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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Birthday Parties are Evil

This is a post from my archives.

I hate birthday parties.   Well, not all birthday parties.  Not even most parties.  Just the expensive-for-the-sake-of-expensive parties.  The bar-raising parties.  The status-boosting parties.  I’m done.

My son is seven years older than my first daughter.  In those seven years, with only one kid, we managed to spoil him regarding birthday parties.  Every party was big and there were a lot of presents. That’s an expensive way to run a birthday and it is a lot of stress.   We even moved the parties home, but still invited all of our friends and family.   It was much too stressful.

A good friend used the pizza and game place, buying tokens for everyone at the party.  That’s incredibly expensive.  Even if I  wanted to, I couldn’t afford that for three kids.   There’s an element of keeping up with everyone around me, but I just can’t make myself care about that anymore.  They aren’t paying my debt or cleaning my house.  They don’t get a vote.

My  plan this year was to have a sleepover for my son.   He had five friends spend the night, playing games and watching movies.  They giggled and squealed for eighteen hours, all for the cost of some take-and-bake pizzas and snacks.  It was a hit for everyone involved. The other parents got a night off and all of the kids had a blast.

My girls are one and two.  We’re done with parties for them, too. They got big parties for their first birthdays.  Those are parties for the adults; the kids don’t care.  In a few years–even a few months–they won’t remember the party.   My older daughter’s birthday will be a trip to the apple orchard, followed by cake and ice cream.   She’ll get presents.  She’ll get “her day”. She’ll remember that her birthday is special, without costing a lot of money.

We want them to have fun.  We want them all to feel special. We also want to manage their expectations and keep the parties from breaking the budget.  So far this year, it is working.

How do you run a birthday party on a budget?

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Birthdays on the Cheap

Birthdays are expensive. Shoot, I’ve said that before. It’s usually true, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five ways to cut birthday party costs.   Note:  If you’re trying to cut costs on an adult party, just replace the word “kid” with “guest of honor”.

1. Location, location, location. The amusement park/pizza place is nice if you like bad pizza, but it’s certainly not cheap. The inflatable playground may be the talk of the school for a day or two, but it’ll flex your debit card in ways it’s just not used to. Why? Kids, being kids, are capable of entertaining themselves. They’ve got imaginations that should make most adults weep with envy. If that fails, make them play a board game or in the worst case, some video games. Lock the wild young’ns in the basement and let ’em go nuts for a couple of hours. It’ll be a blast, I promise.

2. Why invite the world? How many friends does your kid actually have? I’m not talking about all of the kids in school he’s not fighting with or every kid on the block that hasn’t TP’d your house. I mean actual friendship. If they don’t play together regularly, nobody will be offended about missing an invitation. Invite the entire class? That’s just nuts. Thirty ankle-biters smearing cupcakes on the wall? No thank you. You kid will have more fun with 2-3 close friends than 20-30 acquaintances.

3. Toy flood. What was the last toy your kid played with? The last 10? How many toys have been completely neglected for months or years? How many stuffed animals are buried so deep in the pile in the corner that they are wishing for a fluffy Grim Reaper to come put them out of their misery? Don’t buy your kid clutter. It’s a hassle to clean up–and you will–and it trains them into bad habits for a lifetime. One or two things that they will treasure(or, better yet, wear!) will work our much better for everyone than a dozen things to forget in a toy box. Too many toys guarantees that the kid won’t get attached to any of them.  Down with kid-clutter!

4. Designer Cake. Who needs a fancy cake? Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you going to start a fire on the thing, then cut it up and give it to a dozen little runts to rub in their hair? If you can’t bake it yourself, a quarter sheet is cheap at the big box grocery stores and will guarantee leftovers. Nothing starts the week better than chocolate marble cake for breakfast on Monday.

5. Food. Don’t. That was easy. Scheduling is an important way to keep costs down. Don’t have the party at lunch time. For small children, 1:30 PM is about perfect. The parents won’t stick around once the kids are ready for a nap. For older kids, 4PM means they will need to be home for dinner. That cuts the menu down to kool-aid, light snack food, and cake. It also ensures that the party won’t drag on forever.

It’s possible to have a budget birthday party without being totally lame.  Give it a shot.  Your kids won’t mind.

This post is a blast from the past.

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