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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Ending A Streak

The first year I decorated our yard for Halloween was 1999.   The first year we through a Halloween party was 1998.Beauty Queen

Our parties tend to fall on the legendary side.   Between setup, cleanup, and out-of-town guests, the party is a 3-4 day affair.  People reserve our spare beds a year in advance.     The day of the party itself, we’re going from 10AM until 5AM, cooking, drinking, and talking.    Over the 10 hours the party is actively going, we have 50-60 guests in and out.

Our yard is a neighborhood attraction.   We’ve been on the news and in the newspaper.   By the end of Halloween night, the path through the yard is nearly worn down to bare dirt.   The spot the large coffin sits takes 6 weeks to rejuvenate in the spring.   I’ve literally scared kids right out of their masks.   Little old ladies have jumped out in the air, shrieking, only to ask me to hide again, so they can bring their husbands over to enjoy the startle.

This year, we end the 13-year unbroken streak of fear and debauchery.  We’ve been doing this since before any my oldest kid was weaned.

It’s hard to take a break, but…

Dealing with my mother-in-law’s house has been far too much work for us.  We spent all summer cleaning out the hoarding mess.

And fixing up the yard.

And replacing the boiler.

And fixing the plumbing.

And updating the electrical system.

And fixing up the basement.

And patching the walls.

And selling the cars.

And sorting through 30 years of every scrap of paper that has ever come through the house.

And dealing with all of the memories, and the pictures, and the past.

It’s been too much, and it’s not done.

Now, it’s the middle of October, and the idea of stealing the extra time to add the extra stress of setting up the yard and throwing a big party makes me want to break down.Spooky

Two days to set up the yard, only to have some kid steal my favorite, irreplaceable pieces, then two days to pack it all up.

A day of decorating inside, followed by a party and a hungover day of cleaning it all up.

All of that, while losing time from the side business and pushing through to the end of the property preparation from hell.

I can’t do it, so, as sad as it makes me, we’re taking the year off.  No Halloween events at my house this year.

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Stealing Motivation

We go a bit overboard on Halloween.

Maybe more than a bit.   The yard in the video is mine.   As I write this, I’ve got 40 tombstones, more than 200 skulls, and half a dozen life-size props in my yard.   The coffin leaning against the tree was bought used on the secondhand coffin market.

I have a motion-activated monster whose eyes light up as his head turns to watch you as you walk past.   He just happens to be the exact size in all dimensions as my son was 4 years ago.

A few years ago, I built a beautiful zombie who–not so coincidentally–had the exact height and proportions as my wife.

Zombie Girl

Zombie Girl

Last year, a few days before Halloween, somebody came into my yard and stole my bride.   They also tried stealing the small coffin, but only managed to get away with the lid, leaving the coffin itself behind.

I hate thieves.

This year, I was at the Financial Bloggers Conference the weekend I traditionally set up for Halloween, so I was getting a late start.

Every time I’ve tried to get out and set up my yard, I just keep thinking about the irreplaceable pieces that were stolen.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a child-sized coffin lid dating back to 1863?  Or how impossible it is to get the 100 hours of my life I put into my zombie?

I think about how hurt I would be if somebody stole my son-sized animatronic ghoul or the demon who shares my measurements, but is two feet shorter.   I’ve spent hundreds of hours per year, over 10 years building my yard full of one-of-a-kind props, and someone felt it was acceptable to tear down a section of my skull fence, come into my yard, and steal a little piece of my life.

Motivation has been difficult this year.

Last night, while I was out arranging my much-reduced yard haunt, a neighbor came by to let me know that he was disappointed with the smaller production.   He wasn’t upset, but he–like the entire neighborhood–love watching the gore grow in my yard while anticipating the evening full of screams as the kids wander through every Halloween.

I can’t do it.

The thieving punks stole not just two of my favorite props, but a huge piece of my desire to scare the neighborhood kids.

Maybe I just need a year off, so I can come back with better ideas and a security plan more detailed than “my neighbors love this, none of them would steal anything!”

