How to throw any party for less
In the afterglow of a stellar party, glitter still clinging to your favorite outfit, have you ever thought, “Wow, I wish I could throw an event like that, but there’s no way I could afford it!”
Buck up! Okay, maybe you can’t shell out a couple grand for a llama- and Shetland pony–starring petting zoo in your backyard or for glitzy decorations worthy of the Rockefeller Center tree. But that doesn’t mean you can’t host a party—a shindig! a rager!—that your friends and family will never forget (and one that may even have your guests asking themselves the above question). Here is a punch bowl’s worth of ways to do just that for any age or occasion.
It’s your birthday. It’s also planting season, and you have a bunch of shrubs or bulbs or vegetable seedlings to put in the ground. Why not marry the two and throw a gardening party? In lieu of gifts, ask your fellow green thumbs to bring a plant and wear clothes for yard work—or contribute their favorite beverage if they don’t want to pull on the gloves. What does it all add up to? A celebration of the season, a satisfying group effort, and a memorably crafted garden.
You save: From $20 to $50 per laborer per hour for a gardening crew.
You want to start a holiday party tradition, but your ornament collection is weak. (Turns out your brother made off with your parents’ best vintage decorations.) The solution: Host a tree-trimming party at which everyone contributes an ornament while you supply the (homemade) festive food and drink. Your guests will probably bring you nicer ornaments than you would buy yourself. Your tree will be trimmed and jolly, and it will have sentimental value year after year. Sounds like a win-win-win.
You save: At least $5 per ornament.
Classic cocktail party
If you want to have friends over for fancy cocktails, a collection of top-shelf liquor to make everything from an Americano to a Zombie can really cost you. Amy Shey Jacobs, founder of the event-planning business Chandelier Events NY, proposes setting up a bar that features just one spirit served in a variety of ways. (Plus a little wine and beer to complement the main event.) You’ll cut costs without sacrificing style. “I’m really into sangria bars, but you can do this with vodka—mules and martinis—or tequila—palomas and margaritas,” Jacobs says. Choosing to go with one kind of alcohol can allow you to purchase a whole case at a discount of 15%.
You save: You could knock 50% off the total cost by sticking to one spirit and a touch of wine and beer, Jacobs estimates.
Game day party
Rather than hosting, say, a Super Bowl bash and asking guests to contribute to a potluck in the name of saving money, consumer-finance expert Andrea Woroch suggests upping the ante with a little friendly competition. “Encourage guests to make their favorite dish, and then have everyone vote on the dishes during the party,” she says. After all, people (especially sports fans) like contests—and showing off their cooking prowess! The winning chef gets a prize of modest value, like an apron or a wine opener. “This also helps reduce your cooking time and money spent on snacks and foods,” Woroch says.
You save: The cost of each dish, say, $10 apiece, minus the cost of the prize.
Ice cream party
Kids love hearing summer’s ubiquitous ice cream truck jingle. The next time the Mister Softee truck rolls up to your playground, why not ask the truck operator to stop by the house during your upcoming party in exchange for guaranteeing a minimum number of sales? From the truck operator’s point of view, it’s easier than driving around the neighborhood looking for customers. Plus, you avoid a truck booking fee, and you pay only for what you need. Just be sure to tip well.
You save: About $200 to $300, a typical cost to book a truck through a third-party service, plus a minimum purchase (e.g., 144 items at $2.25 apiece and up).
Your local museum might offer birthday parties for kids, which is a great way to celebrate a special occasion, but it often comes with a hefty price tag. Instead, why not hire an art teacher from a local school to do a mini art appreciation session and activity in your home? The fee won’t be nearly as high, and the experience will be way less cookie-cutter.
You save: About $350 typical museum fee for a one-hour party—plus $10 each for more than 12 kids—minus what you pay the teacher.
Petting zoo party
Did you know that you can have a petting zoo right at home? Because the fee for a professional petting zoo can be steep, lifestyle writer Carey Reilly suggests asking friends to bring their people-friendliest pets to create your very own petting zoo. We’re not just talking dogs and cats. “You’ll be surprised how many neighbors have a turtle, snake, or lizard,” Reilly says. “This is a savings of a few hundred dollars normally spent on an animal entertainer.” Just keep the iguana away from the guac. And the snake away from the hamster.
You save: The entertainment is free, so you save a typical fee of about $315, minus refreshments (and, admittedly, some cleanup costs).
More party savings hacks
Play with portions for kids
Get those foot-long submarine sandwiches from the local grocery store instead of a sandwich shop, Reilly says. “A freshly made sub will only cost $5 at a supermarket,” she says. When feeding kids, slice the sub into eight pieces—small sandwiches for small hands. When it comes to pizza, she asks for the pies to be cut into 16 slices—double the usual amount. “Most children can’t finish a full slice anyway, especially when there’s so much fun to be had,” she says.
Pick bamboo over china
When you’re hosting a large affair, like a wedding or bar mitzvah, the rentals alone can cost a fortune. Jacobs says that you can slash those costs by using bamboo serveware for cheese boards, antipasto, raw bars, desserts, and more. “I think bamboo disposables are really accepted,” she says. “The best part: They are kid-, parent-, and earth-friendly!” Depending on the size of the party, buying bamboo could save you hundreds of dollars.
Borrow rather than buy
Before you rush out to buy the large cooler or the folding chairs, consumer-finance guru Woroch has a suggestion. “Ask guests who are attending if they have any of the items you need,” she says. After all, these items can cost hundreds of dollars, and who knows when or if you’ll use that chocolate fountain again? (Spoiler alert: You won’t.)
Woroch also recommends free online resources for your invitations and decorations, such as Hobnob, Paperless Post, or Evite for free digital invitations instead of snail mail. “For instance, baby-shower invites at sites like TinyPrints range from $1 to $2.50 per invitation,” Woroch says. “For a party of 30 guests, you’re looking at a savings of up to $75.” For decorations, you can print themed food flags, napkin rings, and cupcake holders from sites such as HelloLittleHome.com.