Party Planning on a Super Tight Budget

Sliced Fatty
Image by Another Pint Please… via Flickr

I like to party.

Actually, that’s a lie.  I’m too introverted to be a partier.   More accurately, I like to throw two parties per year.  I am also cheap frugal, so I try not to break the bank feeding fifty of my closest friends.

I have two entirely different parties.   The first, known as the “Fourth Annual Second Deadly Sin Barbecue of Doom”, is a daytime party with a lot of food.   The second is a Halloween party which takes place at night and refreshments are more of the liquid variety.  Two different parties, two different strategies to keep them affordable.


For the Halloween party, meat consists entirely of a meat/cheese/cracker tray and a crock-pot full of either sloppy joes or chili.  Quick and easy for about $20.   For the barbecue, meat is the main attraction.   The menu varies a bit from year to year.   Last year, we had burgers, brats, hot dogs, a leg of lamb, pulled pork, and a couple of fatties.   The year before, we had a turducken, but no fatties.    From a frugal standpoint, the only meat mistakes were the turducken and the lamb.  Neither are cheap, but both as delicious.   The rest of the meat needs to be bought over the months preceding the party, as they go on sale.   Ten pounds of beef, 2 dozen brats, 2 dozen hot dogs and a pork roast can be had for a total of about $75, without having to worry about picking out the hooves and hair.    Fatties cost less than $5 to make.


Both parties have chips, crackers and a vegetable tray.   Chips are usually whatever is on sale or the store brand if it’s cheaper.    Depending on our time management, we try to cut the vegetables ourselves, but have resorted to paying more for a pre-made  veggie tray in the past.   This runs from $15-30.


For kids and adults who don’t drink, I make a 5 gallon jug of Kool-Aid.  Cost:  About $3.    For adults, I provide a few cases of beer.  I don’t drink fancy beer, so this runs about $50.    For the Halloween party, I throw open my liquor cabinet.   Whatever is in there is available for my guests.   The rule is “I provide the beer.  If you want something specific, bring it yourself.”   I have a fairly well-stocked liquor cabinet, but I don’t stock what I don’t like or don’t use.   Part of the stock is what guests have left in the past.    I don’t drink much and I buy liquor sporadically when I have a whim for something specific, so raiding the leftovers in the liquor cabinet doesn’t register on my party budget.


While it seems like an obvious and easy way to keep costs down, I do not and will not expect my guests to bring anything.  I throw a party to showcase either A) my cooking, or B) my Halloween display.   I don’t charge admission.  I don’t charge for a glass.  I throw a party so I can have fun with the people I care about and the people the people I care about care about.   I consider it a serious breach of etiquette to ask anybody to bring something.   On the other hand, if someone offers, I will not turn it down.


The most important part of either of my parties is fun.  All else is secondary.   I seem to be successful, since reservations are made for my spare beds a full year in advance.   Last Halloween, people came from 3 states.


How much do my mildy-over-the-top parties cost?   The barbecue runs about $150-180 plus charcoal and propane.    Yes, I use both.  I’ll have 2 propane grills, 1 charcoal grill, and a charcoal smoker running all day. The Halloween party costs $80-100 for the basics.    The brain dip costs another $20 and there’s always at least another $50 in stuff that seems like a good idea to serve.

Update:  This post has been included in the Festival of Frugality.

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    1. This sounds like a bunch of fun! I wish we lived closer!

      We throw board gaming parties all the time, but since it rotates between people’s homes monthly, it’s potluck and the host provides the main course. Half the board gamers are people who love to cook and the other half are people who like to drink, so we have really fun parties that cost about $20-$40 for the host and $5-$10 for everyone else. I agree potlucks are not good for all situations, but it works very well for board gaming buffets. 🙂

      I do throw my husband a board gaming birthday party every year and that usually runs about $75 for the brisket, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and rolls/bread. I also make sure there’s enough sweet tea and unsweet tea for everybody who can come and a big cake. Everything else is “bring what you wish” but there’s more than enough if nobody brings anything at all…usually we end up with so much that I use those reuseable Ziploc containers (off-brand of course) to make little doggy bags for anybody who is interested.

      Anyway, your parties sound amazing and the cost seem way more than justified…you must really find some great deals!

    2. Plan a trip to Minnesota some time. Late July or October would be best. 🙂


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