How to Host a Party Without Busting the Budget

Penny-pinching pointers from party pros across the country

Last updated: November 08, 2015 08:00 AM

Is this a year when you have more time than money? Then it’s a great time to be a host. Put your extra hours to work on food and décor, and you can throw a terrific party or dinner and have DIY fun at the same time. Here are some tips from party-planning pros around the country.

Get cooking

Homemade food is cheaper and healthier than store-bought. “Premade croutons, pies, and hors d’oeuvres are expensive because you’re paying for the time spent to make the product,” says Nicole Straight, marketing manager at Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning in Stamford, Connecticut. “Buy day-old bread to make delicious stuffing, and bake your own pies for under $5. Homemade spiced nuts, flat breads, and dips are easier than you think!”

For cost-conscious, crowd-pleasing appetizers, Andrea Greco, a stylist and crafter in New York City, recommends hot spinach-artichoke dip and brie wrapped in puff pastry. For a lower-budget event, Phil De Maiolo, Executive Chef at Pier 60 and the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York City, suggests croustades (slices of baguette, ficelle or walnut and raisin bread, brushed with olive oil and baked) topped with tapenade, hummus and babaganoush—all of which you can easily whip up in a food processor or blender. Or, do a pasta bar—give guests a choice of pesto, or a cream-  or tomato-based sauce.  Want a meaty but money-wise entrée? David Mashburn, proprietor of the restaurant Classic on Noble in Anniston, Alabama, goes for marinated, grilled flank steak when he’s looking to save money—starting at $7 a pound versus $14 for beef tenderloin (prices vary by region). Another favorite: boneless chicken thighs, chopped, grilled, and served with barbecue sauce on miniature biscuits.

Spread the joy

Not a cook? Host a cookie exchange and ask guests to bring a couple dozen cookies each. “The host provides drinks—maybe a great mulled wine—and cute containers for guests to take home a couple of cookies from each tray,” explains Andrea Greco. Or, “In lieu of random hostess gifts, ask people to bring a traditional holiday dish from their own family. It not only cuts your food budget but creates an instant way to get party conversation started,” says Brent Ridge, the founder of lifestyle brand Beekman 1802 along with Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Better yet, says Ridge, go in with a group of friends and pool your funds for one big party.

Photo: Thomas Northcut

Forget about an open bar

Instead of running up a huge tab at the liquor store, save money by serving a signature drink at your party. “Make an appropriate amount in advance, based on your guest list,” says Serena Thompson, founder of The Farm Chicks in Mead, Washington. For the holidays, she likes Apple Cinnamon Punch: for 4 to 6 drinks, combine 2 cups apple juice with a cinnamon stick and simmer 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon and combine cooled juice, ½ cup simple syrup, 1 cup ginger ale, and ½ cup vodka. Serve over crushed ice with an apple slice garnish. For festive fizz without a champagne price tag, “Prosecco is always great,” says Nicole Straight. “Add a fresh raspberry or a few pomegranate seeds for a splash of color and flavor.”

Forage for greenery

Seriously! Step outside with some pruning shears and harvest evergreen boughs, pine cones, and any plant with red berries. Arrange the bounty on your table or mantle, use it to create garlands for the door or banister, or place branches in vases you already own. If you live in a city, Serena Thompson recommends searching out inexpensive eucalyptus bunches in the floral section of the supermarket. As long as you’re there, pick up seasonal fruit (apples, pears, pomegranates) and display in soup tureens, wooden bowls, or other vessels.

Décor for a dime

Ikea is stylist Andrea Greco’s secret source for taper candles ($3.99 for 10), wine glasses and champagne flutes ($4.79 for 6), colorful napkins ($1.99 for 30) and carafes ($2.49). She shops CB2 for colored glassware that’s so pretty it doubles as decor ($2.95 per glass), and square white porcelain appetizer plates ($1.50 each). For table runners (and napkins), simply cut burlap or linen to the length you want, then pull and thread an inch or two from each edge and fray the fabric to create fringe.

—Cathy Cavender

Do you have tips for hosting a party?

Tell us about them in the comments below

Sign up for What's New at Consumer Reports, our free monthly e-mail newsletter!

(Consumer Reports will not sell or rent your email address to third parties. See our Privacy Policy.)

Thank you. Your registration is complete!

Check your inbox for our most recent edition of the What's New e-mail newsletter.

Find Ratings

Blenders Ratings

View and compare all Blenders ratings.

Food processors Ratings

View and compare all Food processors ratings.

Wine Chillers Ratings

View and compare all Wine Chillers ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Appliances News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more