Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


How to Throw a Holiday Party on a Budget

by Rachael White

The holidays can often drive people to go overboard on spending, but what if you’re trying to watch your wallet? Staying on budget doesn’t mean you have to cancel all holiday celebrations. It simply calls for a little more creativity. As you’ll see, creative thinking and a little planning go a long way toward making it all work. Here are some tips for throwing a fabulous holiday party on a budget.

Maintain a Tight Guest List

As nice as it would be to invite every Dick and Jane you know to your fabulous holiday bash, this isn’t the time to go overboard with your invite list. That person you met at last year’s office holiday party and promised to call but never did? Cut her from the line-up. Party planning sometimes requires ruthlessness—but it’s worth it in the name of better food, drinks, and decorations. After all, the holidays are about spending time with the people who are most important to you, so being picky about who you invite will help you create an intimate setting. A group of no more than 10 or 12 is perfect for a cost-effective yet elegant get-together. An added bonus of intimate gatherings: you’ll have more time to spend with your guests, enjoying their company (and vice versa), rather than constantly making the rounds or worrying whether everyone is having fun.

Focus on a Festive, Rustic Menu

Let’s face it: food is one of the most important components of any party—let alone a holiday party—and besides drinks, it’s usually the most spendy. But you don’t have to forego your budget or compromise quality to feed your guests. Here are a few affordable suggestions for filling fare that won’t empty your wallet.

Dress up standard fare. Get creative with the basics. Take potatoes: they’re filling, inexpensive, and versatile. Potato stacks, for example, are easy to make, affordable, and elegant. Another basic (inexpensive) ingredient: flour. Make a simple crust and compile a selection of sweet and savory tarts or galettes like a rustic potato tart. Dishes like these require few ingredients, and making the crust is easy and affordable.

Take it down a notch. I don’t mean you should compromise on flavor. However, if you rethink typical portion sizes, you’ll be able to offer a wider variety of food for a lower cost. Small bites are fun and festive, from miniature hamburgers to tiny cookies with shot glasses of milk, there are many appetizers you can make (or purchase) that won’t cost a ton of money. Not only are everyday foods undeniably cute in miniature form, they’re also easier to handle while mingling or holding a drink. Tip: Look for seasonal food offerings to keep the cost down but the taste factor right where it should be.

Cook the old-fashioned way. Break out your slow-cooker! Many cuts of meat that you may turn up your nose to for a fancy, sit-down dinner party are actually perfect for group holiday parties. With a little effort, you can serve a satisfying, warming meal for your guests with money to spare. From soups and stews to pot roast to short ribs, the options are endless for creating meals that will wow your guests and warm their souls. If you plan a meat-based meal, crock pots are very helpful in stretching the meat—and your dollar.

DIY Decorations

Decorations are essential for holiday parties. Twinkle lights, snowflakes, and other holiday-themed items help make the environment festive and put your guests in the holiday spirit. There are many ways to decorate your party space without spending a lot of money. Some take a little extra effort while others can be thrown together using items you probably already have on hand.

Take string lights placed in hurricanes, for example. They’re simple yet stunning, and they give off a soft light that helps create the perfect party ambiance for this time of year. Another great DIY idea: use paper to cut out beautiful snowflakes for garland. If you don’t want to buy paper, use pages from old magazines or newspapers. You might add a little extra sparkle by spraying the snowflakes with silver or gold glitter. Another surefire way to create a holiday-worthy environment: light tea candles and set them on mirrors or in decorative glasses. Scatter small branches or aromatic, fresh-cut herbs (sturdy ones like rosemary work best) around the candles, along with a few fresh cranberries, to create a beautiful centerpiece.

The key to throwing a holiday party on a budget is to keep things simple and make use of what you already have on hand. Don’t add a lot of fluff to the menu or decorations. Instead, do what you can in a tasteful manner to create a festive environment this holiday season. Play some holiday music in the background, relax, and enjoy the party with your guests!

Five Headache-free Holiday Hosting Tips

There's a reason the holidays are called the most wonderful time of the year. It's an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones over delicious food and shared traditions. But playing hostess can sometimes feel more like a burden rather than a blessing. This year, keep your holiday gathering fun, not frantic, with these headache-free holiday hosting tips.

1. Put time on your side. Start your dinner or cocktail party prep as soon as possible to make room for any last-minute surprises, like forgetting an ingredient or unexpected guests. Developing a checklist and assigning manageable to-dos each day will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. For example, once the invitations have been extended, plan the menu and gather recipes and a grocery list. Take inventory of your cooking supplies, serving dishes, and tableware. While cleaning the house, identify what decorations are needed.

2. Know when to buy, when to DIY, and when to ask for help. From appetizers to desserts, determine what on the menu can be homemade, made ahead of time, or store-bought and how guests can contribute. Figure out what is actually feasible for your meal—it's OK if you can't make everything from scratch. If you've never made homemade pie, there's no reason to put your culinary skills to the test the night before. If budget allows, buy prepared dishes or desserts from the market and place on festive platters. Find do-ahead recipes that can be stored in the fridge until they're ready to be served. By prioritizing your menu and asking for help, it will alleviate unnecessary stress and allow you to enjoy the event.

3. Ditch the pile of dirty dishes in favor of disposable tableware. Instead of standing over the sink cleaning, spend the extra time celebrating with family and friends. Make sure to choose products that can stand up to heavy foods, such as mashed potatoes and gravy or stuffing. Try using eco-friendly products that are made from recycled material and are biodegradable in home composting, leaving you to only feel guilty about that second helping of green bean casserole. And, if your guests are known to be animated, opt for recyclable disposable wine glasses. They'll hold up the event's style without sacrificing your favorite stemware.

4. Set the scene the night before. Focus on setting the table, deciding where to put the drinks, gathering extra seating, and decorating the night before. That way, the day of the party, you just have to worry about putting out the food and drinks. While last minute rearranging is bound to happen, conquering the planned details ahead of time will help keep you sane.

5. Deck the dinner table with a napkin fold. For a sophisticated, yet deceptively-easy place setting idea, consider using a perfectly-coordinated line of disposable tableware and add a napkin fold as a pretty and practical accent. Although some napkin folds can be intricate, try a unique design such as a poinsettia that can be made in a matter of minutes. Include