I would love to find the thieves.   Post-beating, I’d explain how stealing from anyone is stealing a small and irreplaceable part of their lives.  Stealing their handcrafted treasure is ripping out a piece of their soul.    Stealing their motivation is stealing  the memories for every visitor who would ever benefit from their craft, if the motivation is dead enough to kill the production.

I hope I’m not to that point, yet, but I can’t promise anything. Maybe next year.

Happy Halloween.

Carnival of Money Stories – Halloween Aftermath Edition

Technicolor Zombie Apocalypse
Image by Dunechaser via Flickr

Welcome to the November 1, 2010 edition of the Carnival of Money Stories.  One thing I didn’t do when volunteering to host this was to check my calendar.  Did you know that November 1 follows October 31, every year?    On Saturday, I had 30 people over for my annual Halloween party.  On Sunday, I ran a haunt in my yard and coordinated to get a dozen kids out begging for candy while using my house as a base of operations.   I’ve had guest from out-of-town since Friday.  Halloween weekend is, by far, the busiest weekend of the year at my house.

Editor’s Picks

J. Savings presents Side Hustle Series: I’m a Restaurant Server posted at Budgets Are Sexy, saying, “Is serving tables thankless work? Yes. Are customers sometimes unpleasant? Of course. But the benefits are plenty!”

Wenchypoo presents Marketing, Marketing Everywhere–There’s No Escape! posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo’s Mental Wastebasket.

The Wise Squirrel presents Does it Matter Who is the Main Provider Between Husband and Wife? posted at Squirrelers, saying, “Money story about a dual-income couple in which the husband had the opportunity for a big promotion that would have required a move, AND his wife to leave her job. Their different viewpoints are discussed.”


Ryan @ CML presents Get a Tax Deduction for a Working Vacation posted at Cash Money Life, saying, “Tips on how to write off a business trip as a tax deduction.”


Jeff Rose, CFP presents How to Pass the CPA Exam and Become a Certified Public Accountant posted at Jeff Rose, saying, “If you are interested in becoming a CPA, here are some of the experiences of someone who just recently passed the CPA exam.”

Jason @ Redeeming Riches presents What Sam Walton Teaches Us About Money, Success, and Family posted at Redeeming Riches, saying, “Sam Walton had it all – or did he? Find out the biggest regret he had on his death bed.”


Mr Credit Card presents Cash Vs. Credit, A Real World Experiment posted at Ask Mr Credit Card.


The Family CEO presents Debt Snowflakes: Or How I Made $821.73 in Extra Credit Card Payments This Month posted at The Family CEO.

Kaye presents Stuck in the Middle posted at Mrs Nespy’s World, saying, “The beginning of the journey was excited, the end will be exhilarating, but this “in the middle” stuff is for the birds.”

Kate Kashman presents Why Not To Bounce Checks posted at The Paycheck Chronicles, saying, “An accidental bounced check in college is still causing trouble, 20 years later.”

Michael Pruser presents Managing $225,000 in Debt Is Starting to Ware on Me posted at The Dough Roller, saying, “My struggles on managing a ton of debt!”

PT presents 5 Lessons Learned From Filing Bankruptcy posted at Prime Time Money, saying, “Lessons learned from an actual account of going through a bankruptcy.”

Silicon Valley Blogger presents Should You Pay Off Loans or Invest Your Money? posted at The Digerati Life, saying, “So you’ve got some money. Should you pay off your debt with it or invest the money? Here’s a personal account on what I’ve done.”


BWL presents Success Story: Paying Off A House In 5 Years While Tithing posted at Christian Personal Finance, saying, “This is an encouraging story of a woman who stuck to her convictions about giving 10% of her income and still managed to pay off her house in less than 5 years!”

Miranda presents Do I Really Want to Rent Out My House? posted at Personal Dividends – Money+Lifestyle.


2 Cents presents What Would Make Me Invest in the Stock Market? posted at Balance Junkie, saying, “We have not invested in the markets for a while now. A reader recently asked what it would take for us to get back in. Here’s my answer!”

