great post. Happy Holidays. Mr.CBB

  17. I want to reach through my computer and eat those brownies! Yum!

  18. Those brownies look delicious. I may have to try to make some with peanut butter filling instead of mint.
    Taco bars are another inexpensive idea for parties. You can have a few fillings off to the side and toppings. That way everyone can make what they want. Plus taco’s don’t cost too much or take time to prepare.

  19. Those brownies are looking great!!

  20. Those brownies look amazing! You can make really frugal food and it’s insurance for your health and budget. It does usually take more time but it’s almost always leads to a more delicious meal.

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