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.
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.
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.
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
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
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.
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.
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.
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!