FIRE Getters presents Early Retirement Case Study – Sandy Aldridge and Dale Lugenbehl posted at FIRE Finance, saying, “At times the fast pace of our city lives appear stifling making us long for a slower pace of life with more exposure to clean air and green vegetation. Our souls yearn for a simple life which is in greater harmony with Mother Nature. Of late our work related health problems have been making us yearn, almost every morning, for a more relaxed life with greater freedom. So we were thrilled to read about Sandy Aldridge and Dale Lugenbehl who retired early (at ages 48 and 47 respectively) more than a dozen years ago to their eight-acre farm in Cottage Grove, Oregon …”


Neal Frankle presents Find A High Paying 2nd Job Using Craigslist posted at Wealth Pilgrim: Money Management Advice, Financial Stess Management, Addiction Recovery Plan & Resources, saying, “You Can Find A High Paying 2nd Job Using Craigs List If you’re looking for high paying 2nd jobs, look no further than your computer screen.”

Super Saver presents Retiree Financial Lessons from the Recession posted at My Wealth Builder, saying, “Although I wish this recession had not happened, I am glad that it happened early in our retirement, while we were better able to meet the financial challenges.”

Craig Ford presents Medi-Share Medical Sharing | A Health Insurance Substitue posted at Money Help For Christians, saying, “Medical sharing is a great way to reduce your health insurance costs.”

passive family income presents Cutting Out Wasted Expenses to Save More Income posted at Passive Family Income, saying, “How many wasted expenses are you paying for? After sorting through my family’s past years credit card and bank statements, I have found several small money leaks in our personal finances.”

Kristina presents Our Parents Estate posted at Dual Income No Kids, saying, “If your parents are divorced, how has their separation affect the way you have planned your estate?”

Donna Freedman presents Rockin’ the surveys — when it’s worth it. posted at Surviving and Thriving, saying, “Online surveys can be a nice source of extra income — except when they aren’t.”

Joe Plemon presents My Car Needs an Engine. Should I Sell it, Fix it or Junk it? posted at Personal Finance By The Book, saying, “What do you do when your beloved car needs an engine: sell it, fix it or junk it? This post explores the options.”

FMF presents My Type of Couple posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “Story of a couple who collected 400k cans to pay for their wedding.”

Lindy presents Once Upon a Time…I Used an Iron posted at Minting Nickels, saying, “One of the likely first stops in expense-slashing is the luxury of paying for laundered shirts. This is a tale of my ironing saga (yes, it qualifies as a saga). And it’s not as boring as this description sounds. Thanks!”

Sandy presents One Disaster Away posted at Yes, I Am Cheap, saying, “We sometimes pass judgment on others for the financial situation, but most of us need to realize that all it takes is one disaster to be in the same situation.”

Bucksome presents Top 7 Ways I Budget My Time posted at Buck$ome Boomer’s Journey to Retirement, saying, “Budgets are needed for more than money in this story about 7 ways to budget time.”

Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog presents How to Watch Cheap and Free TV in Canada posted at The Canadian Finance Blog, saying, “Want to know how to see free TV in Canada? You have a few options with over the air free HDTV, broadcaster’s websites and cheap services like Netflix!”

Lauren Mendel presents A Very Scary Money Story posted at Richly Reasonable – Successes and failures, all in the name of living reasonably., saying, “This Halloween week read the true, terrifying tale of how Husband and I almost lost literally every important document that we have. Muahahaha! You might want to lock your doors and close the blinds before reading this one…”

Sun presents What’s in My Wallet? posted at The Sun’s Financial Diary.


Money Beagle presents Costco Coupon Policies – Truth or Fiction? You Decide posted at Money Beagle.

ctreit presents Our family budget has to accommodate this chocolate snob posted at Money Obedience, saying, “Name brands versus store brands.”

Rachel presents Sometimes Less Is More | MomVesting posted at MomVesting, saying, “Melinda talks about how the value of many things isn’t necessarily determined by their cost.”

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of Money Stories using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.  Thank you, everyone, for participating!

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