Party on a Dime: Frugal Entertaining

One of the last extravagant soirees I attended before the economy hit the fan was my husband’s work Christmas party several years ago. The company hired a decorator and a caterer to the tune of $10,000 and provided handsome goody bags to the employees. My husband and I enjoyed the party, but we were rather shocked by the excessive cost. We were downright furious three months later when the company laid off over half its workforce.

Things are simpler now. The last holiday work party I attended was a potluck function at my husband’s office. There were no gift boxes or elaborate catered meals. Instead, we were all grateful to be employed and happy to share a meal together. What a change in perspective!

In terms of personal entertaining, my husband and I have always preferred simple, which translates to “cheap,” over elaborate and expensive. We love spending time with friends and family in the kitchen, cooking up a favorite meal, and we usually entertain at least once a week. Read on for some of our budget-friendly tips for hosting a great party:

  • Serve dinner instead of appetizers. Any caterer will tell you that appetizers usually cost twice as much as dinner, and appetizers are also more time-consuming to prepare. Instead, opt for homey, simple foods that everyone loves. Try a chili bar with corn chips, sour cream and salsa, or make your favorite pasta. A favorite winter meal at our home is classic beef burgundy, adapted for the slow cooker. It’s French, so it seems fancy, but it’s really nothing more than a beef stew enlivened with bacon and red wine.

  • Save postage by using e-vites. Several companies now offer online invitations in a wide variety of styles and themes. Not only are e-vites free, but they’ll save you a ton of time, and invitees can quickly respond at the click of a button.
  • Pick a theme. A theme gives your party structure and definition and inexpensive can also still ‘look’ good. For example, one summer evening I invited some girlfriends over for a “Fried Green Tomatoes” party. We decorated with red plastic table clothes from the dollar store and green paper plates to give the table some life and reused our glasses and cutlery. We ate fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and blackberry cobbler outdoors at my hardy slate fire pit. Later, we watched the movie for a casual, fun evening. A writer friend of mine wrote a mystery dinner script set in the 1930s. We scoured thrift stores for flapper attire, and spent a charming evening solving the mystery.
  • Simplify decorations. Bring Mother Nature indoors for simple, but charming decorations. Force some bulbs and place them in rustic baskets for a spring party or host a summer party in your backyard. Add ambience with candles or hanging Chinese lanterns, available for a song at mail order supply companies and craft stores. This New Year I had a Chinese New Year Party with lots of fun color and bling. This was all decorated with inexpensive online purchases and yes I saved them for another round of colorful partying for next year.

Perhaps the most important part of entertaining is the spirit you bring to it. When my husband and I were poor, starving students, we were friends with another couple who were even poorer than we. In spite of their lack of funds, our friends frequently threw fabulous parties. Everyone brought something to eat and we crowded in their tiny kitchen to laugh and visit together. What our friends lacked in money or style, they made up for in gracious hospitality and warmth, which is, after all, what entertaining is all about.

Karen Ho Fatt is an award-winning interior designer living in the Canadian countryside. She manages, where you can find a fire pit set with chairs and many more fire furnishings so that you can entertain at home comfortably any time of year.

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